Day Trip: Catalina Island
From the Southern California shore, Santa Catalina Island — commonly referred to among locals as just “Catalina” — beckons onlookers from a distance to come and explore its magnificent offerings of adventure and relaxation for the day. Just a short ferry (or boat or helicopter) ride away, it has become a popular day excursion for Newport Beach residents and visitors.
Many go to simply bask in the sun with a book, but the island now offers a host of incentives to climb out of your lounge chair and intimately encounter its 76 square miles of coastline and rugged canyons.
Enjoy an array of such activities as hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and under-the-sea exploration. Swanky new restaurants, a rockin’ music series, and festive galas in Avalon have also seen the greatest resurgence in nightlife since the post-WWII era, making Catalina — second to Newport Beach, of course — one of the liveliest spots in the region to visit.
Boasting balmy air and ocean temperatures ranging between a pleasant 64–73 F, summertime — which sees about 70,000 visitors each year — is the perfect season to enjoy a day in the great outdoors on the island. See the sights from high above on the Zip Line Eco Tour at Descanso Beach Club, and take in Catalina’s flora and fauna while zipping down three quarters of a mile over five lines, with resting spots in between. Traveling at close to 45 miles per hour and 300 feet above the ground, it’s the perfect way to peer into the depths of the canyon and get an adrenaline rush. Assisted by docents along the way, zip liners are also treated to a brief presentation about Catalina’s history and wildlife at each stop.
Plunge into the depths of the ocean and admire the marine life on the Sea Trek Undersea Adventure. With the help of a 60-pound, specially engineered underwater helmet, anyone can trek along the ocean floor through the giant kelp forests while studying the hundreds of sea species that live there. Some visitors have even been known to spot an octopus or lobsters ensconced in the rocks.
For a bird’s-eye view of the expansive mainland or a peek inside Catalina’s lesser-known spots, climb aboard one of two open-air biodiesel-powered H1 Hummers. Fueled by recycled vegetable oil from local restaurants, these eco-friendly H1s offer two eco-tours of Catalina’s countryside: The East End Tour takes 12 tourists at a time through five miles of rugged terrain and eucalyptus trees to a summit of spectacular views. Climbing 1,600 feet above sea level, the Cape Canyon Tour winds through roads less traveled to the island’s interior areas, including the vineyards and Middle Ranch Canyon, home to the American bald eagle and Catalina’s Island fox.
Explorers who prefer to venture on foot can traverse the island — or hike part of it — on the 37.2-mile Trans-Catalina Trail. Or try out the Descanso’s rock-climbing wall. The 32-foot tower with auto belay offers eight separate climbing routes, from easy to challenging.
Nights in Shining Arbor
In the summer months, Catalina becomes a hip music venue with concert performances by award-winning artists as well as some of the mainland’s most talented during its Summer Concert Series. The performances happen on Avalon’s waterfront stage, adjacent a beer and wine garden and beautiful, sunset views. From country sensations to road house-rock, the shows are a fun trip for couples as well as the entire family.
The emergence of fun and fine dining, as well as a restaurant week on the island has also catered to the resurgence of a bustling nightlife since the early days of big band and theater performances. From an authentic Mexican restaurant that’s been around since 1986 to the recently opened Maggie’s Blue Rose, Catalina’s dining scene appeals to an array of palates. Live music entertainment can also be enjoyed at many of these eateries.
Adventure seekers and those looking for some R&R have a sea of incentives to visit — or revisit — Santa Catalina. With so many activities in Avalon, it might just be the new hip district.
Photo Credit: Jody Tiongco