On the water, near California’s Catalina Island.

By Travel + Leisure
August 31, 2012
Carol Cochrane Photography

The California launch point for Catalina Island and home to the RMS Queen Mary makes for a fun—and educational—family-oriented seafaring weekend escape. Take a ferry to wander the 22-mile-long Catalina Island, dine on fresh seafood, and then call it a night and sleep aboard a retired war ship in the harbor.

Steve's Steakhouse

Fourth-generation islander Steve Bray opened this seafood and steak restaurant, just steps from the pier, in 2001. The upstairs dining room has panoramic views of Avalon Harbor from the arched bay windows. Historic photos of Catalina hang on the white walls, and black linen-covered tables often have vases filled with orchids shipped from Hawaii. The menu includes a selection of beef cuts, like a 12-ounce rib eye, as well as seafood options such as shrimp, lobster, or King crab. Steve has an extensive martini list, but his signature drink is the Key Lime Pie, a mix of vanilla vodka, pineapple juice, and a graham cracker rim.

Queen Mary

Now owned by the city of Long Beach, this historic ship made 1,001 transatlantic crossings carrying WWII soldiers. Grab a map for a self-guided tour through the wedding chapel, isolation ward, and engine room. You can stay in one of the 307 Art Deco staterooms, including eight suites, with original décor and artwork (but also with 32-inch flat-screen TVs).

Catalina Express ferry

Since 1981, the fast track to Catalina Island from San Pedro, Long Beach, or Dana Point is aboard the Catalina Express. Eight different vessels cut through choppy waves on 30 hour-long voyages daily. The largest vessel is the Catalina Jet, which can accommodate 500 people, and the fleet also includes four catamarans. An upgrade to the Commodore Lounge includes larger seats and complimentary food and beverage. A Captain’s Lounge is also available, with prices depending on the port of departure. Destinations are either the small town of Avalon or the tiny village of Two Harbors.

Buster's Beach House Grill and Longboard Bar

This surf-themed establishment resides in far southern Long Beach, near the marina, along Alamitos Bay, and beyond a recessed entrance. Inside, Buster’s has blue floors and stools, wood tables, a central bar, and flat-screen TVs galore, though diners may prefer water views. Breakfast revolves around menu items that appear with eggs, whether it’s steak or bacon. Heartier fare arrives in a skillet, and “heartfully healthy” options are good for active diners. Later in the day, Buster’s serves sandwiches and salads, plus pizzas, including one that’s two feet long and in the shape of a surfboard. To drink, they have tropical cocktails and draft beer.