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Greg: Catalina Island
Escape to Catalina Island
Story and photographs by Greg Aragon

atalina is not just an island paradise off the Los Angeles coast; 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.

With this in mind, a friend and I recently escaped to the island for a memorable summer Getaway.

boaats and yachts moored at Avalon, Catalina Island
Catalina Island is an island paradise, only 24 miles off the coast of Long Beach, California.

Our journey began in downtown Long Beach, where we picked up tickets from Catalina Express and boarded one of the company’s sleek, catamaran-styled vessels for an 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” wooden airplane), and schools of playful dolphins that usually follow the boat into Catalina Harbor.

the Catalina Express approaching Catalina Island
Catalina Express offers island trips in sleek, comfortable, catamaran-styled vessels

When we reached the city of Avalon, the captain anchored beside hundreds of colorful boats and yachts, and schools of bright orange Garibaldi – the California state fish. From here we walked about 10 minutes along the water’s edge, through town, to our room at the Aurora Hotel & Spa.

Located a block from the beach, Aurora combines sleek and modern décor with a cozy Catalina bed and breakfast feel. Our spacious suite featured a large Jacuzzi tub and shower, a comfy king bed, lots of couch seating, flat screen TV, small fridge, free high-speed internet and a free continental breakfast.

interior of one of the rooms at the Aurora Hotel & Spa
Aurora Hotel & Spa combines sleek and modern décor with a cozy Catalina bed and breakfast feel

Once acquainted with our room, we walked up a flight of stairs to the rooftop of Aurora, where a groovy outdoor lounge area awaits guests. Since the hotel sits atop a hill, and we were on the 3rd story, we had a magical, bird’s eye view of the island and ocean.

After relaxing at the hotel, we walked a few minutes to Descanso Beach Club for lunch. Set on the beach, the club serves casual fare and signature cocktails, with incredible ocean-front views. For our lunch we enjoyed a plate of shrimp, Caesar salad, chicken sandwiches and beer, while watching sunbathers and scuba divers a few yards away.

Descanso Beach Club
Set on the beach, Descanso Beach Club serves casual fare and signature cocktails, with incredible ocean-front views

We also had a great view of the historic Casino Building, which 50 years ago used to bring hundreds of people to island each week to see big bands such as 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 lunch we strolled along the boardwalk to Catalina Sea Spa, which is located on a small side street off the main drag. Along the way we passed the old wooden pier, charming island shops and eateries, and we waved at passengers in the ubiquitous and colorful golf carts that crisscross Avalon.

At Catalina Sea Spa, we met owner Michelle Bray, who told us about her company, which offers full service spa treatments in the heart of island paradise, and is the only spa to offer Ashiatsu, a unique form of Japanese barefoot massage. Spa services also include hot stone, Thai, Swedish, pregnancy, and Lomi-Lomi, a relaxing Hawaiian massage. For treatments, we had two rejuvenating Swedish rubs.

My massage was so soothing, I found myself napping on the beach afterwards. For those who want to take island relaxation to the next level, I highly recommend a visit to Catalina Sea Spa.

massage room at the Catalina Sea Spa
Catalina Sea Spa offers soothing massages on an island paradise

For dinner, we discovered Steve’s Steakhouse. A local favorite featuring steaks, seafood and lamb, Steve’s is located on the 2nd floor of an oceanfront building, with beautiful panoramic harbor views. Our meal began with Oysters Rockefeller, with fresh and hot with spinach, cheese and spices; jumbo shrimp cocktail with spicy sauce and lemon; and Caesar salad. While eating, we met owner Steve Bray, who helped us choose a main course. I went with a big juicy T-bone steak, with rice pilaf and veggies, and my friend had a succulent local swordfish with mashed potatoes.

Steve's Steakhouse
A local Catalina favorite featuring steaks, seafood and lamb, Steve’s Steakhouse boasts great food with beautiful panoramic harbor views

After dinner, we walked along Avalon’s wooden pier, watching seals and fish swim in the clear water and the sun go down behind the casino building. We concluded the evening with a couple Maui Mai Tai’s at Luau Larry’s bar.

In the morning we experienced a thrilling two-hour ride with Zip Line Eco-Tour. This new island attraction propelled us down five separate zip lines dropping from 500 ft to 60 ft above sea level, with one run that is 1,100 lineal-ft-long all on its own. Along the way, we traveled nearly three quarters of a mile above an untamed canyon floor at speeds pushing 45mph.

After the zip-line adventure, I walked to the sandy beach, spread out my towel and relaxed like a baby seal on the deck of a swaying boat in a serene harbor.

baby seal at a harbor, Catalina Island
Catalina Island can have one relaxing like a baby seal in a serene harbor

For more information on visiting Catalina Island, visit:

Related Articles:
Pismo Beach, Catalina Island, Laguna Beach, Orange County Oceanfront, San Luis Obispo, Central California Coast, Hotel del Coronado, San Diego

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Let Greg know what you think about his traveling adventure.

* * * * *

Feedback for Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Going to Universal Studios Hollywood to see the Harry Potter "land" is on my bucket list!!

-- Nancy, Hawaii

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Feedback for A Spring Escape to Maui And Hotel Wailea

I leave here April 21 for Maui and can hardly wait. It'll be my 15th trip, more or less and I love it, and your pictures.

-- Ellie – Port Ludlow, WA

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Hi Greg,

It's not a forest of banyan trees in Lahaina by the harbor. It's one huge tree, about 140 years old. It's an important landmark of Lahaina, and one of our favorite views.We always stay at the Pioneer Inn, overlooking the harbor and the banyan tree. Every evening thousands of mynah birds fly into the tree, chattering and fluttering until they settle down for the night. Otherwise, great article.

-- Virginia – Northridge, CA

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Feedback for Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa

Very nice story, Greg.

-- Maris Somerville – Los Angeles, CA

Ed Boitano's travel blog/review
Eugene Chaplin Introduces Chaplin's World Museum in Vevey, Switzerland

Charlie Chaplin and the Chaplin Museum
Lake Geneva/ Matterhorn Region and Switzerland Tourism recently blew into Los Angeles with the most esteemed guest, Eugene Chaplin. A man of remarkable lineage, he is the fifth child of Oona O'Neill and Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, the grandson of playwright Eugene O'Neill, the brother of Geraldine Chaplin and father of actress/model Kiera Chaplin.

Go There

Tom Weber's travel blog/review
Treasures of Ireland: The Burren (Dispatch #14)

a dolmen at The Burren

The Palladian Traveler ventures back to the days of fearless Celtic warriors to search for some "stones to take you home" as he files his latest dispatch from the monochromatic moonscape known as The Burren.

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John Clayton's travel blog/review
Buckingham Palace – It's THE Most Popular Tour in Great Britain (Part 2 of a 2-Part Series)

Buckingham Palace exit
Is it more momentous for a Brit to do the Buckingham Palace tour than say an American or indeed any other nationality? Yes, I know that's an odd question, but if you grow up – as I did – in London back in the 1950s, getting inside Buckingham Palace was the stuff of dreams. Hence my surprise at touring BP in 2005.

Ringo Boitano's travel blog/review
Paradise on Earth: The Romance of Tahiti and Her Islands

aurora borealis lights up the night sky near Fairbanks
The first thing you notice is the fragrance. The intoxicating perfume of the tiare flower announces to your senses that you are in a magical place, overflowing with tropical vegetation and soothing trade winds. It is the same fragrance that the English seamen on the HMS Bounty also first encountered; but they came, not for flowers, but for breadfruit, intended as a new food staple for their slaves in the West Indies.

Eric Anderson's travel blog/review
Provence: As Much a Mood, a Spirit as a Destination

Christmas card
"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" goes the song. Robert Goulet sang it and Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis, too, and it surely comes to mind when you stand on a bluff in the Luberon of Provence and stare across at the little hill village of Gordes. The view is the best part; the village's interior itself is not dramatic and stands as a warning of what contemporary popularity can do to the simple homes of 12th century working people.

go there

Fyllis Hockman's travel blog/review
Exploring Venice: Lost and Found. And Special Finds. Repeat.

Venice street musicians
Walking home to our apartment in Venice, we share a wave through the window with the owner of Baba, our local osteria. Leaving for a day of sightseeing, a cup of my favorite pistachio gelato awaits me despite the early hour. At the Bar Dugole, we relax after a day of sightseeing and order the regular: vodka for my husband and Amaretto for me.

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Greg Aragon's travel blog/review
Traveling with Beautiful Boots and a Bison Backpack

Bison Redwood Backpack

People often asked about my favorite travel apparel and gear. This happened to me at the airport recently. One question came as I was putting back on my clothes after going through the TSA checkpoint striptease. Before leaving the area, I heard a soft voice say, "hey, I really like your boots. Where did you get them?" Looking up, I found a uniformed employee staring at my feet.

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Bev Cohn's travel blog
Film Review: "My Hero Brother" – A Tribute to the Human Spirit

a scene from the documentary 'My Hero Brother'

I just spent five days attending the Santa Barbara Film Festival and for the most part, the features, animated shorts, and documentaries were quite professional and compelling. That said, "My Hero Brother," a documentary that was particularly outstanding, told the remarkable and inspiring story about a group of Down syndrome young men and women who go on a two-week trek through the Himalayas with their non-Down syndrome siblings.

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