Santa Catalina Island, often referred to just as Catalina Island, is located 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles. I use to look at it from my bedroom window in Pacific Palisades. It took me four years of living in LA to finally get to this charming island. I had no idea what to expect, and it felt too good to feel the rush of the traffic madness and big city lights ebb away in the distance as I found solace in the ocean and this quiet serene land.
As we entered the harbor known as Avalon Bay, visions of ports I entered years ago on the Amalfi Coast (Italy) in a tiny boat were conjured up in my mind. Scenes from Positano, Sorrento, and Atrani – color splashes, tiny toy boats bobbing, homes nestled high in the hills. I knew when my feet hit the ground I had found a place that I would like to come back to again.
I had planned this getaway in advance and found a good deal online on a one night stay at the Pavilion Hotel located a short walk away from the boat in the center of the small town. It made me happy to hear numerous people I met tell me that it was the best hotel on the island. When I read the reviews, people raved about the wine and cheese hour offered every day around 4 PM by the fire pit with water views, as well as the complimentary breakfast. They were not kidding! My stay could not have been more perfect.
As I walked on the upper level outside to my room I was greeted by heaven-touching palm trees, birds flying carelessly here and there, the sun flittering, and luscious green hills in the distance, and when I turned around, I was breathing in the salty air looking at the endless ocean and its numerous boats. These moments sometimes scare me because sometimes I feel like it is THESE moments that I might see as my final moments some day. There are certain feelings and moments that don’t go away, like you have breathed them in, and they become part of you. Each of us has these small glimmers of joy or contentment that we find in our lives. This was one of mine.
I was even luckier to have this experience with one of my best friends. You can be anywhere in the world, but what matters most is the company you happen to be experiencing it with, so that in some way you have proof that the moment in time really did happen. That is the most important travel lesson I have ever learned – no matter where you are, it is the company you are with that makes the journey.
Highlights of my Mini Getaway:
Renting a golf cart for $60 an hour allowed us to traverse the island and explore high up in the canyons with breathtaking views at every turn. The best part is you can stop when you like. You can find these rentals right there on the main strip.
Walking inland up the gorgeous palm tree lined streets passed the
golf course and the lush scenery in the distance, passed the circular rock meditation garden, through the botanical gardens (thanks to Mr. Wrigley’s wife’s foresight) filled with cacti and succulents from all over the world, on to the Wrigley Memorial built in 1933-1934 out of quarried Catalina stones. William Wrigley Jr. (1861 – 1932), founder of the largest chewing gum manufacturer, played an extensive role in the development and vision for Catalina Island. His wife was instrumental in creating the Botanical Gardens, almost 38 acres filled with California island endemic plants. (Plants, which grow naturally on one or more of the California islands, but nowhere else in the world.) Many of these plants are extremely rare, and some are on the Endangered Species list. Please click here to learn more about the legacy of this island.
Exploring the friendly little town with their adorable homes and tiny cars exploring shops and restaurants. There was a cute little dive Italian restaurant that had great meatball grinders (subs) down one side street.
Watching old videos and viewing old photographs of Catalina Island in the 1930‘s and 1940‘s at the Catalina Island Museum, when the island was Hollywood’s playground for the stars. This old school Hollywood exhibit runs until January 29, 2012. They have a fascinating display of what life was like for many old movie stars, like Marilyn Monroe who lived on the island for a year. Once a major hub for old school celebrities to come and frolic, many restaurants and this museum boast numerous old photographs sharing the tales of the real Hollywood stars.
Activities and Adventures:
You may wish to spend $100 and zipline 300 feet above Descanso Beach or see bison on the back side of the island. I have
seen many friends’ photos yachting and partying off the shores of Descanso Beach. New activities and adventures include a 32 foot rock climbing wall, Night Zip, expeditions into the interior in new eco friendly, biofuel burning H1 Hummers, ocean expeditions, and the Sea Trek, which allows you to walk on the ocean floor. Also, you may wish to ride in a semi submersible submarine or take an informative tour of the Catalina Casino (not a real casino, but a historic ballroom and theater from the 1920’s – think Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, and all The Big Bands). It is a gorgeous circular building nestled in the bay. There is a scenic nine hole golf course and a mini golf course for all ages. Fly fishing and glass bottom boats may be your thing. There is even a nighttime flying fish tour. I would think bringing bikes over would be fun. The list is endless.
You may wish to just enjoy the beauty of the island and relax.
Getting to and from Catalina Island:
You can take the Catalina Express (which offers a free trip on your birthday) out of San Pedro, Long Beach, or Dana Point or the Catalina Flyer out of Balboa Pavillion in Newport Beach like we did. You must check the schedules because only some boats run in the fall and winter on certain days. I was lucky enough to buy two tickets off Craigslist for the less than half the price of one. It is not cheap to get to this island. Tickets roundtrip are about $70 per person. I would definitely stay the night and enjoy the island another day since by the time you take the ferry there, you only have a few hours before you have to get back on board before the last boat departs.
I’d recommend going in the off-season or not on a weekend during the summer months because I can imagine the island can get pretty hectic.
Experience Catalina Island anyway you wish; you will definitely not forget it.