The distance between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angeles is, as the Four Preps sing, only “26 miles across the sea,” but the journey seems to span more than distance, as you are transported from the bustling metropolis of downtown L.A. to the serenity of a bucolic beach town, circa 1950. Once you arrive, in the main town of Avalon, there’s so much to do from adventure activities to foodie options. Whether you are up for adventure (zip line), a creature of comfort (spas galore) or a lover of history (take the ghost tour), a plethora of options make Catalina a great place to visit.
No trip to Catalina is complete without a ride in one of the ubiquitous golf carts, from Catalina Island Golf Cart. Fun to drive, with an easy loop around town, these little carts climb the steep hills without making you do any work – a simple map will help you navigate, though the sparkling ocean to the East is visible from just about everywhere. Cruise up to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Gardens or motor your way to the Inn on Mt. Ada for lunch (make sure to make a reservation). If you go for lunch, leave time to hang out on the terrace – the views are spectacular- or sit in front of the fire and play a game of Scrabble.
The island limits all motorized vehicles, which makes it ideal for strolling around – south to Descanso Bay (stop for an ice cream at Descanso Fresh) and north to Lovers Cove, a popular snorkeling destination. There is also a terrific hike, the Garden to Sky Trail, past the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Gardens that gets you to a peak with breathtaking views of both sides of Catalina. And of course the Santa Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour will surely boost your adrenaline and amp up your endorphins.
All that exercise will make you hungry. Food options are plentiful, with options abounding. For breakfast try Original Jack’s Country Kitchen. The menu is extensive with fresh, hearty choices. Steve’s Steakhouse is the place for dinner – plentiful, old school favorites, like baked potatoes and luscious clam chowder hit the spot.
Upon disembarking, take a quick jaunt to the middle of town. Many of the hotels, including the delightful Avalon Hotel, offer complimentary pick up and drop off for guests, so you don’t have to lug your suitcases. The Avalon has a rooftop deck with a gorgeous view of the bay and the rooms get all the details right, from the sumptuous robes to the high-thread-count sheets.
An excellent starting point is the Catalina Island Museum. For such a petite town, Avalon’s storied past makes for some great exhibits. From the Native Americans to Marilyn Monroe to William Wrigley Jr. (of the chewing gum fortune) to the Chicago Cubs, the residents of Catalina were a varied bunch.
The Avalon Theater inside the Casino is worth going out of your way for. Go on a night when John Tusak plays the pipe organ, Friday-Monday. The art deco murals, designed and painted by John Gabriel Beckman are simply stunning. When the lights go down, stars twinkle at you from the ceiling. Pure magic.
For a moment of relaxation, try Massages by the Sea. The outdoor massage are private but for the sounds of the waves and the brush of an ocean breeze.