To have a Catalina Island Elopement is to choose breathtaking views, charming scenery, and a unique island experience. I’ve created this Catalina Island Elopement guide to help you discover all the best spots to tie the knot as well as the logistics, and tips you’ll need to plan your epic adventure elopement!
Have you just started dreaming of a Catalina Island Elopement? Well, stop dreaming, and start planning! Catalina Island is a hidden gem when it comes to eloping couples, and rest assured, you’ll likely be the only wedding couple on the whole island during your elopement! With beautiful beaches, incredible hiking trails and so many spots to explore — Catalina Island is really the perfect place for an adventure elopement!
For some couples, planning a Catalina Island Elopement throws up a lot of questions because there’s not much information out there on how to elope at this location. This is something I’m trying to change! I adore this island and I know this place can serve as a really great alternative to those tempted to elope to Hawaii (Not throwing shade on Hawaii because I also do elopements and intimate weddings in Hawaii. I’ve been there at least 12 times and to each of the 4 main islands between 3 and 6 times, so I know those islands very well and love them!)
However, there are some downsides to Hawaii. It’s incredibly expensive once you are there and it’s a long flight to and from the islands. For those of you that don’t like flying or just generally want to make less of a commitment in terms of travel and cost, Catalina Island looks and feels just as exotic and exciting as a Hawaii elopement and at a fraction of the cost. So, I thought I would take you through my guide on how to plan a Catalina Island Elopement in hopes I may inspire your big wedding adventure, or inform your upcoming trip. I’m here for you as your friendly California elopement photographer, someone who loves to share the outdoors with couples and help them have their most memorable adventure yet!
Table of Contents
How to Plan an Elopement to Catalina Island
Having a Catalina Island Elopement in my opinion is one of the most romantic things you can do! It’s the perfect destination for an elopement because of the many activities it provides and the romantic ambiance it has. You can choose to hike for the day, sunbathe and swim at the beach, or explore the many different areas on the island. What’s so great about Catalina Island is that the weather here is good year-round so you can literally have your elopement any day of the week. Whether you choose to have your ceremony on Avalon or at Two Harbors the tropical feel of the island is going to have you falling in love all over again.
Avalon and Two Harbors, Two Very Different Vibes on One Island
The two towns of Avalon, and Two Harbors, are like night and day in comparison. Both are beautiful locations for an elopement, but when you consider how relatively small Catalina Island is, it’s incredible how different they are. Two Harbors, for instance, is a rustic little village with very little development, other than a friendly bar, and a very local style restaurant. It offers that Hawaiian rugged and remote feel. Many people traveling to Two Harbors specifically go there to either start or end their hike along the Trans-Catalina Trail, so you will see a lot of backpackers on your ferry ride and in the town center.
Avalon on the other hand is much larger, more developed, and offers non-locals that sort of Positano, Italian Amalfi Coast feel. Many day-trippers visit Avalon during the weekend, and they all come in search of the area’s bougie, touristy atmosphere with many options for restaurants, stay accommodations, and various island activities.
As a couple planning an elopement, Catalina Island offers a unique opportunity. As you have two entirely different locations to tie the knot in or explore, on the same, small island. It’s now also possible to explore both ends of Catalina on the same day via the Cyclone powerboat. A high-speed powerboat that takes passengers on a stunning cruise from Green Pier in Avalon, along the coast, and into the village of Two Harbors. All in less than 40 minutes! Perfect if you want to visit both locations in one day while your elopement photographer is with you.
How to Get to Catalina Island
There are two ways to get to Catalina Island, by sea, or by air. You can either travel publicly or privately. Obviously, the private option by sea or air is a lot more expensive, and most couples choose to use the passenger ferries. What’s great about these ferries is that they are actually comfortable, covered, and super quick, and will have you on the island in roughly an hour.
The ferry company that operates this route, is Catalina Express. The express offers transportation in the port cities of Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. The Catalina Flyer departs from Newport Beach. Since this is considered public transportation, you will need to wear a mask while on the ferry boat. Both companies offer reasonably priced tickets, and as most visitors and residents get around the island by foot, bike, or golf cart — there are no rental car options on the island!
If you do prefer a more intimate, and luxurious experience. Consider starting your Catalina Island elopement by flying onto the island by private helicopter. The helicopter ride only takes 15 minutes, and I can recommend several helicopter companies for your ride depending on where you’d like to depart from. There are helipads in Avalon, Two Harbors, and Airport in the Sky as well as other various areas you can land.
Where to Stay on Catalina Island
As mentioned, Avalon and Two Harbors offer two very different types of experience and opportunities. The development of Avalon offers a bountiful supply of hotels, and accommodation available to visitors. While the more rustic, and low-key Two Harbors offers only the Banning House and the campground. Therefore, you need to consider what type of adventure you want for your Catalina Island elopement. Do you want to wake up under the stars following a night of dancing in the open air to live music? Or would you rather be stirred from your slumber by the sound of room service being delivered to your room? Are you a Two Harbors couple, or an Avalon couple?
How to Travel while on Catalina Island
The Cyclone power boat travels to and from Avalon and Two Harbors. The Cyclone is a large, open-air powerboat and takes less than 40 minutes to travel between the two areas. To make a reservation, click here. In Avalon, you have the option to rent a golf cart by the hour. In Two Harbors, you can walk, or rent a bike.
Accommodation in Two Harbors
There is only one wedding venue, and one hotel in Two Harbors, and they are within the same location, Banning House. Once the summer home of the Banning brothers, this lodge is now a craftsman-style bed and breakfast spot, with sweeping views of the Isthmus of Catalina and Catalina Harbor. As this is the only accommodation in Two Harbors, it gets booked up early, so be quick if you want to stay here! It is certainly worth the effort, as it offers elopement couples a very cozy, peaceful experience upon its hilltop perch. If you don’t manage to snap up a room at Banning House, there are plenty of campsites around. If the Banning House is booked, don’t feel discouraged, because there are lots of hotels to stay at in Avalon as well!
Accommodation in Avalon
There’s a wide range of hotel options in Avalon, ranging from stunning luxury to hilltop charm. From the glamour of Hotel Metropole, through to the exclusivity of Mt Ada and onto the quaint feel of the Snug Harbor Inn you’re spoiled choice when it comes to pretty hotels. My favorite is Hamilton Cove. It’s away from the hustle and bustle, but a complimentary golf cart comes with your booking, so you are a short drive away from the excitement of downtown Avalon. As there are so many wonderful elopement accommodation opportunities available on the Avalon side of Catalina Island, I’ll go through the very best of them in a separate post here.
Best Wedding Venues for Your Catalina Island Elopement
These areas are my personal favorites. Isthmus Cove is the harbor you arrive in Two Harbors. Cat Harbor is a short and flat walk away. For those of you that don’t like the idea of walking uphill on your elopement day, this is perfect for you! In these areas, you will remain close to the local restaurant, restroom facilities, and dock. There are many rock beaches and sand beaches around to say your vows with nobody in sight! Especially if you elope on a weekday, or during the off-season, you will have a stunning, intimate, and natural space all to yourself.
Lover’s Cove will come up often in your google search. This is rated high for snorkeling. Although, I wouldn’t recommend this place as an intimate spot to say your vows. There are many coves similar to Lover’s cove around the island that are much more intimate and private that would be a better fit for exchanging vows!
If you’ve decided to position your Catalina Island elopement on the Two Harbors end of Catalina Island, and it’s important to you to have some of your close family and friends there, the Banning House Lodge is an option to rent out and stay the night on Two Harbors. The Banning House is located in the stretch in between Isthmus Cove and Cat Harbor and has some pretty great views of the Isthmus and Catalina Harbor. Personally, I think there are much better options to choose from in Avalon for stay accommodations, but for the sake of this guide, I wouldn’t want to leave out the Banning house as an option, because it’s the only proper construction to stay at in Two Harbors. The other option is to camp!
Wrigley Botanical Garden
Charming doesn’t begin to describe the stunning gardens and museum at Wrigley Botanical Garden. The gardens themselves are home to a plethora of incredible plants, and wildlife which makes for the perfect photography backdrop, or place to explore for your elopement!
Garden to Sky Trail
Garden to Sky Trail is another perfect place for the hiking loving couple, with nearly 3 miles (4.83 km) of jaw-dropping views to experience, from all angles. If you intend to have an adventure elopement for, and your photographer is ordained (like me!), this spot is perfect! Because you can explore the trail together during the day, and when you find that perfect backdrop for your ceremony, you can stop and tie the knot in the middle of nowhere!
Descanso Beach Club
The Descanso Beach Club is one of the most popular wedding venues on Catalina Island and is located in Avalon because it’s the only venue that can accommodate several dozens of guests. If you are not having a guest count of 50+ people, I do not recommend this venue instead have your ceremony on the beach or I can book you something even more special!
As an elopement photographer, I have visited this beautiful California venue many times over the years, and have built up a unique relationship with their team. This has allowed me to book exclusive experiences for my clients, offers not available to anyone else publicly. For instance, I can arrange for you to have a private, and intimate dinner on the terrace of the Descanso Beach Club, or one of their luxurious cabanas. A once-in-a-lifetime experience that cannot be repeated. But this can only be booked through me, and can only be booked for two people wanting to have a private dinner, so please do get in touch if you would like more information.
How to Legally Elope to Catalina Island
To get legally married on Catalina Island, you will need to get a California marriage license since Catalina Island is technically part of Los Angeles County. To see how to get a marriage license for your elopement, take a look at this post from Brides.
You’ll also need an officiant to legally sign your marriage license, and guess what? That’s me! I am officially ordained as well as your guide and photographer! If you want an officiant to perform a ceremony script for you, I can help make arrangements for that as well.
The Best Activities for your Catalina Island Elopement
Luckily, apart from your exchange of vows, there are plenty of other exciting, and adventurous things to do while staying on the island. You can choose to do these activities on your elopement day or before/after. From really adventurous activities like hiking, diving, mountain biking, kayaking, etc to wine tasting, cruising around the island on a boat or taking a helicopter ride, or simply taking in the charm of Avalon while eating ice cream, there are many activities to fit all different personalities and preferences. From helicopter tours and zip lining across the island to kayaking, boating, and diving — there’s so much to do and see while your guests celebrate your big day!
If you’d rather your feet were closer to terra firma, there are so many hikes you can take around the island. The Trans Catalina Trail is one of my favorites and a dream destination for so many adventure seekers. Spanning a length of 38.5-miles, this meandering trail takes you from Avalon in the east of Catalina, through to Two Harbors in the west. With multiple camps dotted across the hilly walk, this trip would be the perfect honeymoon experience for an outdoor-loving couple.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Catalina Island?
The best time of the year to visit Catalina Island is all year long. This is because of the constant sunshine in Southern California and moderate seasons. Summer is going to have more tourists, but depending on how you design your elopement day, tourists won’t get in the way of your intimate day.
I hope that this has inspired you to consider having your elopement on Catalina Island or maybe give you the info you need to start browsing some photography packages. It would be an honor to join you on your adventure elopement and be the California photographer who captures your big day!
Looking forward to hearing from you!