Chill Out on Catalina Island
If you want to lose the stress from life’s 24/7, then head straight to Catalina, the beautiful island just off the Long Beach coast. The ferry ride takes about an hour, and in no time, you can relish the warmth of the island’s hospitality and transition to “island time.” If you crave outdoor adventure or the tranquility of a quiet beach, you’ll find it all in this ideal destination.
Santa Catalina Island has a rich history full of smugglers and hunters as well as sheepherders and ranchers (a herd of North American bison has been roaming the hills since December 1924).
The island has been inhabited for 7,000 years – at times by Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans, the English, and of course, Americans. In 1919, it was purchased by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, who set out to preserve and sustain its natural beauty.
Avalon is Catalina’s picturesque main town (Two Harbors is the second, smaller one). If you stay in one of the many accommodations on Avalon’s palm tree-lined main streets (Crescent Avenue and Casino Way), you’re right across from the busy harbor. At the Pavilion Hotel, guests enjoy lush gardens and proximity to the beach. The rooms are airy and comfortable, most with their own patios. The open-air lounge and interior courtyard are great for people-watching and relaxing with complimentary wine and cheese in the afternoon and a continental breakfast every morning. If you need to connect to the real world, the hotel will loan you an iPad.
Try the Pavilion, though Avalon has many other options. In addition to the oceanfront hotels, visitors will find bed and breakfasts, cottages, and campgrounds (you can even camp in one of many ocean coves). Or you can rise above it all and take in the breathtaking views at 350 feet above town at The Inn at Mt. Ada, the former Wrigley mansion.
Catalina has much to offer everyone – whether you’re in Avalon, touring the interior of the island, or venturing to Two Harbors. Tours and information are accessible all over town, and it’s easy to find lots of things to do.
Since cars are restricted on the island, people usually walk, ride bikes, or use a golf cart. Avalon is very compact, so walking is easy – even up the terraced hillsides. It’s here you’ll get the knock-out views of the ocean, the horseshoe-shaped harbor filled with yachts, and of course, the famous casino. The art deco Catalina Casino dates from 1929. Tour the grand ballroom and movie theater, still in use today. It is also home to the Catalina Island Museum.
If golf is your game, there’s a scenic nine-hole course at the Catalina Country Club in an idyllic setting.
For an exhilarating adventure, take the Zip Line Eco Tour. Get driven into the interior and zip down five lines from 500 feet to 60 feet above sea level. At the same time you’re rushing through Descanso Canyon, learn about Catalina’s wildlife and history.
And how convenient that when the zip line ends, you’re at the Descanso Beach Club. Set in scenic Descanso Cove off the harbor, it’s an enticing spot to lounge on the beach, swim, snorkel, kayak, stand-up paddle board, or get a couple’s massage. Massages by the Sea will ease your tension as you listen to the waves lapping against the shore from the privacy of your own cabana on the beach.
If you haven’t seen any of the marine life yet, hop on one of the boats and get a tour that’s up-close and personal. Use a Fish Finder guide to help identify whatever is swimming by. And if catching fish is what you’re after, join a guided tour or find your own special spot. Or go diving in the kelp forests.
Catalina is made for hiking. Get your mandatory hiking permit then hit the many back roads and trails. The endless views and the rolling hills are captivating. Or walk a mile and half outside town to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. There you’ll learn about the native plants as you tour the grounds and take in more spectacular views. At night, the island thing to do is karaoke. Or stroll by the harbor to a quieter place and experience the stillness of the evening.
At an island resort like Catalina, shopping is in the center of town. Venture down pedestrian walkways or visit the shops as you walk along the street. Either way, find gifts and souvenirs as well as any beach essential you might need. Galleries are plentiful and full of arts and crafts. And don’t forget the Museum Store, with a selection of items commemorating Catalina’s history.
Ice cream cones and candy tempt from an endless number of storefronts (including taffy-pulling right in the window). Indulge your sweet tooth as you sink deeper into island time. With so many cafés, pubs, bars, and restaurants with great views from which to choose, here is where we ate:
For lunch, hit the only bar and restaurant on the beach in Avalon at the Descanso Beach Club. Sit on the outdoor patio or have your meal and drinks delivered to you on the beach – either way, you’ll be in the middle of the action. The Tree Top Breeze is a refreshing cocktail any time of day – blueberry vodka and lemonade. Try the peel-and-eat shrimp (half a pound steamed in beer and seasoning) and the Catalina ceviche (shrimp, scallops and tilapia marinated in pico de gallo lime sauce). Both are palate-pleasers on a warm day.
Enjoy a great dinner one night at the popular Avalon Grille. Its delightful seaside location adds to the lively atmosphere. Specialty drinks abound, so begin with a pear mojito to help set the island tone. Lots of interesting starters like fried green beans with tarragon aioli and crispy Brussels sprouts with cranberries, almonds, and pancetta. For entrées, have the ahi tuna burger with sesame ginger slaw and grilled onions and the BBQ beef brisket with smoked cheddar mac n’ cheese. The 2007 Sanford Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir is the perfect accompaniment. For a decadent ending to the meal, go for the deep-fried oreo ice cream sandwich with chocolate sauce – then take a long walk under the stars and twinkling lights of the harbor.
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb.