Living in Southern California, we are always looking for fun, easy and romantic weekend getaways. The usual locations like Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, or San Diego is what comes to mind. But, we often forget to think to head west about 22 miles from our coast. To a little treasure called…Santa Catalina Island.
As you gaze out to sea on a clear day you can see the island, but many Southern California residents haven’t made the short trip. I hadn’t been since I was a young kid and I honestly had no idea what it had to offer. I am always writing about international or tropical destinations but I was excited to get to feature a location basically in our backyard.
So, I reached out to the Santa Catalina Island Company to help me book the “Catalina Resort Signature Unlimited Package” for a complete island adventure. My husband and I were transformed into another world. It had this South of France kind of feel. We had to keep reminding ourselves that they spoke English here and we didn’t need a passport. And, the trip is so short there’s no need to worry about airport security and, the maximum of 3 ounces of liquids in a plastic bag, to get there. And, speaking of getting there, getting to the island is very easy.
Hop onboard the Catalina Express, which takes about an hour to an hour and half. It departs from ports like Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point. If you think you might get a little seasick just make sure you have some fresh air and look at the horizon. It’s really not bad, I was 4 months pregnant and didn’t have a problem. You check your bags with the crew as you board the boat and they are waiting on the dock when you arrive.
As we docked in the city of Avalon, we were welcomed by our personal concierge, who took us on a mini tour of the city of Avalon and helped us get our bearings along with all the information about the city we needed. We arrived at the Pavilion Hotel just steps from the beach right along the front walk way. This newly renovated 71 room two story hotel is quaint, but with all the modern amenities. Our beach bungalow room was spacious and comfortable and the staff was extremely helpful and friendly throughout the stay. They offer a delicious complimentary wine and cheese pairings in the afternoon and a continental breakfast in the morning in their open grass courtyard complete with umbrellas and a fire pit. There is very limited space in the downtown Avalon area so it’s very rare to see how much open space there is to relax outdoors at this hotel and enjoy the beautiful weather and chat with other guests.
One of the most popular landmarks that you probably have seen in most Catalina photos is the circular building right on the heart of the harbor. The historic Casino Building built back in 1929. Sorry, but there’s no Blackjack or Slots here. Casino actually stands for “meeting place” and this has been quite the meeting place for some amazing stars and events in the past. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a backstage VIP tour, that gives you a cultural history of the building and unprecedented backstage access, to the projection room, private dressing rooms and areas frequented by most Big Band performers of the time. The 12-story building has so much to see. On the ground floor is the Avalon Theater, which was used for live theater and screening of old films and now shows movies in the evening, and has one of the best acoustics I’ve ever heard. The top floor is home to the world’s largest circular ballroom with a 180-foot diameter dance floor. In 1940, 6,200 people filled the dance floor for a live performance of Kay Kyser. These days, it is available for private parties, weddings and hosts the annual JazzTrax in October. It’s absolutely remarkable how well preserved the building is and how much of the original artwork, equipment, art deco furniture and décor are still there. This is definitely a great way to understand the history of the island.
There are plenty of fantastic restaurants to choose from casual to fine dining, but we decided to be guests at, The Avalon Grille, part of the Santa Catalina Island Company. A semi-casual, fine dining waterfront experience. Come early and grab a cocktail in the circular bar before dinner or it’s a great place to watch the game. Make sure you check out their website for the latest happy hour specials. And speaking of special, take advantage of their Chef’s Menu for a once in a lifetime meal. Chef Hancock prepares an individual menu for you and your guest accompanied with world class wine selections. If not, anything on their menu is fantastic with top-notch service. This spot doesn’t disappoint and is a special treat. This is truly a gem not to be missed. Open for Lunch and Dinner.
Also, a part of the signature package is a day at the Descano Beach Club. What a sexy and fun way to spend the day. Guests can choose to rent lounge chairs along the water or rent their own beach cabana, for more privacy. No matter where you choose to lounge, you’ll have service with a smile right on sand. Grab lunch, take in the sun, sip on cocktails or truly indulge with a massage with the sounds of the waves in the background. We spent all day here and didn’t want to leave.
If you want to do something a little more adventurous and scenic, check out the zip-line just behind the beach club. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in the high flying fun due to the fact I’m expecting, but it looked like a lot of fun. We talked to a few participates at the bottom of the ride and even people who said they had a fear of heights or were very nervous had a great time and wished it lasted longer. (I’m not a huge thrill seeker person but this is something I’m definitely coming back to try!)
If you want to see more of the island there are so many expeditions to choose from, all complimentary with the Signature Resort Package. From the Undersea tour, Skyline Drive Tour, or Avalon Scenic Tour. The island may be small but there’s so much untouched rugged terrain filled with bald eagles, bison, and mule deer. Unfortunately, our short trip didn’t allow us enough time to try everything out, even though we wished we could have seen it, it’s definitely on the list for next time.
There’s a lot of fun activities to keep you busy from a round of golf at the Catalina Island Golf Course, climbing the 32 feet rock wall, miniature golf, movie or tennis. But I think my favorite thing was to just walk around the town and enjoy the scene.
There was a sign we saw that read ‘Welcome…Relax. You’re on island time now’. It could not be more true. For a 24-hour vacation, we were so relaxed it felt like we had been on vacation for a week. We wish we had stayed longer to check out all the other fun expeditions and activities, but we’ll be back soon to give a full review of all the fun that can be had on this romantic island.
A quick trip across the Pacific to Catalina will revive and rejuvenate you.
For more information on how you can book this ultimate vacation