When it comes to island travel, Hawaii or Guam is usually the first place to come to mind. However, the fame of these popular destinations sometimes makes people neglect other low-key but very beautiful getaways. Off the coast of southern California, there is a small island, Catalina Island, which has rightly earned the nickname “the backyard of California.”
While less frequented than its more popular counterparts, Catalina Island is just as fun. Here, you can enjoy a Catalina Cocktail, the island’s signature vodka drink, and a warm sunbath on the beach. For the more adventurous, you can take a yacht out to sea to watch for dolphins and fish jumping out of the water, or you can rent a Jeep to explore the island’s hills full of nature. Every place on Catalina is as quiet as having your own secret oceanside garden.
In the 1950s, The Four Preps penned a beautiful verse in the song 26 Miles (Santa Catalina): “Water all around it everywhere / tropical trees and the salty air / but for me the thing that’s a-waitin’ there, romance.” This romantic song was a hit across the whole country and drove many people to travel to Catalina Island. However, in the years after, Catalina Island’s popularity diminished as those on the island tried to maintain its low-key profile. Even to many residents of Los Angeles today, the island goes unknown even though it’s only 22 miles off the coast.
On the shores of Catalina Island, trees sway in the breeze, and waves wash onto the pure white beaches. At dawn and dusk, the landscape is dyed brilliant colors as the sun rises and falls. Catalina is a wonderful island that can satisfy every person’s appetite for island activities. It is usually divided into two main tourist areas, Avalon and Two Harbors.
These two spots both deserve a visit, but Avalon is more suitable for a brief weekend getaway. Avalon sits on the southeast corner of the island, surrounded by clear blue water and home to a variety of plants. Only 50% of the island is developed for tourism; the other 50% is kept undeveloped. There are thousands of excursions offered to tourists looking to enjoy the island’s abundant natural beauty, such as submarine tours, diving, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, sailing, etc. You can also drive down the coastal road or stroll along the beach on a leisurely afternoon. Hermit Gulch Trail is one of the most recommend hiking trails, overlooking the whole island.
The hotels on Catalina, mostly found in the town of Avalon, were built along the coast like many of the local residents’ homes. These hotels are mostly boutique hotels or family inns having their own unique styles blended with Catalina’s own. Due to the island’s limited development, each hotel usually has only 20 to 30 rooms. These small unique hotels add yet another unique flair to the island’s vibrant tourist landscape.
To get the most out of your time, visitors can go on one of the thousands of tours offered on Catalina Island. The Avalon View Tour is one of the most popular, taking you up and down the coast of Avalon by convertible Hummer H1s. Imagine driving along ridges as high as 1,500 feet and looking out over the winding coast to the wide horizon over the ocean. Another popular tour is the Catalina Adventure Tour, which takes you to the bottom of the sea by way of a glass submarine. This up-close experience will make you feel as if you are really swimming among schools of fish above the colorful reefs. Most interestingly, there is a one-hour flying fish boat tour that takes you out to sea to witness thousands of flying fish jumping out of the water.
Catalina Island is a place where you will forget about the concept of time as you relax and experience all its unique attractions. Although it is not as famous as Hawaii or other popular tourist islands, its natural beauty makes Catalina the most brilliant star of all the Channel Islands of California.