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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
Journey to the Bottom of the Globe: Exploring the White Continent of Antarctica

nguins on  shore as writer's cruise ship passes by, Antarctica
As a travel journalist I am constantly asked what are some of my favorite travel experiences. The list is endless. But there is one destination that seems to raise the most eyebrows. That destination is a cruise to Antarctica. Sadly, that cruise line I was on is no more, but today there is a plethora of cruise lines that offer similar packages. Here's a look back at my Antarctica cruise.

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Tom Weber's travel blog/review
Treasures of Ireland: The Quiet Man (Dispatch #17)

sunset at Galway Bay

The Palladian Traveler follows in the footsteps of some Hollywood icons as he goes "on location" in Cong to pay his respects to his all-time fave movie.

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John Clayton's travel blog/review
Would You Believe She Can Carry 800 (Yes, 800!) People!

Emirates Airbus A-380
As she came around the corner we could not believe how big she was. Massive, and yet incredibly beautiful – almost elegant in fact. Her lines were so symmetrical she seemed to blend into a classic example of astonishing good looks. The other fact that amazed all of us was how quiet she was. We felt sure that with the obvious overwhelming power she evidenced, she'd be extra loud. It's a cliché, but she was as quiet as a church mouse – or "as quiet as dreaming trees."

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Ringo Boitano's travel blog/review
Highway 49 Revisited: Exploring California's Gold Country

aurora borealis lights up the night sky near Fairbanks
In the 1840s, the population of California was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived from all over the world – and they came for one reason: gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.

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Eric Anderson's travel blog/review
Lake Charles’ Family-Size Low-Key Mardi Gras

dressed-up for the Mardi Gras
The Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, the second largest in Louisiana, does not need parents there to avert their children’s eyes. This is family entertainment and children are very much part of it. The main office of the Lake Charles CVB has costumes from last year’s Mardi Gras but it also has figures to fascinate little ones from country boys fishing for their dinner to alligators who have already fed and are rubbing their stomachs.

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Fyllis Hockman's travel blog/review
Cedar Hill: Frederick Douglass' Home is as Imposing as the Man who Lived There

Cedar Hill, Washington DC
Having recently received a misguided shout-out from the president during Black History Month – Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job... – it seems a good time to revisit the cultural icon's legitimate place in history. And a visit to his home in Washington, DC – surely a place the current president might want to consider visiting himself – would be a good place to start.

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Greg Aragon's travel blog/review
Discovering Art, Culture and Cuisine in Lancaster

Prime Desert Woodland Preserve, Lancaster

Lancaster has always been one of those cities that I pass through on the way to some other destination. But last week was different. I finally took the time to explore the place and wow, was I surprised! I discovered a downtown full of charm, culture, cuisine and community spirit. My recent getaway began when a friend and I drove about 60 miles north of Los Angeles toward the Mojave Desert and checked into the Towneplace Suites Lancaster.

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Bev Cohn's travel blog
Richard Gere and Joseph Cedar Discuss "The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer"

a scene from the documentary 'My Hero Brother'

Richard Gere is one of America's acting treasures. He has an uncanny knack for selecting scripts with the most interesting characters. Included in some of his vast body of films are "American Gigolo, "An Officer and a Gentleman," "The Cotton Club," "Internal Affairs," "Pretty Woman," "Primal Fear," "Unfaithful," and "Chicago." Joseph Cedar, writer and director of the critically acclaimed "The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer," was born in New York City but when he was five, his family moved to Israel where he was raised.

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