Many restaurants or businesses offer special discounts or gifts when you proudly announce it is your birthday. On Catalina Island, (also known as the Birthday Island) you’ll be treated like royalty as shops, restaurants, and attractions offer you free items or steeply discounted prices when you wear your Birthday Ribbon, identifying you as a special guest. Even strangers on the street will acknowledge you with a friendly “Happy Birthday!” while passing by.
Catalina Island, only 22 miles from Los Angeles, is a perfect day or weekend getaway. Arriving at the harbor by Avalon, you’re free to explore by strolling around the town or participating in tours or family-friendly activities. And on your birthday, the island – known as “Birthday Island” – offers VIP treatment all day long. Stop by the Chamber of Commerce to get your birthday ribbon as well as a “Passport” filled with coupons for discounts and special savings throughout the island. Then enjoy as you’re treated like royalty throughout the day.
Catalina Island: Getting There in Style
Since Catalina Island is…wait for it…an island, it makes sense to take a ferry. Want to save over $70.00? If it’s your birthday, the ferry gives you a free round trip ticket! Simply pre-register at www.catalinaexpress.com. This ferry leaves from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point. Long Beach also offers other vacation options. If you are further south, the Catalina Flyer leaves daily at 9:30 a.m. from Newport Beach. Alas, no free ticket on your birthday with this ferry. Dolphins are frequently seen dashing through the ferry’s wake. When you arrive at the Avalon pier, look at the waters below to see what looks like giant goldfish. The bright orange Garibaldi fish swimming to greet you are California’s state fish.
Visit the No-Gambling Casino
William Wrigley Jr. showed off his wealth by building a giant casino, never meant to be used as a gambling establishment. “Casino” in Italian means a gathering place. Wrigley built a massive gathering place that includes a 1200 seat theatre and the world’s largest ballroom. In its heyday, 5,000-6,000 people showed up to dance and take in the magnificent views from the surrounding balcony. The Casino is known for its elaborate mosaics in walls, steps and floors. Mr. Wrigley owned his own tile manufacturing company. During our visit, our tour guide was outstanding. For one, her voice carried throughout the building. So often tour guides speak in such soft voices only a few people can hear them. Our tour guide not only spoke in a loud voice, she ended the tour by singing a song imprinted on the walls of the casino. The 45 minute tour is free for all birthday people!
Avalon Scenic Tour
Don’t expect an ordinary pre-recoded city tour broadcast through plastic ear phones. The forty minute tour is led by a colorful local. Our 83-year-old guide, (or was she 79? She kept changing her age!) gave us personal insight into life on this quirky island. We discovered there’s a 30 year waiting list to be allowed to own a car. The majority of people drive around in golf carts or “autoettes,” a cross between a car and golf cart. Have children? Simply attach their car seat to the golf cart seat! The tour goes along the beach as well as up in the hills for a dramatic city overview. Did I mention the tour is free if it is your birthday?
Sorry. No RV Camping
Since cars are severely restricted on the island (even if it is your birthday!), it follows that you won’t see any RVs criss-crossing the island. Hermit Gulch Campground does offer tent camping as well as the chance to rent from several wooden cabins. With clean restrooms and large tent sites, you can experience Catalina Island on a budget.
Rent a golf cart (50% off if it’s your birthday!) and explore the island with your family. If you’ve already been zip lining, try Catalina Island’s evening zip line experience. Propel down five consecutive zip lines at heights of more than 300 feet above the canyon. You’ll reach speeds of 40 m.p.h. in the dark!
Nestled just one block from the beach, Golf Gardens provides an 18 hole miniature golf course. As expected, the birthday guy or gal golfs for free. Want to bowl? Free game for the birthday guest at Three Palms Avalon Arcade. Other activities include the chance to try rock wall climbing, kayaking, snorkeling or riding a Segway. If it’s your birthday, you even get to ride free while tandem parasailing.
Birthday Discounts Galore
The Buffalo Nickel Restaurant offers you a free meal with any item on the birthday menu. Need an afternoon pick-me-up on your birthday? Catalina Coffee and Cookie Company will give you a free 12 oz. gourmet coffee. Many hotels offer the birthday guest complimentary bottles of wine or champagne. The Hotel Vista Del Mar goes so far as to offer free champagne, celebratory balloons, continental breakfast plus milk and cookies at night.
From casual shopping to active hikes or touring in a glass bottomed boat, the fun never ends if it is your birthday on Catalina Island. Don’t worry if no one in your family has an upcoming birthday…the Island activities are open to all non-birthday people as well!