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  • Writer's pictureShayna Gaman-Bean

An Island, a Disney, and a National Park: A Bean Family Holiday SoCal Road Trip

Updated: Mar 31

"The desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it." ~ Robert Edison Fulton Jr.

Technically speaking, this trip took us to 3 deserts: A desert island, a Disney desert at Radiator Springs, and the Mojave desert!

The inspiration for this trip started with the desire to do a SoCal road trip and see a couple national parks: The Channel Islands and Joshua Tree. We invited my parents along who had this genius idea to go to Catalina. So after some shifting of plans, we decided to forgo the Channel Islands National Park for this trip and visit Catalina (part of the Channel Islands, just not part of the National Park) and Joshua Tree and decided to throw some Disney in between. It ended up being the perfect variety of entertainment and scenery.

Day 1, 12.26.23:

We were up early which was a little challenging the day after Christmas, but we made it and were ready to go at 0900 when my parents showed up. Our plan was to drive together.

We hit the road and quickly got separated and were separated for most of the drive. We only had to stop a couple times for food, bathroom and gas. There was a ton of traffic and we had a few significant hold ups.

We were planning on leaving at 0900 and arriving at 1800. While we did leave at 0900, we didn’t arrive until about 1830, so not too bad after all.

We stayed at the Hilton in Long Beach. Nice place and great location. Pluses were dog friendly, nice rooms, friendly staff, great onsite restaurant and bar, entertainment for the kids (giant jenga) and hot cocoa. Only downside is that parking sucked, but they let us park in valet without doing valet. Also, we prepaid for breakfast for all of us, yet they said we only paid for 2 adults. Super annoying, but our waiter was awesome and comped us all the next day.

After a dinner in the hotel restaurant, we crashed by about 2130.

Day 2, 12.27.23:

We met for the hotel breakfast (which was great) at 0700 then headed to the Catalina Express.

Our ferry departed at 0950, but they say to get there at least one hour early. There is easy paid parking nearby and check in was super easy. The rules are definitely not as strict as they say in their confirmation email. They said there was a weight limit, but no one was weighing anything. And all dogs had to be muzzled in line, but they were definitely not enforcing that.

People started lining up super early and I would recommend lining up early to get good seats during the busier times. Coming back was much less busy and we got on right before it left and there were plenty of seats.

The ferry took about an hour and we got great seats outside. We saw lots of birds flying alongside the boat and got a great view of the Queen Mary. We also saw a pod of dolphins.

Our first sighting!

We arrived at about 1100, got our luggage and headed to our shuttle.

Our hotel Catalina Canyon Inn was a popular one today and we waited a little while for the shuttle. While we waited, we chatted with the local security officer who was born and raised on the island, as was most of his family, so very interesting hearing all about life on the island.

When the shuttle arrived, there was only room for 4 people and luggage so my dad,  Mike and I walked about a mile to the hotel. It was mostly pretty easy and fun to walk downtown.

There was a steep part towards the end. It was great exercise and we ended up doing it a ton with no problem.

We then checked in.

And then headed back to town to explore and get lunch.

Lunch was at Original Jacks. One thing we quickly discovered is that some places are closed during the off season and many restaurants run out of things on the menu. A little annoying at first, but that is island life for ya!

After lunch we walked back to the hotel for naps and Mike went on a run. Then they went swimming in the freezing cold pool.

The pool area was beautiful. The restaurant is closed this time of year unfortunately.

Then showers and off to find dinner and see all the beautiful lights at night. Avalon is just gorgeous!!

We had dinner at Antonio's a yummy Italian place.

Then to Vons to grab desserts. Vons became a regular spot for us given we always seemed to need something from the store and it was super convenient!

Day 3, 12.28.23:

We started off our day meeting Charles and his family for breakfast at The Sandtrap. Really liked this place. You order at a window, so not a restaurant with service, but it was quick and easy and the food was good. They also have a full bar and food all day.

Then we let the kids play at the nearby park.

Then headed further into town for miniature golfing at Golf Gardens Mini Golf. We loved the course and there were several hole in ones!

Awesome hole in one Aidan!

Then off to ice cream at Scoops, super yummy.

We enjoyed the ice cream cove-side and then wandered to the dock and said goodbye to Charles and family.

We got to see some of the orange fish called Garibaldi. Much more on the Garibaldi fish later.

Then we walked to check out the Casino. While the Casino has never had gambling, it has been used for social gatherings and houses a ballroom and theater

We weren’t able to go in at the time but got great views of the outside. Love seeing Avalon from all different views.

Then we walked around Avalon some more and let the kids play at the park again before going back to Antonio's for pizza.

Then kids then babysat the dog, Bernie, while all the grownups went to dinner at Mi Casita. I loved the buffalo milk drink!! Great dinner!!

Then a walk home and bed.

Day 4, 12.29.23:

We started off with breakfast at Pancake Cottage. Loved it! Diverse menu and everything was delicious. We beat the morning rush by getting there at 0830.

Then a quick pit stop at the park.

Then back to the hotel to be picked up for our private golf cart tour of the Avalon.

The tour showed us Avalon from every angle. We learned so much about the island history which mostly surrounds the Wrigley family.

Some fun facts:

  • Desert island, cacti are native but all tress are not.

  • Wrigley family is liable for trees and about 18 years ago, one tree branch killed an 18 year old in a car. So now arborists tend to the trees and there have been no accidents since.

  • Wrigley’s own 12% of the island and the conservancy owns the rest.

  • Marilyn Monroe briefly lived on the island and we saw her white house.

  • No celebrities own houses on island because it's small, there are so many people, and not much to do.

  • There are natural reservoirs on top of the island for animals.

  • Expensive gas!

After our tour we picked up my mom and headed to town for our submarine tour. It was 45 minutes long and we made a few stops on our way to Lover’s Cove. We mainly saw Garibaldi, California Kelp Bass, and Opal Eye fish.

You can pay extra to feed the fish which entices them to swim up to the boat.

Towards the end of the tour we all got to go up top to watch docking.

Then the grownups had drinks at Pete’s Cafe while the kids went miniature golfing again.

Next off to dinner at Avalon Grille. It was good, but not worth what we paid.

Then back to the hotel to pack.

Another 15k step day! Of note, be prepared to walk a lot!! But we loved it!!

Day 5, 12.30.23:

We had another early start to our day to get breakfast again at the Sandtrap. Then back to the hotel to finish packing and back to the Catalina Express.

The shuttle from the hotel was only able to take our luggage and 5 people and the dog, so Mike and I gladly walked.

We arrived at about 1010 which was way earlier than I thought and we didn’t have to check in until 1050. Interesting thing was there was already a boat there boarding people. At the time it didn’t register that it was an earlier departure time, but my dumb luck, I asked and they said for a small fee ($5/person), we could ride on that ferry. So we jumped on that opportunity.

It departed at 1015 and had a smooth trip back to Long Beach.

I should add that it was super rainy all night and morning,  but the rain stopped and clouds cleared right as we left!

We said good-bye to my parents and headed to Disneyland which was super quick, just about 30 minutes.

Our luck continued because it was only noon, but our room was ready for us to check in.

We dropped our stuff at our room which was on the top/5th floor and had a great view of the pool!! We always book a suite for the pull out sofa and extra space and with fees and taxes, it’s about $400 per night. You also get a full kitchen which we never use, but still nice just in case.

A few notes on the hotel Hyatt House:

We've been coming here for years and have always been very happy, but it clearly needs a refresh. Everything feels so old and used and the breakfast is barely edible. We managed to find something to eat there, but it definitely wasn't good. However, it’s still a deal for Disney standards!

Then off to Downtown Disney for some snacks at Wetzels pretzels and just enjoying Disney and the decor.

Then back to the hotel to go swimming. The pool was cool, but we all got in. I spent most of my time in the hot tub of course.

Then showers and back to Downtown Disney for dinner. It was crazy long waits except for Splitzville which is where we had a great dinner.

Then back to the hotel for an on-time bedtime in preparation for our big 2 days coming up.

Day 6, 12.31.23:

We were up at about 0600, at breakfast at 0700 and at Disney by about 0800.

It was pretty easy getting in, waits not too bad. We did our usual family pic at the entrance.

Then off to Thunder Mountain.

While we waited just a little for our pic, I quickly figured out the Genie system and booked lightning lanes for Rise of the Resistance and one other. A few things I learned:

  1. You can only book 2 rides at a time.

  2. You can only book each ride once per day.

3. Better to save some lightning lanes for later in the day when it gets busier, however not too late because there may be none left or they may be too late in the day.

4. Let's be real, it’s a huge waste of $$, but also necessary now. I hate this about Disney. It’s really better with no Genie, LL, or fast pass…. But what am I going to do about it?!? Nothing! HAHA!! I'm going to keep going and pay. LOL!

5. For Rise of the resistance and Radiator springs racers, you have to pay even extra, how crazy his that???? ROTR is more ($128 for our family) than RSR ($104), but we did it and we were all super happy to experience the rides without the crazy waits!

Nevertheless, the crowds actually weren’t that bad and we managed to do so many rides and get lots of yummy treats including churros (the gingerbread with butterscotch dipping sauce and plain with marshmallow mint dipping sauce were so good!!!)

We went strong until about 1600.

Then headed back to the hotel for naps and were back in the park at 1900 for more rides and yummy food.

After 2100 the crowds started building, but we managed to do a few more rides. The castle was so beautiful!!

While we were waiting in line for the haunted mansion we started to notice the music playing and finally realized they had an actual DJ playing and he was doing a pretty great job! We all started dancing in line.

There was an early firework show at 2100 that we mostly missed because of rides and walking around, but we knew there would be another show at midnight, so we weren’t too worried.

Of course we had to grab some more treats.

By about 2330 we deiced to claim our spot the watch the show. We were by the water just outside of Pirates and it was the perfect spot. The music, show, countdown, dancing and fireworks were simply amazing!!! It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

I still get chills thinking about how amazing the show was and how exciting it was when the clock struck midnight!

After the show we were all so tired. Getting out was a little challenging because of the crowds, but overall not too bad. It just took a while because there were so many people and they were making us all walk in one direction. I imagine it would have been crazier if they didn't do crowd control like they did.

We were back at the hotel and in bed by about 0100.

Day 7, 01.01.24:

This morning we “slept in” and were down to breakfast by about 0800 and in DCA by about 0900. We were moving a little slower,  but still doing pretty well all considering.

We started off with some treats.

We booked our lighting lanes and made our way to Goofy Sky school, Ariel and Maters before heading to our LL at RS Racers. This will always be our favorite ride!

We had another fantastic day of riding all our favorite rides and eating lots of yummy food.

Somehow we made it to 2200, although Kendall did need to take a little nap at the end.

We crashed hard in the hotel at about 2300.

Day 8, 01.02.24:

We slept in, packed and headed to Downtown Disney for breakfast at Tortilla Jo’s.

We were back at the hotel and checked out at about 1200 and headed to Joshua Tree National Park.

The drive to Desert Hot Springs took about 2 hours and we got there at about 1500 which was too early to check in to our hotel so we decided to got to the park.

It’s an interesting entrance system that you either pay on entrance or exit and when we arrived they pushed us through at the entrance so we didn’t get our usual sign pic. We quickly made it through and went straight to Baker Dam.

The park is definitely full of Joshua Trees.

But interestingly, it’s not the best part of the park. The rock formations are definitely the most interesting of what we saw.

We did the 1.1 mile loop of the Barker Dam Nature Trail which was stunning!! We witnessed the most beautiful sunset. We almost got lost because the trail isn’t super well marked and it started getting dark, but we made it safely back to the car.

Unfortunately it was too cloudy to watch the night sky.

We checked into our hotel Aqua Soleil.

Then we went to dinner at the near by restaurant Capri which was at another resort. Dinner was good, service a little slow, but they had warned us they were busy.

Then back to our hotel for a night swim in the heated pool and 2 hot tubs.

Thoughts on hotel. A little bit of a mixed review:

  1. You get what you pay for ~$112/night.

2. Rooms are ok, but walls very thin!!! Stay on top floor.

3. They only give you 2 towels, so lame, even when I asked for more!!

4. No breakfast so we had to do a quick starbies run in the morning.

5. All rooms have patios and we had a nice view of the mountains

6. We did like the pool and hot tubs!

Day 9, 01.03.24:

We took our time getting ready, got Starbies for breakfast, went swimming, took showers, packed and then headed back to Joshua Tree for some more viewing.

This time we got our sign pic:

We went to arch rock:

And heart rock which are nearby each other and a quick walk from the road:

Then to skull rock which is literally right by the road:

Both are super popular, so expect crowds.

It was also super cool this day with some fog, so be prepared for anything if you go in the winter!

Then we grabbed a late lunch and hit the road at about 1400. It was a long, but uneventful drive home and we made it home at about 2330.

So good to be home after another amazing trip!!



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