Catalina Island: California proximity, Mediterranean vibe

Catalina Island

We’re not proud of it, but my wife and I have taken to cheating at hiking.

You see, pressed for time and wanting to see as much of beautiful Catalina Island as possible, we cut the recommended six kilometre Divide hike in half by taking a taxi to and from a transition point.

By doing so we avoided some steep terrain, but still hiked the important final foot traffic-only ascent and descent to the 700 metre pinnacle.

It’s called the Divide because to the east are incredible views of Catalina’s main town – Avalon – and the San Pedro Channel and Los Angeles beyond. To the west is the wild Pacific Ocean. The vistas we enjoyed exemplify Catalina Island’s unique locale.

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Town of Avalon on Catalina Island

Visiting Catalina Island, California

This accessible-by-ferry little chunk of paradise is only 35 kilometres off the coast of Los Angeles, but it has the look and feel of the Mediterranean coast. It also feeds off its Caribbean vibe with its motto: Relax, you’re on island time.

Catalina Island is accessible by one-hour ferry from five L.A. suburbs – Marina del Ray, San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point – for US$33.25 each way with Catalina Express (www.catalinaexpress.com).

There are the white buildings of Avalon clinging to palm-treed mountainsides around a boat-filled harbour. The pace is dialled back to revolve around relaxing in the sun and water, eating seafood, drinking California wines and sleeping at boutique hotels.

All these attributes attract about 900,000 tourists a year, mainly from nearby southern California, but also from around the world and on the cruise ships that stop twice a week.

“Yes, we get the Mediterranean comparisons all the time,” said Michelle Warner from the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce. “But we have the tourism offerings to back it all up. Catalina is a compact mecca for sightseeing, adventure, beaches, dining and shopping.”

By fast-tracking our hike, we had the time to enjoy all that Warner recommended. We boarded a high-speed dingy to go snorkelling with Catalina Ocean Rafting. A kilometre down the coast from Avalon is a kelp garden that attracts snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world for its rich marine life. The water is nice and clear and revealed schools of California’s office state fish – the bright orange Garibaldi – along with calico bass, opal eye, half moon and blacksmith fish and even a couple of sea lions. The Catalina Island Company has also introduced a zip cording adventure down the mountainside and an underwater helmet walk.

For more on visiting Catalina Island, go to: www.catalinachamber.com and www.visitcalifornia.com.

Air Canada flies into Los Angeles from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. WestJet has flights to L.A. From Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. www.aircanada.com and www.westjet.com.


Steve MacNaull

Steve MacNaull is a business reporter for the Kelowna Daily Courier who loves to travel and write about that too. Find out more about Steve at www.bctravelwriters.com/macnaull.

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