6 Cocktails to Savor on Catalina Island


Catalina ExpressCome on, forget it’s Monday. We’re going to Catalina Island to soak up some sun, and moreover, some booze. But first you’ve got to get there. Make your reservation on the Catalina Express (ride free on your birthday, otherwise it’s $74.50 per person, round trip from Long Beach, and for a bit extra you can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge, which comes with a drink ticket and includes priority boarding).

After the hour-long ride to the town of Avalon, check in to your hotel if staying the night, drop your bags and get your drinking shorts on.

Head to the Descanso Beach Club for lunch, then maybe lounge in one of several cabanas on the club’s man-made beach (and being man-made, rather than public, means it’s legal to drink on this playa). The cocktails here are some of the best on the island thanks to Ben Villalobos, director of food and beverage for Santa Catalina Island Island Company, the company which owns the beach club and several other properties including the famous Catalina Casino. Villalobos, who previously spent time running resorts in the Middle East, now lives full time on the island. He brought in Rick Fogel, owner of Bar Starz, to run a comprehensive bar training program, focused on consistency and efficiency of service and the use of fresh ingredients (the fruit and citrus juices for their cocktails are preservative free — just juice and cane sugar brought to the island frozen).


“Consistency is key to a great experience at the beach club,” explained Fogel, given the regular occurrence of as many as 2,500 people unloading from a cruise ship and effectively slamming the bar staff. Two must-try quaffs are the Vice (the drink with the red middle) with Bacardi light, pineapple coconut mix, strawberry mix & dark rum float, and the Cabana Colada 12 (pictured to the right of the Vice) a blend of Bacardi light rum, pineapple coconut mix, pineapple juice & Myer’s rum float.

The most popular drink you’ll encounter on the island is the “Buffalo Milk” cocktail, which nearly every restaurant and bar offers with some variation. The original was a blend of creme de cocoa, kalua, creme de banana and vodka — which originated in Two Harbors, a small town on the western shore of the island. The inspiration: real Buffalos living on Catalina, brought over in 1924 for the filming of The Vanishing American.

Fogel offered to let me make my own, and under his careful supervision, I whipped up my first Buffalo Milk smoothie, which should be your first drink too. So, here are six cocktails to try on Catalina Island, some for their decadence, some, purely for their effects. Happy sailing, sunning, and sipping.


Buffalo Milk (above, $12)

A decadent and thick smoothie-like blend of vodka, coffee liqueur, banana liqueur and crème de cacao topped with whipped cream and nutmeg. Yummmm.

Get it here: Descanso Beach Club, 1 St. Catherine Way, Avalon (310) 510-7410


Descanso Destroyer ($12)

Sidle up to the bar and ask for Bar Supervisor Juan Saldana or Juan’s fiancée, Sara Mintz, who also bartends. They’ll be your new best friends, and since Juan grew up on the island, he can tell you whatever you want to know as he mixes up the Destroyer — Bacardi Oakheart, Bacardi 151, amaretto, crème de noyaux, orange and pineapple juice.

Get it here: Descanso Beach Club, 1 St. Catherine Way, Avalon (310) 510-7410


Dragon Berry Mojito ($10)

Made with Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum, fresh strawberries, muddled mint and lime, this is one popular and highly photogenic drink. Instagram alert!

Get it here: Avalon Grille, 423 Crescent Ave, Avalon (310) 510-7494


Wrigley Martini ($15)

Once the businessman’s lunch, the Wrigley Martini is now the beach-goer’s tipple down history lane for whenever the mood strikes you, business or casual.

Get it here: Avalon Grille, 423 Crescent Ave, Avalon (310) 510-7494


Wiki Wacker ($9)

This one does the trick pretty quick. It’s so fruity you barely notice all the light rum and brandy beneath the fresh pineapple and orange juice. Bonus: this cocktail comes with either a free hat or sticker — luck of the bartender’s draw.

Get it here: Luau Larry’s, 509 Crescent Ave, Avalon (310) 510-1919


Bloody Mary ($8)

Take in the best oceanfront view with this no-frills Bloody Mary, which has more than enough vodka to warm you from the cool ocean breeze — order the lobster roll while you’re at it.

Get it at: Bluewater Avalon Seafood Restaurant, 306 Crescent Ave, Avalon (310) 510-3474


Where to eat: Avalon Grille, 423 Crescent Ave, Avalon, (310) 510-7494

 Where to stay: Pavilion Hotel, 513 Crescent Ave, Avalon,(310) 510-1788 (complimentary wine and cheese hour from 4:30pm-5:30pm, and directly across from the beach, showers available for post-kayak, snorkeling or beach activities).

Best happy hour: The Sandtrap, Avalon Canyon Rd, Avalon,(310) 510-2505 (this locals joint offers $1 tacos and $9 draft pitchers of beer daily from 2pm to 7pm).

Best dive bar: The Locker Room Sports Bar, 126 Sumner Ave, Avalon,(310) 510-0258.

Best late night: Marlin Club, 108 Catalina Ave, Avalon,(310) 510-0044

Just opened: Descanso Fresh at The Descanso Beach Club — an espresso bar and café serving up “adult ice cream shakes” for $12 and illy coffee to sober up.

Rumored opening: No doubt you’ve heard of Rusack, the winery on Catalina Island, owned by Geoff and Alison Wrigley Rusack. Well, according to the Santa Catalina Island Company, “The Rusack winery is in development and looks forward to welcoming guests in the future.”