Santa Catalina Island, as the popular 1957 pop song by The Four Preps goes, is “26 miles across the sea” from the coast of Long Beach, California.

They also sang it was “the island of romance,” and thanks to the 1924 silent film The Vanishing American, it is also home to bison that were originally brought onto the island for the film. Over the years, they have multiplied and roamed Catalina ever since.

The island’s buffalo were also the playful inspiration for Catalina’s official cocktail, Buffalo Milk (don’t worry, no actual buffalo milk is required to make it). The drink was created by bartender Michael Hoffler at Harbor Reef (then known as Doug’s) during the slow winter months in the mid-1970s. It is best described as a White Russian gone crazy and has since made its way into most of the restaurants and bars at Avalon on Catalina Island.

At Harbor Reef, 10,000 Buffalo Milk cocktails are made every year, mostly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. For most island guests, a Buffalo Milk cocktail is a must-have drink. Whether it’s at popular Descanso Beach Club, divey tiki favorite Luau Larry’s, or Avalon’s more ritzy restaurants Avalon Grille and Bluewater Avalon, a Buffalo Milk is a surefire way to kick off your island getaway.

Buffalo Milk Cocktail

Buffalo Milk Cocktail

At the newly renovated Hotel Atwater, originally opened in 1920, a virgin Buffalo Milk is offered, so it’s more like a milkshake than a libation. But everywhere else on the island, the boozy Buffalo Milk tastes like a spiked milkshake or tropical White Russian. It’s decadent, creamy and frothy, a liquid dessert and goes down a little too easy. A definite diet-buster, you’ll probably have more than one just because you’re on vacation. At Two Harbors’ Harbor Reef, the ingredients include Seagram’s Extra Smooth Vodka, banana liqueur, crème de cacao and coffee liqueur. Other island variations can call for Kahlua, milk, half and half or real bananas.

Time spent on Catalina Island often involves fun in the sun with spectacular ocean views. And taking it all in with a Buffalo Milk cocktail in hand is the perfect way to escape, indulge and enjoy island bliss. But you can savor Buffalo Milk at home if you follow this simple recipe. Add as much half and half as you desire, or leave it out completely for a dairy-free version.

Buffalo Milk Cocktail, plastic cup and straws, beach background

Buffalo Milk Cocktail

Buffalo Milk


  • .75 oz. Creme de Cacao
  • .75 oz. Kahlua
  • .75 oz. Creme de Banana
  • 1.5 oz. Vodka
  • Half and Half
  • Whipped Cream (to Garnish)
  • Grated Nutmeg (to Garnish)
  • Banana Slice (to Garnish)

Preparation: Blend liquid ingredients together with ice and top with whipped cream, nutmeg and a banana slice.