My recent trip to Catalina Island, a small piece of paradise just off the coast of Southern California, was the perfect beach weekend getaway. I went in May, which is quite a gamble on California weather, but we lucked out with perfectly blue skies, a light beach breeze, and a high of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. I had a lot planned for this trip, but it turns out that spending a day at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island was one of the best parts of the vacation.
Why Visit Catalina Island?
Catalina Island is a small island paradise just about an hour away from Los Angeles if reached by ferry. It’s one of California’s Channel Islands, and is 22 miles long and 8 miles wide. There are two cities on the island: the popular tourist town of Avalon and the more remote town of Two Harbors. I’ve been to Catalina Island a handful of times throughout my life, and I’ve only ever visited Avalon. I hope to one day make it to Two Harbors. Catalina Island is a great escape for local Californians looking for a close but remote getaway, and it’s perfect for those visiting from other parts of the world because it helps gives provide a well rounded look at California’s beaches off the beaten track.
The Sleepy Beach Town of Avalon, Catalina
Avalon is a lovely harbor town that welcomes guests as they arrive at the island port. Colorful shops line the beach boardwalk and extend upward into the hilly island. Rows of boats line the harbor, parked neatly and shining bright white in the California sun. Hotels, restaurants, and gift shops are abundant, as are the photo opportunities of the harbor and the boardwalk, which has benches and fountains decorated with colorful mosaic tiles. Standing like a pillar at the far end of the harbor is Catalina Island’s crown jewel, the Avalon Casino, a historic ballroom and theater from the 1920’s. While there is a beach located in front of Avalon’s boardwalk, if you venture just beyond the Casino building, you will find the private beach paradise of Descanso Beach Club.
Spending a Day at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island
I’m notorious for jampacking my trips with activities and things to do. For example, I couldn’t say no to the adventurous jeep tour up into the hills, or the chance to fly falcons in the canyon. So spending an entire day relaxing at Descanso Beach Club was my idea of balancing out the pace of my trip to Catalina Island. It ended up being one of the most memorable highlights of the trip.
Renting Beach Cabanas and Lounge Chairs at Descanso Beach Club
Descanso Beach Club is a private beach, and they offer chaise lounge chairs and cabanas to rent for the day. It’s so refreshing to park yourself on the sand and just enjoy those ocean views. They offer signature cabanas on the beach, hillside cabanas located off the beach but still with ocean views, and, my favorite, presidential cabanas right on the water, with unobstructed views of the ocean. This was a special occasion trip for me, so I splurged and rented the presidential beach cabana.
What’s Included with a Cabana Rental
All cabana rentals come with towels, bottled water, and beach butler service with food and drink delivery. The presidential and signature cabanas come with a pair of chaise lounge chairs. And all cabanas are listed as having seasonal items subject to availability, including a crudité platter, smoothies, and popsicles on arrival, and they all offer bottle service at a separate charge.
What’s Included with a Chaise Lounge Chair Rental
Chaise lounge chairs are the most affordable rental option at the beach, and they are rented in pairs of two. These rentals come with towels, bottled water, a side table and umbrella, and beach butler service with food and drink delivery, which is everything you need when spending a day at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island. They offer seasonal welcome smoothies as well. It’s recommended to book your chaise lounge chairs ahead of time online as weekends tend to sell out.
Choosing the Location of Your Chaise Lounge Chairs
When booking your chaise lounges online ahead of time, you can select the row and location of your chairs. The front row gives you the best view of the ocean, but you also have a front row view of everyone on the sand and kids playing in front of you. If you get one of the back rows, you have an obstructed view the ocean but it’s bound to be a bit more quiet and private.
What to Do at Descanso Beach Club
As you enter Descanso Beach Club, on your left will be a rental stand where you can book several activities. You can rent snorkel gear and swim fins, paddle boards, and single or double kayaks for four hours at a time. They also offer wetsuits, windbreakers, sandals, dry bags, and soft ice chest coolers to bring out on your adventure. You can book these activities ahead of time online, or you can rent them at the stand on the beach.
Where to Eat and Drink while Spending a Day at Descanso Beach Club
There is a restaurant and bar onsite, which means you don’t even have to leave the beach for lunch. Good food and beverages are key when spending a day at Descanso Beach Club, and this location certainly delivers. The restaurant and bar are open for walk up visitors as well. The lunch menu is varied and seasonal, and includes vegetarian options. We ordered a few of their signature cocktails, which were fantastic, my favorite being the Painkiller. They serve beer and wine, and even offer ice buckets of bottled beer for groups. Since Descanso is a private beach, it’s one of the only places in California you can enjoy alcoholic beverages right on the sand.
What to Pack for Your Day at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island
Packing Items for the Water:
- Water shoes. While the beach is breathtaking to behold from the comfortable chaise lounges and cabanas, getting into the water can be a challenge. Descanso Beach is a rocky beach, so water shoes are essential. Trust me, I sat there watching person after person head to the water in excitement, only to turn right back around, in pain and complaining about the large, slippery rocks under the waves.
- A fun water floaty. Once you do get past the rocky shore, the water is beautiful and calm on a nice sunny day. I saw several people relaxing in bliss on giant inflatable flamingos, pineapples, and intertubes. If you forget to bring your own, there is a shop at Descanso that sells them.
- Waterproof and sand proof cell phone pouch. If you’re going to be getting wet or playing in the sand, it’s always a good idea to protect your technology.
- Beach towel. Descanso Beach Club offers towels to those renting the chaise lounges or cabanas, but if you prefer to bring your own quick dry, sand free towel, you certainly can.
Packing Items for the Beach
- A good beach bag. Spending a day at Descanso Beach Club requires a fair bit of walking. It can be about a 15 minute walk from the main stretch of boardwalk. Needless to say, you won’t want to have to walk all the way back to your hotel if you forgot something. Bring a sturdy beach bag that can help you bring all your beach necessities.
- Sun hat. This goes without saying, but protecting your face from the sun is a must. Check out my related article on Recommended Sun Hats for a Summer Vacation.
- Beach games. There are so many fun games to play on the beach. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Water. They sell water at Descanso Beach Club, but it’s always nice to be prepared with your own. I love keeping a hydroflask in my beach bag to keep my water nice and cool.
- Sandals. Just in case you’re wearing your walking shoes when you arrive at Descanso Beach Club, pack some sandals in your beach bag to change into once you arrive.
Spending a Day at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island is Totally Worth it
Paying the fee to rent the beach space and enjoy amazing food and cocktails with a view of the ocean was totally worth it to me. The presidential cabana was absolute paradise, and I absolutely recommend it for groups or those looking for something special on an anniversary or birthday. The chaise lounges and signature cabanas are the more affordable option, however, and include the same amazing beach service. The beach is kept very clean, the staff are very friendly, and it was over all an amazing location and experience.