Catalina Island is a stretch of 22 miles off the coast of California that is a relaxing place to getaway for a few days. Either for pure relaxation, family-fun, romantic weekend or an adventure-filled trip. Just an hour boat ride which you can catch from the Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point port via Catalina Express. Catalina has 2 main islands: Avalon and Two Harbor. On a recent trip, I explored the wilderness of Avalon through a 10 mile bike ride down the scenic hillside.
Avalon is a picturesque harbor where most visitors begin their Catalina Island journey right off the ferry terminal, Cabrillo Mole, unless they arrive by private boat or plane. It is the southern most city in Los Angeles County with approximately 3600 residents tucked into 2.9 square miles of Avalon Canyon. Most visitors will not leave Avalon as the 1 mile stretch along the waterfront from the ferry terminal to Descanso Beach has enough to see and do, although I’d strongly advise you to get out and explore as there are so many more adventures that await outside this area.
We were looking for adventure, albeit the best that way we could, as we had arrived on a Monday after a rare, rainy Angelenos weekend. We were highly recommended to do a 4 hour morning tour with Bike Catalina. Bike Catalina offers 4 main tours: Ridge Route to Avalon, Two Harbors Land & Sea Experience, Avalon Canyon Self-Guided Tour and Little Harbor Loop ride. We chose the “Ridge Route to Avalon” for $88 a person. The owner Randy met us at 8:30am in his truck and drove us up the scenic mountain road up to the quaint Catalina Airport known as “Airport in the Sky” where mail & UPS is delivered on week days, some via old DC-3 planes (that was used in World War II).
While 95% of people who arrive to the island use the Catalina Express Boat as a mode of transportation, there are people who take private helicopters and airplanes to the island which would land here, one of the rare flat areas on the island.
The airport hangar is small yet cozy, with a restaurant and souvenir shop in the main building called “DC-3 Gifts & Grill aka Runway Cafe At Catalina Airport“. While we didn’t get a chance to eat, the food there did look and smell like delicious comfort food and many come up just for an excuse to taste their Big Buffalo Scramble and a warm bowl of Chili.
From the patio deck, we took some photos of the various plants and flowers while trying to spot a fox. Just around 10am, the daily mail arrived by plane and we watched them unload mail for the residents before hopping on our bicycles down the mountain.
The mountain bike has several gears to help you as you incline or descend and is not a difficult ride as it’s mainly downhill through Catalina’s rugged and beautiful interior into Avalon. It is about a 10 mile ride downhill that takes an average of 2 hours at a leisure speed to stop, rest and take photos of the gorgeous scenic view.
Catalina Island has been a favorite vacation & hang-out spot by celebrities since the early 1900’s with many famous films filmed on the island. The island is reminiscent of the seaside villages that hug hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean. Randy who took us on the drive up said it looks exactly like the village his mother grew up in Italy by the Adriatic Sea but instead of Olive trees, there are Eucalyptus trees that frame the island and wake up all our senses.
In 1924, 14 American bison were brought to the island for the filming of a movie. They remained and are like island mascots today as well as their pride and joy. Of course with time, they have multiplied and there are an estimated 150 buffalos still on the island today. If you’re lucky, you could spot one grazing along the hillsides along with deer and bald eagles, which we did not fortunately see though we did spot friendly squirrels and birds.
At about 2/3 down the hill, you will see where the Catalina Zipline Tours begin. It would be highly recommended to stop there and zip down with the sea as your main view.
In case you don’t feel like biking, other options would be to take the Cape Canyon Expedition which is an eco-friendly H1 Hummer Island Tour, rent a Golf Cart ($45 an hour) or even hike up as we met a French solo female traveller who did just that and camped along the road overnight. There are plenty of options and it would never hurt to ask a local for their recommendations as the friendly, laid-back islander mentality is certainly the case in Catalina!
Getting There/Where to Stay
From Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point
Free Ride on your Birthday! (with a purchase of another ticket)
http://www.bikecatalina.com / (310) 913-1028
Avalon Hotel – http://www.theavalonhotel.com/welcome-to-the-avalon
Aurora Hotel – http://www.auroracatalina.com