SoCal / Travel

How to go to Catalina Island Completely for Free

Photo courtesy of Notable Travels

*updated 4/2024

I love a good deal and Catalina offers quite a few.  Next time you’re planning an adventure, think of cruising over to this gorgeous piece of the Channel Islands archipelago.  With the right forethought into planning, you could essentially take a free trip to Catalina Island, including transportation, activities, food and dessert!

As travelers, we are always on the lookout for the best deals–last minute bookings, fare alerts, holiday specials, and accidental price drops on airline tickets; you name it. Sometimes these are the only opportunities we get to actually go to some of these places.  I believe these deals are wanderlust karma for all the hard and often-times tedious research we put into our obsession to roam.  Hence you can imagine my elation when I discovered a way to visit Catalina island completely for free! 

As a former beach dwelling resident of L.A., the beautiful island of Santa Catalina seems but a stone’s throw away.  Yet I’ve somehow managed not to explore the island in the 16+ years I lived in California. Embarrassing, I know.  But, despite it’s beachy appeal and short boat ride away, tickets are usually around $84+ roundtrip ($65+ for children 2-11), making it quite an expensive commitment right off the bat.  However, that’s not to say it isn’t worth it.  Who am I to judge if I haven’t experienced it.  Plus, it has been brought to my attention that there are ways to get incredible discounts and even go for free if you are smart about it.  So, although it is odd for me to write about a destination I have not yet visited, it still seems like something worthy to share.


Getting to Catalina Island for Free

The first step is getting there and if you make reservations for your birthday, you will be eligible to receive a free roundtrip ferry ride for your birthday!  The catch is, you must travel during your birthday month.  Nonetheless, you’re welcome to stay up to 30 days before you make your return to the mainland.  Just be sure to bring ID as it may be required for proof.

**Update: unfortunately Catalina Express has decided to end their 6 year promotion offering free birthday ferry rides.  They continue to run promotions for Best of Winter in November and also have partnerships with AAA and Costco that are still available. However, there IS still a way to access FREE roundtrip boat rides to the island. See the offer from Snug Harbor Inn, Hotel Vista del Mar, and the Seaport Village Inn below!!

Keep scrolling for more freebies below!


Photo courtesy of World Property Journal

Free Birthday Goodies & Activities on Catalina Island

Ask for specific birthday discounts and giveaways when booking or making reservations.

  • Free game of bowling on your birthday at Three Palms Avalon Arcade
  • Rent a bike for two hours at Brown’s Bikes on your birthday and get the rest of the day for free, plus a bottle of water!
  • Get out into nature! Hiking permits may be required, but they are always free and available the day of upon request.
  • Visit the Catalina Island Conservancy for free on your birthday.  See the Wrigley Memorial and botanical garden with no admission fees!
  • Enjoy a free round of mini golf at Golf Gardens on your birthday!
  • Dive in!  Just bring a friend and dive for free on your birthday at Scuba by Design.  Use the code BIRTHDAY
  • At the Buffalo Nickel Restaurant, enjoy any item on the birthday menu, free of charge. They’ll even provide you with free shuttle service to the restaurant and back to the docks.
  • Need a pick-me-up?  Stop into the Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co. for a complimentary 12oz cup of coffee or tea on your birthday.
  • Celebrate your birthday by popping over to Lloyd’s of Avalon for a free scoop of ice cream.


descanso beach club catalina island

Descano Beach Club

Accommodation Birthday Perks & Freebies

  • Stay at the Aurora Hotel and Spa on your birthday and receive two free tickets to the Catalina Island Museum.
  • The Snug Harbor Inn sure knows how to pamper you on your birthday.  When staying in the same month as your birthday, you’ll be treated to complimentary roundtrip boat tickets, a bottle of champagne or wine upon arrival, a scoop of gelato or ice cream at Scoops, celebratory balloons set up in-room and a free gift when checking in!
  • Stay at the Seaport Village Inn for 3 nights and receive 2 complimentary roundtrip ferry rides on the Catalina Express – valid anytime throughout the year with exception of weekends. Use the promo code: Catalina Package
  • When you choose to stay at Hotel Vista del Mar anytime during your birthday month, you’ll receive free roundtrip ferry accommodations on the Catalina Express, a complimentary bottle of wine or champagne upon arrival, an in-room setup of birthday balloons, and a free gift upon check-in.
  • Earn yourself a 10% discount at the Casa Mariquita Hotel on the night of your birthday.
  • Life is like a box of chocolates, especially on your birthday at the Catalina Island Inn.  Receive a complimentary box of Lloyd’s of Avalon chocolates plus your choice of champagne or sparkling cider. Must ask for the “BIRTHDAY SPECIAL” at the time of reservation (like most of these specials) and present ID with proof of birth date at check in


Avalon Grille

Discounted Stays

  • Get a discount when you stay during the week at the Hermosa Hotel – use the code WEEKDAYSAVE upon booking.
  • Get a “suite” deal at the Hotel Catalina and Courtyard Garden Suites.  Stay for 1 night on your birthday and receive 10% off, stay 2 and receive 20% with complimentary morning Kona Coffee, Tea, Juice, Danish and Cookies.  Guests also receive 10% off on breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret on the waterfront and Original Jack’s Country Kitchen on your birthday. 10% off on any tour from the Catalina Adventure Tours.
  • Hotel Metropole offers 20% discount on rooms and a couples massage for $250 (normally $280) at A Touch of Heaven Day Spa. Additional nights 10% discount.

Camping on Catalina Island isn't free but it's quite affordable

Photo by Catalina Island Explorer 

Discounted Travel

  •  Every leap year, there are special package deals and accommodations for insanely discounted prices.  Check here for current deals.
  • IEX offers a birthday discount of 10% for Catalina Island helicopter flights, which makes it $143.00 per person (each way). Guests can make use of this offer within 7 days of their birthdays.
  • Traveling in a large group?  For every 25 (adult) roundtrip tickets on the Catalina Express, get a roundtrip ticket for only $7.  Great to keep in mind for wedding parties, corporate events, and family gatherings!
  • Find more package deals that include lodging and transportation here.


Arrive by ferry to Catalina Island for free

Did you take advantage of this once in a year opportunity?  Let me know in the comments how your experience going to Catalina Island for free was and include any tips or perks I may have missed!

Visit beautiful Catalina Island for free

Photo by Jack Baldelli


How to go to Catalina Island for free
About Author

Mom, model, expat & adventure seeker! Life is an adventure and I'm here to share how our family lives it with style - DeziStyle. • Health conscious travel & adventure •


  • Ty-Leah
    July 31, 2023 at 15:09

    Hi, do we just call the ferry and ask about all the discounts for the hotels and stuff?

    • DeziStyle
      April 8, 2024 at 03:40

      Each vendor operates independently as far as I know, so you would have to inquire with them individually. As for the ferry, it has been brought to my attention that they are unfortunately no longer offering free ferry rides.

    • DeziStyle
      April 8, 2024 at 07:02

      Click the links listed in the blog for more details. 🙂

  • Michelle
    January 23, 2023 at 20:29

    Is 2023 still free ferry boat rides to catalina?

    • DeziStyle
      April 14, 2023 at 07:03

      I reached out to the companies who offered it previously and they have unfortunately decided to end the promotion. However, there are package deals available that include free ferry rides. Check out the updates on blog for more details!

    • DeziStyle
      April 8, 2024 at 07:03

      Catalina Express unfortunately decided to end their promotion after 6 years. However, there are package deals available that include free ferry rides. Check out the updates on blog for more details!

  • Pat
    July 11, 2022 at 13:34

    Says to sign up in advance for Leap Year special. Sign up WHERE?

    • DeziStyle
      July 19, 2022 at 01:22

      Hi Pat, the next leap year is in 2024 so check back in as the date approaches for new promotions. 🙂

      • Susana
        March 7, 2024 at 09:18

        Sing up where?

        • DeziStyle
          April 8, 2024 at 03:36

          Each vendor operates independently as far as I know, so you would have to inquire with them individually.

  • Iran
    April 18, 2022 at 09:50

    For my birthday is to go on this trip with my hubby.

    • DeziStyle
      April 18, 2022 at 13:52

      That’s an amazing way to celebrate!! 🙂


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