California Cities


Catalina Island Getaways in California

By: Barbara Steinberg

Californians! Do you appreciate how truly lucky you are? Everyone talks about California's diversity as a travel destination. Do you all really know what that means when thinking about travel in 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 special 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 miles of waterway to reach the atoll. So 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 right at the top of the "unexpected" list of destinations. 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, Two Harbors, a definitely less urbane experience but you certainly won't lack food, comfort, or friendly camaraderie of other island guests and staff.

The lodging options on Catalina Island fall right into the diversity realm. From camping to luxury vacation rentals the choices are many. This latest visit, ocean and hillside views greeted us each morning from our sun-drenched balcony at Hamilton Cove – a vacation rental community of fully-equipped villas. It was surreal. Where were we? Mainland California is just miles away; I'm not so sure. Catalina Island Vacation Rentals at Hamilton Cove Villas offer couples, families, and friends lots of extra room to relax and true feeling of an island escape. Each morning brought stunning ocean views, brilliant sunshine, and the lingering question, "Where are we?"

Hamilton Cover Villas offer a variety of 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! Fully-equipped kitchens and barbecues provide additional dining options -- particularly 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 always 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. There are many things to do and the list of new attractions continues to grow. A tour of the Art Deco-splendid Casino (Italian for "place of entertainment") is another of the many Catalina must-sees. Built in 1929, the ballroom hosted dozens of Big Bands and thousands of music and dance enthusiasts. Many Catalina Island special events 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 fits right into the "island time" concept of Catalina Island. Relaxed and easy. Options to eat "al Fresco" many and, in particular, 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 Runway Café 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…a decades-long tradition…and one of the first places I go once my feet hit the island shore. Or enjoy the very fresh, catch of the day at Armstrong's Fish Market & Seafood Restaurant along with a side order of those ocean views. 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 an escape from the already surreal 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 will 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 to the top 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, but the shoulder months between the end of October and pre-Memorial Day holidays like many destinations offers better rates and fewer people on the island. Check ahead for special and seasonal events. The flying fish migration is plenty of reason 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, silent films, jazz, wine tasting, marathon, and more, the list of events goes on and on.

Who said there's nothing do on Catalina?

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