We usually head to Europe during the summer, but this quick getaway gave us the feeling of being overseas without having to deal with airports, security checks and hours in the air. What’s not to like? Hop aboard the Catalina Express, where you can sometimes spot whales and schools of dolphins playing hide and seek. Watch the coastline disappear as you leave the chug of the 405 freeway behind you and head for the simplicity of the island.
This time, we parked ourselves in Trip Advisors #1 rated hotel, The Avalon Hotel, one block away from the bustle of the main drag, yet far enough to give you some quiet tranquility. The Craftsman décor takes you back in time, yet the rooms are plush with modern amenities, including 350-thread count sheets, flat screen TVs with a dvd player, and memory foam mattresses. A complimentary breakfast is served on their intimate patio, replete with a charming Koi pond, where the fish undulate in their colorful glory. A real treat is feeding the fish, where they inhale the food from your hand like small vacuum cleaners. So fun!
There’s a slow gait to Catalina, where visitors come to abandon their other lives, counting each minute as if every second matters. In the harbor, listless boats awaken from their sea dreams to wait for a command.
If you’re into water sports, this is the place to make it happen. Here you can snorkel, scuba, kayak, parasail or indulge in a number of undersea adventures. If you prefer the land, you can zip line, hike, golf, camp, take a tour, bicycle or do what we did, explore the island with a golf cart.
Exploring accessible areas on the island takes about 1-2 hours, unless you stop along the way to take in the sites, or indulge in one of the newer attractions on the island, the Urban Adventure Quest. This is Avalon’s version of The Amazing Race, where you utilize your Smartphone to gather info about the island. Your team will solve clues and complete challenges to receive the puzzle for the next location. How fun! More ambitious adventurers can participate on bicycles or on foot.
One lunch we opted for one of the local hangouts, the Lobster Trap. Check out their succulent Hama Hama oysters. I’ve never seen oysters so large! For relaxation, we headed over to Catalina Sea Spa, where owner Michelle Bray set us up for a couples massage. What a way to unwind as your body succumbs into kneaded bliss. They are Catalina’s only full service spa offering Ashiatsu and in-room massage treatments.
Early one evening we took a stroll on the pier where we watched the locals fishing, and took in the pristine sites of the shoreline. We were excited to try one of the premier restaurants new to Catalina, the Avalon Grille, specializing in American regional dishes with a flair. They are also known for their extensive wine list, including vintages from the island itself. Let GM Ricardo Cubias guide you in your selections. We enjoyed his suggestion of a supple Grilled Good Nature Pork Chop ($22), and the succulent 12 oz. Prime NY Strip ($37). A must is their Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($10), a hearty blend of cranberries, almonds, pancetta and mustard vinaigrette as well as their Crispy Calamari & Rock Shrimp ($15), coupled with a honey mustard sauce, arugula and pickled red onions.
Renewed and refreshed, after three days away, we were ready to tackle the sprawl of Los Angeles once again…well, sort of.
For further information, www.visitcatalinaisland.com
Mary McGrath is a freelance writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, Copley Newspapers, and the LA Times. (www.marymcgrathphotography.com or firstname.lastname@example.org