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Catalina Island is LA’s closest tropical getaway. It’s part of the Channel Islands off the coast of California and is ideal for a weekend or even a day trip. The ferry that leaves from Long Beach Harbor to the islands can be expensive at $90 round trip, but it’s worth it to see this beautiful hideaway that’s far enough away that it feels like a real vacation but close enough that it’s convenient for a quick visit. Some people even opt to take a helicopter there as it’s only a snappy 20-minute ride from LA with amazing views, while others take full advantage of the ocean tide and sail themselves the 100 miles from the coast to the island and drop anchor in the harbor. However you get there, it’s easy to escape the confines of the city and discover all the quaint charms of Catalina Island.
There’s plenty to do in the touristy little section off the main eastern harbor of the island. This is where the ferry unloads passengers onto the docks of the nearby teal pier, which features an adorable fish ‘n’ chips restaurant at the end along with a bait and tackle shop called Avalon Seafood and Fish Market. All the fences along the water are painted teal to match the sparkling cerulean waters surrounding the little town by the seaside. The picturesque harbor is graced by the pristine historical casino, the Catalina Casino, whose architecture of cylinder and white stucco walls is a cultural landmark. But this casino doesn’t mean gambling – rather, it’s a theater that hosts events and galas and is open to tours that tell the history of the life of the island as a whole. A long walk up a steep hill from the Casino will lead passersby to the nearby church steeple with a large bell, complete with an amazing vantage point that overlooks the Pacific.
Those who would prefer to relax on the beach with drinks can continue walking north from the Catalina Casino to the Descanso Beach Club. White lounge chairs are spread across the sand, and waiters attend to your every need – it’s the perfect way to relax in this stunning location. You can also order pizza and drinks at Ristorante Villa Portofino, an Italian restaurant with a patio opening up onto the water and sparkling lights twinkling overhead. Just be aware that Catalina can be pretty quiet at night, and the majority of places close well before 10 pm.
In terms of transportation, expect to get away from the city traffic and the beloved cars of Angelenos – what a relief. Everyone here mainly commutes via golf carts, and it’s refreshing how content everyone is to travel at a slower pace. It’s also quite walkable if visitors just plan on staying in town; there are even electric bikes that are fun, cheap to rent, and can get you around to most of the nearby areas of interest. A hidden gem that is worth visiting is the Botanical Gardens, where a temple was built by Wrigley of the Chicago Cubs. Different varieties of cacti grow along the long path leading up to it while butterflies and hummingbirds flit around their blooming flowers.
Golf fans will find some of the most eye-catching courses at the bigger resorts farther inland, and many visitors come here simply to enjoy the game. Other popular activities include snorkeling along Lover’s Cove where fish and sea otters frolic or taking one of the many whale- and dolphin-watching cruises at sunset to see marine life up close in the wild. There are many activities to choose from, but any trip to Catalina is sure to refresh and delight visitors, making it another great treasure off the California coastline.