26 miles across the sea, or so the song goes, Santa Catalina awaits. A land of Buffalo Milk and honeys, you're sure to get your wiki wacked. 90 percent of the 75-square-mile island is primitive, held in a conservancy established in the 1970s by the chewing gum magnate Wrigley family, while the bulk of the remainder is found in a charming resort town called Avalon.
Set sail aboard the Catalina Express from one of four mainland ports two in Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point (round trips run about $75). For a more memorable journey, upgrade to either the Commodore Lounge ($15) or, for high-rollers, the Captain's Lounge ($60 out of L.A. ports, $80 from O.C.). The former offers priority boarding, indoor seating, more legroom and complimentary beverage; the latter offers true privacy for about a half dozen or so passengers, pre-boarding, complimentary beverages and plush seating.
And while there's a chance you'll spot a whale or some dolphins on the boat ride over, you'll definitely see wildlife - wild buffalo herds, a beach of sunbathing seals, a rocky isle of pelicans and likely more - from the sky. To take in the entirety of the island, you'll want to tour it with Island Express Helicopters. The trip is worth it just for the photos.
One of the first things you'll notice about Avalon is that everyone drives modified golf carts. There are a street vehicles (I think 400 was the number I was told), but they're unnecessary for the most part, especially just buzzing around towb. If you want to cruise like a local, head to Catalina Auto & Bike Rentals and get yourself a golf cart and a map, and start asking yourself why more towns don't ditch the gas-guzzlers in favor of this California-casual form of transport.
Another way to experience the natural beauty of Catalina is by zip line. Zip lining provides an adventurous opportunity to learn the lay of the land and soak up the wilderness. The guides are not only informative, but loads of fun, never seeming to tire of the joy of speedily zipping steadily from the mountaintop to the beach.
The most iconic feature of the island is, of course, the Catalina Casino. Don't worry if you have a gambling addiction, I'm willing to wager there's no betting going on here. The 1929 Art Deco building derives its name from the Italian, meaning "gathering place." It was the first completely circular building built in modern times, and received critical acclaim from the architecture world. It houses a gorgeous theater, ballroom and museum. And the tour is fascinating.
The dining scene features something for everyone, but especially lovers. Romance is on the menu at Steve's Steakhouse, Avalon Grille and Bluewater Grill, surf 'n' turf joints with breathtaking oceanfront views, great wines and chef-driven cuisine. While at Luau Larry's and The Lobster Trap, cocktails and comfort food attract locals and tourists, alike.
When the day is done, no one wants to get behind the wheel. Stay at the centrally located Pavilion Hotel on oceanfront Crescent Avenue and everything is within walking distance. In addition to a breakfast spread each morning, the hotel breaks out a nice selection of complimentary wines and cheeses for its guests each evening in the indoor/outdoor lounge.
There is much to see and do in Avalon, and it's best shared with someone special. Start planning your getaway now, and bear in mind that if you come on your birthday, there are loads freebies to be had from the boat ride over to the deals at the shops and restaurants. If you've got to turn another year older, you might as well enjoy the perks.