• Pamela Froman

Escape to Catalina Island

26 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is the place for me…

Looking for a relaxing beach getaway? Look no further. Avalon, Catalina offers an island experience in your own backyard. With stunning beaches, restaurants, hotels, tours, day spas and water activities, Avalon offers an abundance of things to do and places to see.

Getting to Catalina is easy. There are many ports all over the southern California coast. The most simple and inexpensive way is to leave from San Pedro or Long Beach with the Catalina Express. The cost is $59 for adults, $45.50 for kids under the age of 10 and you'll be there in a little over an hour.

As your boat nears the island, the Casino, Avalon's most famous landmark greets you. The Casino, an Art Deco structure, has nothing in common with Las Vegas gambling. When it was built in 1929, America was in a dance craze, and dance pavilions called "casinos" sprang up all over the country. The Casino Ballroom drew thousands of well-dressed dancers from the mainland. They came by steamship to dance on the huge parquet floor. Today, the Casino still attracts crowds for celebrations of all sorts. Twelve stories high and 180 feet in diameter, the Casino has an Art Deco movie theater downstairs and an enormous ballroom on top. The ballroom retains its original style; rose-hued walls, black Art Deco reliefs, an arching fifty-foot ceiling with five Tiffany chandeliers, an elevated stage, raised seating areas around the dance floor, and a vintage, full-service bar in back. The outdoor balcony that encircles the ballroom overlooks Avalon Bay.

A big sign proclaims "Welcome to Avalon." as you enter. A red stoned boardwalk leads you to the heart of town, with restaurants on one side and the beach on the other.

Around Avalon, the primary mode of transportation is the golf cart. The streets are very narrow and the town is crowded and small so this works out well. Renting a golf cart is easy (Cartopia Golf Cart Rental (310) 510-2493). Or, rent a bicycle. (Brown's Bikes (310) 510-0986 Hourly rates are from $5 to $15 per hour, depending on the type of bike. Daily rates are from $12 to $40).

Now that you've entered Avalon, where do you stay? If you are looking for seclusion a little bit out of town, the Catalina Canyon resort and spa is for you. A short 5-min. shuttle (which runs every 15 minutes from the heart of Avalon) will take you to this villa style hotel, which features a pool and Jacuzzi as well as proximity to Catalina's only golf course. Room prices are $219 (weekdays) $279 (weekends). (888-478-7829)

If you want to be right in the thick of things, then try the Pavilion Lodge. Located on Catalina's main drag, it is only a few steps from the beach. Continental breakfast and courtesy beach towels are provided. (800-626-1496)

There are many other hotels in Avalon with similar amenities.

The beaches of Catalina are quite lovely. The water is cold, but absolutely clear, perfect for snorkelers and scuba divers. There are also only very slight waves on the beaches. It is almost like swimming in a lagoon, with small motion. On one of the main beaches, a deck mounted in the far part of the swimming area greets children who dare to paddle out that far.

Pay two dollars and venture to Descanso Beach , which is the only beach on the island on which you can drink. In fact, waitresses and waiters walk among sunbathers offering alcoholic indulgences.

Descanso has many other amenities. For a few dollars you can rent a chair to lie out on at the beach. Or if fish exploration is your thing, you can rent snorkeling equipment. There are also Kayak rentals for the boat-minded. If you get hungry, there is a fast-food restaurant to serve you. And if you would rather lie on grass than sand, there is a greenbelt at the end of the beach.

Descanso also offers Massages on the Sea. Massages by the Sea combines the gentle sounds of the beach with soothing salon and stylist treatments. Their therapists are trained in restoring your energy; healing your mind, body and soul; and leaving you with a feeling of balance and wellbeing. For more information, please call (310-510-7242).

For a more private massage, your best bet is Massages by Michelle. Michelle started the business 5 years ago because she noticed that the island lacked an in-room service for massages. So she offers services that can be done in your hotel room, particularly for couples. However, she does have a massage studio if you don't want it in room. She also offers complimentary pickup and drop off after the massage.

One example of the massages she presents is the goddess package. She starts with a lavender facial massage, and then you move into a peppermint scalp massage, followed by a full body Swedish massage, and ending with a fig sugar glow. This is an 80 minute treatment and is $125. Check out

Food on Catalina is amazing and presents many different choices for even the most finicky eater.

Try a pizza at Antonio's or their day-old spaghetti, or grab a burger at Jack's eatery. Dine on fish at Armstrong's, or sample a fresh waffle at Sally's. Want Mexican? Try the Catalina Cantina or Coyote Joes. If you prefer to bbq yourself, then Descanso offers bbq on Fridays where families can bring their own meat and enjoy fresh sides provided by the Descanso Beach Restaurant.

Want to try your hand at an overland Tour? You can sometimes catch a glimpse of a deer or buffalo. There are many tours available. The Classic Inland Motor Tour takes you 31 miles through the heart of Catalina's rugged interior. You'll travel in a comfortable, air-conditioned '50's bus. This memorable journey follows the 1800's stagecoach route, and then you will continue through Middle Ranch, where you will enjoy the Native Plant Nursery and the Catalina Island Fox habitats. You continue onto the beautiful windward shoreline and up to the Wrigley Arabian horse ranch, El Rancho Escondido. At the ranch you'll enjoy the extraordinary collection of Bohlin Saddles, carriages, and Wrigley family memorabilia. Shop for unique gifts at the Hidden Ranch Store and enjoy complimentary refreshments. Returning to Avalon you'll visit the famous Airport-in-the-Sky and Conservancy Nature Center . (800-626-7489).

There are also many water excursions. One is the Sundown Isthmus Cruise. This trip combines two tours in one - an excursion to the Isthmus and a Flying Fish Boat Trip. Cruise from Avalon to the rustic village of Two Harbors aboard the classic vessel Blanche W, an 80-year-old open-deck wooden boat. Your journey takes you along 14 miles of stunning Catalina coastline. Once in Two Harbors, explore the isthmus on your own or with a guide. A delicious Sundowner Dinner is included at the Harbor Reef Restaurant. On the return trip, get ready to watch Catalina's Flying Fish, which jump in response to the Blanche W.'s twin WWI-era, 40-million candlepower spotlights. Adults $67.50, Kids $33.75. (800-626-1496).

Whatever you do on Catalina, it is sure to make you feel like you're a world away.

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