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Catalina Island

February 12, 2011

The closest we’ve come to Greece is at Catalina Island. Since I haven’t been to Greece yet though, we’ll only have to wait and see if the comparison holds in the future. Santa Catalina is a tiny island just off of California’s coast, a mere 2 hour zippy boat ride from Los Angeles. It’s unbelievable how quickly the hustle-bustle of the city fades away, as one sits back and relaxes in a cushioned seat aboard one of the many catamaran’s that make hourly trips between the mainland and the island.

Catalina Island, right off the coast of Los Angeles in California

Catalina is one amongst the many in the chain of Channel Islands and is perfect for a weekend getaway. It cannot be denied that the longer the “weekend” the better the experience! There’s an actual term for what happens to time on the island. It’s  not scientifically proven yet, but you will experience it for sure. It’s called “Island Time”. That is when time slows down ever so gently, as your brain transforms from an GTD-maniac-to-do-list-frenzy to a cotton-filled-floating-on-cloud-9-mush. It’s an amazing feeling to just sit there and vegetate on the sun-deck, squinting into the blue waves off the coast, glancing down at the book in hand, sipping on a glass of wine, wondering if this is what heaven would be like if there were one.

Avalon Bay at night, Catalina Island (Photo credit – Oh, not me! This is a popular pic of a lovely lit up bay in Catalina that comes up everywhere on the Internet. This pic is what compelled us to make the trip in the first place)

First things first though, get your tickets online for the Catalina Express to get to the island. We highly recommend getting the Commodore seating, it’s worth the extra $15 for the drink and snack. Not to mention the upper deck seating and +1 for being less crowded. The bloody-mary’s prepared by the chic crew are excellent.

In the Commodore lounge on the Catalina Express. For the more ambitious, there’s also a Captain’s deck/lounge.

There are a choice of three ports to leave from in LA, and we chose Long Beach since that was the most convenient.  Catalina Express was very efficient with easy boarding and once they serve up the drinks, the 1 hour goes by in a flash. Time well spent, with watching the mesmerizing waves, catching sight of a rainbow in the the surf at the back of the catamaran, and seeing turquoises and bright beautiful blues all around!

A rainbow amongst the surf and LA in our backyard

As we approached the Avalon Bay, we caught sight of shimmering boats and ships all docked in the lovely blue water. Glinting like pearls in the sunlight. The faraway houses on the hills beyond gave off an air of solitude and calm. We already felt like we were calming down from our hectic work week frenzy.

For accommodations, we did a ton of research (Catalina Chamber was very helpful), and finally decided on a mid-range priced but upscale-looking place called Aurora. Turned out to be best decision ever. Aurora Catalina was perfect in all aspects. It is on a hill-top, with the advantage of having some awesome views of Avalon Bay. There is also a sundeck (which we loved!) where you can go relax and enjoy the view while tucking into a yummy breakfast (inclusive).

View from our sundeck. We can see almost all of Avalon bay from the roof. This is a zoomed in pic.

Everything in Avalon is within walking distance, the city is tiny and whoever feels a need for speed drives around in golf carts. I hear there’s a 2-year waiting period for anybody who wants to buy an actual car! Point being the people living in Catalina do not want their lovely island overrun with those noisy, smoke-spewing trucks and SUV’s.  Which makes total sense. I would veto against anybody getting a car on this tiny island where you can practically hop, skip and jump everywhere. So, most people own at least one golf cart instead, and this mode of transport is a very comfortable and fun way to get around.

A rainbow sunset

Some make a day trip to Catalina and do not stay overnight. But staying over is the most fun part.  Watching the sunset,  wining and dining, sleeping in early, getting up with sunrise, listening to the waves swooshing in the distance and basking in the feeling of leisure and with all the time in the world to do all that you want, which could be nothing at all. So, make it a weekend trip! Stay at least one night if not two. And there are so many things to do that you can choose from. We are definitely planning to be back in the warmer months to try the snorkeling and diving.

Things to do in Catalina –

Spoilt for choice, truly.

  • Stroll around Avalon city. There are usually one if not more guitarists and artists performing live in the town square.

  • Rent a golf cart and go for your own joy ride up and down the hills. There are several golf cart rental stores lining the cobblestone road along the coast.

  • Experience a bit of the golden era of old Hollywood at Catalina Casino and Theater. It’s absolutely decadent inside. Lush red velvet everywhere and beautiful murals and paintings on the walls and ceilings.
  • Hike up to Wrigley Memorial and Botanical gardens. A good way to work off all that cheese and wine.

  • Go on a underwater sea adventure in a real submarine! We saw tons of fishes and kelp forests and colorful sea creatures.
  • Snorkel! Catalina is very popular with snorkelers and scuba-divers. We were there in October though, and the water was icy cold, so as tempting as it was to see beautiful fishes, we didn’t fall for it. If you do, head to Lover’s Cove which we heard was a great place to see fishes and kelp in a romantic cave setting.
  • There are tons of other water activities to do like jetski, parasail, go on boat rides etc.
  • We also saw a lot of folks lining up for ziplining. You can zipline over a canopy of trees with some of the longest ziplines I’ve seen. A guaranteed adrenalin rush as you fly like a superhero from point to point … definitely a must.

  • Take a quaint bus tour to get to parts of the island where the golf-carts and bicycles cannot go. We went on the half-day Inland Discovery tour which took us everywhere on the island that a AWD has access to. We got great ocean views and sea air, got a feel for the entire island, saw eagles up close in an aviary, got to learn some interesting history and tidbits about the island from our guide and saw a ton of bison (story is that these bison were brought to Catalina for a movie and left there to fend for themselves. With no interruption from mankind and all the help from nature, they have done very well for themselves and now run wild all over the island!).
  • Visit the famous “Inn at Mt. Ada” for a decadent brunch or dinner and to take in the fabulous views.
  • And most importantly, RELAX. If all the above seems like too much work to do, there’s is no better place south of California than Catalina to just relax. Sit back and let yourself drift away … on island time.

Sunset over Avalon Bay


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