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An Island Escape in Catalina
April, 2020 - Issue #187

The panoramic perspective of Southern California's coastline changed by the minute as the Catalina Express carried us closer to Avalon. First the harbor cranes, then the high rises and finally the Palos Verdes peninsula all faded from view behind the ferry's churning wake.

With them went the worries accompanying our day-to-day responsibility. Catalina is just 29 miles from the mainland, and still part of Los Angeles County, but the hour-plus boat ride offers an incomparable sense of separation. Landing in Avalon feels a world apart from whatever you're leaving behind.

Stepping off the ferry, we dropped any lingering mainland concerns with our luggage. A porter from Hotel Atwater was at the dock to greet us and relieve of us of our bags.
That left us free to not only wander the waterfront until our room was ready for check in, but also to ponder more carefree concerns. Like where to eat lunch. And how to spend the next three days maximizing our sense of detachment.

The Catalina Island Conservancy's Trailhead center - restaurant, gift shop and activity center all rolled into one - proved to be the ideal first stop for finding answers. Following a tasty lunch of fish tacos, pulled pork and bison on the Toyon Grill's sunny rooftop deck, a guide at the visitor center helped us plan a hike in the island's rugged interior for the next day.

What to do with the afternoon still at hand? Turns out our hotel offered $25 passes to the Island Spa Catalina. Hello day spa, goodbye daily worries. Within minutes we were sipping afternoon cocktails in a hot tub. And because it was the offseason, we largely had the place to ourselves, including the saunas and steam rooms.

Avalon has no shortage of dining options, particularly seafood. For dinner, Yelp led us to The Lobster Trap, a casual, kitschy eatery on a side street away from the harbor. The seared tuna and bacon-wrapped scallops made the short wait for a table worthwhile.

After a quick, but hearty, complimentary hotel breakfast the next morning, we took off for our planned hike. It started with a 10-mile drive from Avalon to the island's Airport in the Sky via the Wildland Express shuttle.
Once on foot, we followed part of the Trans Catalina Trail before descending a ridgeline via Sheep Chute Trail to Little Harbor Campground. To the east across the San Pedro Channel, the mainland's snow-capped San Gabriel peaks poked through cloud cover. Ahead of us was the wide-open Pacific.

Little Harbor's remote palm-dotted campground was largely unoccupied, save for one conspicuous resident. A large bison reclined nearby, eyeing us warily. Heeding the advice to give bison plenty of space, we wandered out to the beach.

"Why is nobody else out here?" April asked. A few backpackers following the Trans Catalina Trail wandered by, but we saw no other day hikers.

That left us to savor the solitude. While April stretched out for a nap in the sun, I sat with my back against a fence post and watched the small but insistent waves roll up on the sand to froth and hiss. Puffy white clouds lumbered low in the sky out to sea.

We interrupted our idyll to ensure we caught our ride back to the airport. The same shuttle that dropped us in the morning makes a stop at Little Harbor, saving us the slog back uphill to the airport.

Cheating? Maybe a little. But Catalina's detachment from the mainland recalibrates your priorities. It affords you a new perspective on what's important. In our case, it was another trip to the spa, followed by complimentary happy hour in the hotel lobby.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.

Catalina is Waiting for You
Catalina Express catalinaexpress.com
Hotel Atwater insidescv.com/atwater
Toyon Grill toyongrill.com
The Trailhead catalinaconservancy.org/trailhead
The Lobster Trap 310-510-8585
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