When I was a little girl, we’d travel to Michigan where we stayed in a cottage built by Great Grandpa Spray. Summer days were spent sailing, fishing and eating loads of homemade ice cream. We also had an old speed boat. I remember riding in the back, watching the wake spread out behind me. I loved watching that wake –it was if all my stresses were floating away into the smoky white mist. It also meant I was moving forward, no longer standing still – And if I was moving, then I knew I was sure to discover something new.
I felt the same way this past week as I was watching another wake spread out like white champagne bubbles, my hair blowing frantically in the wind. I was in for a treat as I was heading toward the beautiful, relaxing Island of Catalina.
I had been to Catalina Island about 20 years ago and actually couldn’t remember a lot about it. Last Friday I was getting the urge to hit the road and somehow got onto a Catalina Island website. One day later my reservations were set and next day I hit the road.
Catalina Island is a place for romance, families and yes, the solo traveler. The town of Avalon surrounds a beautiful harbor dotted with sailboats. At sunset the lights seem to melt into the water, extending the glow from the depths of the ocean. In the early morning, you can watch the sun rise over the water, something that is unique in California.
Here’s a little bit about this charming island. Located 22 miles off the coast of Long Beach, Catalina is 21 miles long and eight miles wide (at it widest point). Marilyn Monroe lived on Catalina Island for 18 months while married to her first husband. When you visit it’s easy to imagine her strolling along the European-like streets. For you sports fans, the Chicago Cubs used the island as a training camp site from 1931 -1951. Also, from what I hear, the wait list to bring a car over if you are a local is 14 years, keeping the car count below 1000. Hence you’ll feel like saying “FORE!” when crossing in front of a myriad of golf carts on the road.
Often thought of as a summer destination, I’m going to try to change that and get you to think about visiting the island in late November / December. Decked for the holidays, the harbor twinkles with multicolored lights, many wrapped around tall palm trees. In addition, you can bring in the New Year in the world-famous Casino Ballroom while enjoying a 17-piece “big band”.
Getting there: First, it’s not difficult. If you can get to Long Beach, Dana Point and / or Newport Beach California, you’re almost there. A number of boats will take you over but I jumped on the Catalina Express. Located in a safe area, it’s easy to park and walk over to the check-in desk. I recommend buying / reserving your ticket in advance. Once you’re on board it’s an hour ride. Sit back, read a book, get a drink and watch that wake! Even the water splashing against the window is beautiful. Note – You can also fly, take a helicopter (15 minute ride), or private boat to the island. Or take the Catalina Flyer out of Newport Beach, CA.
Once you arrive: As you pull into the harbor you’ll feel like you’re visiting a quaint, European island. It’s an easy walk to most hotels as many overlook the harbor (if you walk you won’t be the only one dragging your luggage behind you). Check with your hotel in advance as you may want to take a quick taxi ride.
What to Do: This small island packs a punch with things to do. First, you can just relax in the town of Avalon, weave in and out of the quaint shops; Eat in one of the many restaurants. If you want to explore outside the city rent a golf cart (The dog in the cart is Koda but if you really want to impress her bring a few treats…and call her Princess). There are restrictions on where you can drive but they will provide a map to help. If you’re feeling more adventurous, get a hiking or biking permit and explore the interior of the island.
There is a 37.2 mile Trans-Catalina Trail if you’re super adventurous. You can also take a Safari Bus and see the island’s interior. Another option is to rent a paddle boat or kayak and get your arms “buff”. The golf carts aren’t just for driving around town, there is also a golf course if you want to play a round. Also, you can walk to the Botanical Garden from the center of town. If you do, make sure you stop at the Catalina Island Conservancy which is on the way. They are dedicated to the preservation of the island and have some interesting information and displays – stop in and say “thank you”! http://www.catalinaconservancy.org/
Make sure you find the secret stairs which will give you a beautiful view of the harbor (Michelle, you’d be proud, I finally did find them). Head toward the Casino, pass Ristorante Villa Portofino on Crescent Ave and the stairs will be directly in front of you. Finally, you can pay a nominal entry fee to get on Descanso Beach which is privately owned. You can lounge in a cabana and sip a drink while you exfoliate your feet in the sand.
About the Casino: This is an icon on the island. If you’re thinking you’ll put your last pay check on lucky 13 it’s just not going to happen. The Catalina Casino gets its name from the Italian language and means “meeting place”. The Casino houses a spectacular ballroom, five tiffany chandeliers and a dance floor. In fact, if you’re looking for a place to celebrate New Year’s Eve this could be just what you’re looking for.
Where to eat: There are a number of places! First, you must try The Lobster Trap www.catalinalobstertrap.com This is where you’ll find the locals and once you eat there you’ll know why. The service is excellent and the food is even better. When I was there in November it was Catalina lobster season so in my mind there was only one thing to order. I was not disappointed! I felt like I had gone to heaven when I took my first bite.
The other place I would recommend is CC Gallagher – www.ccgallagher.com. This is a very unique shop which you could spend hours in. There, you’ll also find tables where you can enjoy a glass of wine and some incredible sushi, a salad or sandwich. It overlooks the harbor so you can also enjoy a beautiful view. Also, you can sit outside on the pier and eat at Eric’s. If you have any more recommendations let me know!
Where to Stay: I stayed at two hotels when I was there. I enjoyed both and will tell you a little bit about each one and then list a few others that I thought looked nice when I was walking around.
The first night I stayed at the Aurora Hotel (www.auroracatalina.com) The Aurora Hotel has been recently renovated and the attention to detail is impressive. From the Tempur-Pedic mattress (the first time I’ve ever found one in a hotel) to the fixtures in the bathroom, and furnishings it’s quite beautiful. They also have an impressive roof-top area where you can take a glass of wine and watch the sunset. The staff was also very friendly. This hotel is located on one of the side streets – just a 2 minute walk from the Harbor. If you are looking for a quiet hotel (away from the hustle / bustle of the shops and restaurants) this would be a great option. They also have a sister property called the Avalon Hotel which would be another hotel option to look into. (www.theavalonhotel.com)
The next night I stayed at the Snug Harbor Inn (www.snugharbor-inn.com) I really loved this quaint hotel which is located on the harbor. The rooms were wonderful and I was very impressed by the attention to detail. From the custom note welcoming me to the hotel, slippers by the bed, breakfast served in the room and wine/cheese offered at night it was 100% first class. I would highly recommend this hotel. There are only 6 rooms so call early. You won’t be disappointed. Also, their sister property is the Hotel Vista Del Mar. I didn’t stay there but did walk over and would recommend it as another option too.
Quick Reference Links: More information on the island or for New Year’s Eve reservations: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce (310) 510-1520, or visit www.CatalinaChamber.com
Boat Tickets: www.catalinaexpress.com Here’s a fun fact – you can ride for Free on Your Birthday – a promotion that has officially been extended for another year starting May 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013
When you get on board, make sure to watch that wake…and I’m sure you’ll feel your stresses drift away as you set off on your next adventure.
If you’d like to purchase a print to remind you of this beautiful area, please click on “Contact”. My photography is printed on aluminum. Utilizing an advanced process which infuses dyes directly into the metal, the colors and saturation are really amazing. In addition, your print will be displayed using mount blocks which float the image ½ inch off the wall.
©2012 Shelley D Spray – No content on this site (including all photography) may be reused in any fashion without written permission from the author.