Catalina is not just an island paradise; it’s a very close island paradise, which makes it a perfect day or weekend getaway. In fact, at only 24 miles across the sea from Long Beach, the place can be reached by boat in one hour.
So with the summer sun beating down on the mainland, I recently escaped to the island for the weekend.
My getaway began in downtown Long Beach, where I purchased a roundtrip ticket with Catalina Express. I then boarded a sleek, catamaran-styled vessel for the hour journey across the Catalina Channel.
Featuring comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, lots of big windows and a full bar and snack shop, the boat makes for a fun trip. Highlights of the crossing include views of the legendary Queen Mary, the giant, white geodesic Carnival Cruise ship dome (former home to Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose”), and schools of playful dolphins that usually follow the boat into Catalina Harbor.
When the boat reached Avalon, the captain anchored beside hundreds of colorful boats and yachts. From here I walked to my room at the Pavilion Lodge.
Located steps from the beach, the Pavilion Lodge combines mid-century style with modern luxury. My room featured cheerful marine colors, a small fridge, a tub and shower and free high-speed internet. The room opened to a beautiful garden courtyard, where each morning the hotel offers a free continental breakfast overlooking the ocean.
After unpacking I walked five minutes to the island’s historic Casino for the new “Behind the Scenes Casino Tour.” This attraction takes guests back to a time when hundreds of people would sail to the island each week to see and hear big bands with the likes of Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Gene Autry and other greats play on one of the biggest wooden dance floors the world had yet seen.
After the tour I walked around the circular casino building, encountering a myriad of scuba divers, taking advantage of one of the country’s best dive sights. I then found a small outdoor café serving fish and chips on the wooden pier. While dining I enjoyed a warm summer breeze and watched yachts sway in the harbor and people play on the beach.
I concluded the evening with a beer and a little karaoke at The Galleon restaurant and bar. In the morning I enjoyed breakfast on the Pavilion lawn and then lounged on the sand with my toes in the water.
Besides the casino tour, the island has recently launched The Catalina Seatrek Eco Tour, which puts visitors in diving suits with big helmets and walks them underwater, down a ramp, into a kelp forest (www.Sea-Trek.com).
For more information on visiting Catalina Island, staying at the Pavilion Lodge, or taking an island tour, visit: www.visitcatalinaisland.com. Catalina Express offers up to 30 round trip daily departures from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point to the cities of Avalon and Two Harbors. Adult fares are $32.50 each way. For more info and schedules, visit www.catalinaexpress.com.
By Greg Aragon