Catalina for Couples

descanso_beachOur guest post comes from Seth Halpern, editor of The Ambassador, a monthly publication dedicated to encouraging the local Christian community in Yuba City, CA. Seth is also the host of a weekly radio show of the same name. His website is

I hear friends talking about their trips to Hawaii. “Which island did you stay on? The BigIsland (Hawaii), the Garden Isle (Kaua’i), the Valley Isle (Maui)?”, My response is “the close island”. To me that would be Catalina Island. Of course, Catalina Island is not part of the Hawaiian Islands but instead sits about 22 miles off the Southern California coast. It only takes an hour flight from home to Long Beach and an hour on a beautiful ferry ride to “the island” To us, it’s “our Hawaii”.

My wife and I just returned from a trip to Southern California which included a three-day stay in Avalon, the only “city” on Catalina Island. We were blessed to have accommodations and some excursions provided for us. The term “excursions” is usually used on a cruise and that is pretty much what it felt like (without the motion sickness) on this island resort.

Our spacious and homey one-bedroom condo at Bahia Vista was very comfortable with a fully equipped kitchen. Our unit (B41) had a very large balcony with a breathtaking view of Avalon and the Pacific Ocean.

The city of Avalon (about 4,000 residents) is one of the cleanest and safest “cities” I have ever seen. Children play on the streets without (much) fear of cars or criminals. Of course, we always need to be alert in this day and age, but Catalina hearkens back to an age of innocence and decency. Very few cars are allowed on the island making golf carts a very common sight.

There are activities for everyone. For adventure lovers, there is parasailing, scuba diving, kayaking, biking, ziplines and more. For those like us desiring less strenuous activities, there are numerous tours on land, water or in the sky,.

We opted for the Skyline Drive tour (Discovery Tours), a two-hour narrated bus tour meandering up the mountain to the “Airport in the Sky” (at 1600 ft). Along the way, we saw indigenous plants and wildlife and even some bison (similar to buffalo)! We were also treated to some of the most spectacular views of the island. Some daring hikers along the way stopped for water break.

We literally went from the mountaintop to “under the sea (or ocean)” on a Nautilus semi-submarine (Catalina Adventure Tours) that allowed us to feed the fish in their own habitat. The island also boasts quite a rich history which we learned on a guided tour of the Catalina Island Museum.

The Casino, a striking 12-story structure at the shoreline and Avalon’s most recognizable landmark was built in 1929. Despite its name, which is Italian for “gathering place”, it has never been a place for gambling. Entertainers and Big Bands from the 1930’s – 1950’s performed there.

Today it serves as the island’s movie theater. We watched “Man of Steel” in the 1200 seat ornate theater with historic murals on all the walls. There was even a pipe organ concert (using the original organ!) before the movie to add to the nostalgia. What we didn’t get to see was the world’s largest ballroom which sits above the massive theater. There is room for 6,000 dancers none of which can be heard while watching the movie below!

For foodies, watch out, there are plenty of options to expand your waistline and shrink your wallet. The good news is that there are some less expensive and healthier options to choose from including a Von’s grocery store that provides all you need to stock up for your visit or to make the perfect picnic. I really liked that everything was in walking distance. It was an easy walk into town from our condo (at the northwestern end of Avalon) and short, beautiful stroll to the Descanso Beach Club at the southwestern end). We had lunch on the beach basking in the beauty of this “private” resort that anyone can enjoy. While the main public beach was beautiful as well, Descanso is superb!

catalina golferThere is no doubt that Catalina Island takes pride in maintaining its clean, safe, and fun tourist paradise. It caters to every whim even if that means finding a spot on the beach and working on your tan while enjoying the simple elegance of an earlier era. Avalon gives the feel of a small town where everyone knows each other (except the tourists).

Whether planning a honeymoon or anniversary or “need a break getaway”, whether young and energetic or those of us with “less-resilient” bodies, Catalina Island has it all. Above all, what I love about “the close island” is that we saw the hand of God in everything we did. From the beauty of the ocean and its marine life to the mountains and its wildlife, flora and fauna, our majestic Lord is the Wonderful Creator! This is a place that showcases His mighty and creative work. There are no man-made theme park adventures here (it’s ok, I like a good theme park sometimes, too) just wholesome family fun and a place to enjoy the awesomeness of God! Of course, there is nightlife for the ones that want it. We stayed away from the few hotspots in town that got loud and raucous. It didn’t spill out too much to upset the serene beauty of the evening. Maybe consider the next time you’re getting ready to say “Aloha”, change it to “Avalon-ha!”