Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Catalina Island - Relaxing and Beautiful getaway

Link to pictures: Catalina Island
We visited Catalina island on Thanksgiving weekend in November when it was great spring-like weather. Catalina Island is close to Los Angeles. Nearest airport woulf be either LA or Long Beach. We drove to Long Beach from Sacramento and stayed in Long Beach for a night. From Long Beach, it is a one-hour ferry ride to Catalina. Long Beach is as a great small city. We stayed at Hyatt Regency, which was close to the pier. Hyatt had excellent dinner and great breakfast buffet. Shavi got to run early morning on the bike trail at the pier, which he said was awesome. We parked our car next day in the parking lot of Catalina Express which was very convenient. We had reserved our ferry tickets a week in advance. Even then we had been unable to get the time slot that we wanted. Reserving seats much in advance is a good suggestion. Catalina Express starts from three stations: San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point. Catalina Express is a bit pricey but then there is no other option unless you want to fly there but of course, that is not cheap by any means!

Catalina Express is a great ferry ride. People are usually there early (at least 45 mins before the ferry time) to get good seats. The ferry has an open upper deck but it gets filled fast.
Catalina has a small town of Avalon which is the primary tourist destination and the quaint village of Two Harbors. The ferry service to Two Harbors is only offered from San Pedro. We reached Avalon. The hotels in Avalon generally have shuttle service from the Catalina harbor to the hotels. We decided to just walk since it was not much distance. There are not many cars on the island. With a 13- year waiting period for getting cars to the island, people prefer to drive around in golf carts. Golf carts and bikes are easily available for rent for local sight-seeing.

We spent our first evening on the island, strolling on the streets. It has a small strip with various restaurants and bars. Great way to spend an evening at the strip with the pier facing it. Beautiful views.
For the next day, we decided to rent bikes and ride on the Trans-Catalina trails. The bike passes for the trails are to be purchased from Catalina Island Conservancy, whose office can be easy located in Avalon. Everything can be easily accessed on foot. Again, the bike passes are expensive since they are valid for one year. At the time, we went, it was $65 for two, not including bike rentals. We rented bikes from Brown Bikes, which was great but bikes are to returned before it gets dark. Going for hiking on the trails does not require any official pass but it is donation-based and the Conservancy office gives you a pass for the trails. The trail is around 26 miles one way.

We started on our bikes and decided to go 5-6 miles one way, to reach the ‘Airport in the Sky’. The first 3-miles of the trails were brutal since they had 10% gradient. Pedaling on the bike was hard and I almost walked those 3-miles with my bike but on the way back, it was fun. I came back flying!
There are not many rest stations on the trail. The closest one is a small park, around 3.5 miles from the start. So, it is advisable to carry lots of water, especially since the trail is mostly uphill. We reached Airport on the Sky, which is a small local airport at 1602 ft. elevation. We did not see many people on the trail except for few tour buses. The airport has a nice eating place and good restrooms. The food at the one and the only one restaurant at the airport was good. Going further up on the trails towards the other small town on the island: Two Harbors, would have required lot of time and energy since it has 10-15% gradient and then of course a place to stay at Two Harbors. So, we decided to return back to Avalon before it got dark.

People who want to go to Two Harbors, generally reserve a hotel in Two Harbors for the night. Camping is another option.

Avalon is a small town with good cell coverage and wi-fi. It is a great relaxing way to spend weekend. We spent almost 3 days there and felt they were just sufficient. The island also has several other activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, zip-lining, tubing, fishing, paddle-boarding.

Link to pictures: Catalina Island