Gazing out at the western horizon, watching the sun set after another grueling traffic-filled day, Southern California residents lucky enough to gaze upon Santa Catalina Island see it bathed in the brilliant pinks and reds of the setting sun. The image is intriguing. But what is Catalina really like and what is there to do there?
Relax: When you need a relaxing change of pace, Catalina is the place to be. Take a stroll through Avalon's quaint streets and linger at its charming shops. Enjoy a cocktail or a casual lunch or dinner at any of Avalon's seaside restaurants. Or grab a good book and try out the new beach amenities such as private cabana and chaise longue rentals. Or indulge yourself with a soothing massage at one of the numerous day spas.
Go wild: Catalina has fascinating wildlife. About 250 buffalo roam the island's interior — descendants of the movie "extras" cast in the 1920s film "The Vanishing American." (Though their scene was cut from the movie, the buffalo found a new home on the island.) Resident bald eagles take wing over the coastline. And in summer, Catalina's famous flying fish soar to heights of 30 feet for distances up to a quarter mile.
Get wet: Catalina Island's clear waters and coastal reefs offer some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. Divers head to the easily accessible Casino Point Underwater Dive Park while snorkelers head to spots like Lover's Cove.
Other ways to explore the water include Snuba, which combines scuba and snorkeling, and the thrilling new Sea Trek Underwater Eco-Tour that offers even nonswimmers — donning specially designed "Jules Verne"-type helmets — an undersea experience amid colorful schools of fish or the graceful giant kelp forests. Glass-bottom boat and semisubmersible submarine tours are available day and night year-round.
Discover the great outdoors: Catalina has more than 42,000 acres of undeveloped interior. Explore it by hiking along the 37.2-mile Trans-Catalina Trail, camping at one of the five developed campsites or taking a boat or kayak to any of the primitive boating campsites around the island. Jeep eco-tours and sightseeing bus tours are available. And a leisurely stroll through the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens offers a chance to see many rare Catalina endemic species.
One of the most thrilling and exhilarating experiences in Southern California, the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour starts at Descanso Beach, where you are outfitted with safety gear and given a briefing. After heading up to the top of the canyon by bus, you'll fly from the mountain to the sea on five consecutive zip lines nearly 4,000 feet long.
Plan your trip: By boat, Catalina is just about an hour away from Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point. Helicopters departing daily from San Pedro and Long Beach make the trip in just 14 minutes.
To learn about Hot Deals and island savings on lodging, boat transportation and activities, go to www.CatalinaChamber.com and click on Specials and Packages.
That website is also the place to enter to win a trip for two to Catalina Island for spring break in April. The winner will receive round-trip transportation on the Newport Flyer, a one-night stay at the Hotel Metropole and one choice of 19 different island activities including parasailing, golf cart rentals, Segway tours and ocean rafting compliments of www.CatalinaTours.com.