Hey you travel enthusiasts and lovers of all things California! Everyone talks about California's diversity as a destination. Do you really know what that means when traveling California? Beaches. Mountains. Deserts. Valleys. Vistas. Natural and man-made wonders. Urban and rural locales. Seriously, you can travel the globe in California enjoying every possible diversion and topography! Including islands!
There are a number of island getaways in California, but none more special than Santa Catalina Island. A trip to Catalina defines relax, renew, and rejuvenate. And romance! Every visit is special and feels like a world away; each stay just as remarkable.
You know Catalina must be remarkable because there are only two ways to arrive: by sea or by air. Part of the Channel Islands, there's obviously no driving the 22 ocean miles to reach the atoll. The majority of people choose the water route via Catalina Express out of Long Beach, San Pedro (seasonal) and Dana Point. The other options from Marina del Rey and Newport Beach are a bit longer and have fewer arrivals and departures. Private boast of all kinds – motor, sail, and luxury yachts – also ply the waters to reach the protected Avalon Bay. Helicopters arrive on an infrequent basis as do small private planes at the "Airport in the Sky." You have to love that name!
California is full of unexpected experiences. And Catalina Island is at the top of the "unexpected" list. The comparisons you often hear are Mediterranean or Greek Isle...another country. It's all true. Terraced across the hillsides, the tiny hamlet of Avalon is the "capital" city of Catalina and the major population hub. An eclectic assortment of tiny shops, restaurants, cobbled walkways and colorful tile work create a visual delight. The other major island town, rustic Two Harbors, is definitely less urbane, but you certainly won’t lack for food, comfort, or the friendly camaraderie of other island guests and staff. Lodging options on this quieter side of Catalina include camping and cabins. The 1910 Banning House Lodge is available for guests seeking more refined accommodations
Back in Avalon, places to stay fall right in line with the diversity realm. From camping to luxury vacation rentals the choices are many. On a recent visit, ocean and hillside views greeted us each morning from a sunlit balcony at Hamilton Cove – a vacation rental community of fully-equipped villas. It was surreal. Mainland California is just miles away, right? Catalina Island Vacation Rentals at Hamilton Cove Villas offer couples, families, and friends lots of extra room to relax and a true feeling of an island escape. And always that lingering question, "Where are we?"
Hamilton Cove Villas have a variety of rental options sleeping up to six people. Spacious living space, balconies, flat-screen TVs, DVDs, full bath (one or two) and endless views of Catalina Island are standard! Fully-equipped kitchens and barbecues provide additional dining options – favorable for families. A small private beach, playground, pool, Jacuzzi, tennis courts, croquet, and putting green – does this sound like a dream? Plus, the rentals include use of a golf cart – after walking – the preferred mode of transportation. Avalon is a short cart-ride away. The fun just keeps on coming.
It's amazing to hear someone say, "Catalina! There's nothing to do there." Sorry, cross those folks right off the list. After multiple trips to Catalina I look forward to each return. The list of distractions seems endless and something new is always happening. A tour of the Art Deco-splendid Casino (Italian for "place of entertainment") is another of Catalina's many must-sees. Built in 1929, the ballroom hosted dozens of Big Bands and thousands of music and dance enthusiasts. Many Catalina Island special events are still held at the Casino including the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival every October. A new "Behind the Scenes Tour" was recently added, one of two Casino tours, both come highly recommended.
A wide-array of dining experiences fit right into the "island time" concept of Catalina Island. Relaxed and easy. Options to eat "al Fresco" are many, particularly along Avalon Bay. What better way to start the day then with eggs sunny-side up on a sun-drenched deck at Antonio’s. Grab something to go from the gourmet deli at C.C. Beau Deli before heading out on a day of exploration. Oh, yes, the Airport in the Sky’s DC-3 Grill is famed for its buffalo burgers. If fresh seafood is what you seek...then your heart's desire is Catalina! Fish tacos at the end of the Green Pleasure Pier are a must at Earl & Rosie’s/Avalon Seafood…a decades-long tradition…and one of the first places I go once my feet hit the island shore. Depending on your accommodations do a little grocery shopping, and enjoy an intimate meal from your very private balcony.
The Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden is another delight from the already dreamlike island retreat. The native plant gardens are impressive and showcase the diversity of species endemic to the California islands or, specifically, Catalina. The views from the Memorial are worth the hike – it’s an easy one – and the Art Deco architectural details will end any doubts as to Catalina’s exceptional attractions. You often find yourself alone in the garden, which presents terrific opportunities to reflect on Catalina’s beauty and peaceful nature. On a recent visit, a lone raven seemed to be crying out to us and followed our group up the stairs of the Memorial. Maybe it was the spirit of William Wrigley urging us toward the top to breathe in expansive views of Avalon Bay.
Every season is Catalina season. Check ahead for special and seasonal events. The flying-fish migration is reason enough to celebrate each July. Sign-up for one of the boat tours – you have to see it to believe this magical occurrence! Plein Air, marlin fishing, silent films, jazz, wine tasting, marathon, and more; the list of events goes on and on. The shoulder months between the end of October and pre-Memorial Day holidays offer better rates and fewer people on the island.
Who said there’s nothing do on Catalina?