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Think you know Catalina Island? Try these adventures to get a new take on an old favorite

An aerial view of beach-goers recreating on a sunny summer day in Catalina Island.
There are lots of ways to experience the wonders of Catalina Island.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, fellow Escapists. The joys of visiting Catalina Island are no secret. Lots of us have taken the hour-long Catalina Express ride to its shores for a day of sunbathing, snorkeling and ambling through its colorful streets.

But how well do you really know Catalina? In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find several standout ways to explore the beloved island.

There’s also a far wilder side of the island, which you can access via the 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina Trail. If you interested in this challenge, don’t miss Times contributor and The Wild newsletter writer Mary Forgione’s guide to hiking the trail.

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What’s your favorite thing to do on Catalina Island? Let me know, so I can pass your recommendation along in a later edition of Escapes.

🌴 Zip line through a canyon

Sure, kicking back with friends at a Descanso Beach Club cabana is great. However, if you’re more of a thrill seeker than a sunbather, you might consider booking a Zip Line Eco Tour while on Catalina Island.

The tour begins with a safety session followed by a shuttle ride up to a ridge hundreds of feet above the iconic beach club. Then it’s time to fly.

The zip line course takes guests across a eucalyptus-filled canyon at speeds approaching 35 mph. During the two-hour adventure, guides regale guests with tales of Catalina’s plant and animal life — more than 60 species of which can only be found on the island.

Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds included the Zip Line Eco Tour, which start at costs $119, on his list of 17 California experiences to purchase as gifts for the holidays.

Need more holiday shopping inspiration? Peruse his full list, which also recommends gifting your loved ones a roundtrip ticket on the Catalina Express.

A person on a zipline.
The Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina takes you on a two-hour adventure including a chance to zoom across a eucalyptus-filled canyon at speeds approaching 35 mph.
(Catalina Island Co.)

🚢 Step back in time to the Titanic’s sinking

The RMS Titanic infamously sank thousands of miles away from Catalina Island. Visitors have the chance to learn about the maritime disaster at the Catalina Museum for Art and History.

The exhibition includes passengers’ personal items, photographs and artifacts, allowing guests of the Avalon museum to more closely connect with the people onboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

“Titanic: Real Artifacts, Real People, Real Stories” runs through Feb. 13. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets for adults are $17.

Can’t make it to Catalina? You can view items from the museum’s permanent collection online.

Hat tip to Times listings coordinator Matt Cooper, who included the exhibit in his roundup of the newest L.A. and O.C. museum exhibitions to see in November.

The outside of the Catalina Island Museum.
Through mid-February, the Catalina Island Museum is featuring an exhibition about the Titanic.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

🚌 Explore Catalina by vintage bus

If you’d like to continue blasting through the past, consider booking a spot on a “Journey to the Sky” tour.

The two-hour excursion aboard a bumblebee-yellow 1950s Flxible Bus takes visitors along Skyline Drive into the island’s wilderness. The retro ride includes a visit to Airport in the Sky, the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Nature Center and lots of stunning views.

If you go, keep your eyes peeled for members of Catalina’s resident buffalo herd, which has called the island home since the 1920s.

Tickets start at around $100. Prefer a more modern ride? The Catalina Island Co. offers a variety of options for exploring the island’s interior.

Vintage bus with views from Catalina Island.
Take in views from around the island — via bus — including some from Catalina Island Conservancy’s Nature Center.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

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🏕️ Where to stay?

For an ultra-luxe stay on Catalina Island, it’s hard to beat the Inn on Mt. Ada, formerly the residence of chewing-gum industrialist William Wrigley.

The six-bedroom B&B is fit for royalty. (According to a Chicago Tribune story, Prince Edward VIII visited the home.) Nature lovers will especially enjoy the staggering views of Avalon Bay, a good spot to see one of the bald eagles that resides on the island.

Guests of the inn are also treated to a complimentary golf cart they can use to explore the island. As you might guess, reservations are expensive. The Garden Porch room will set you back $545 for a weeknight in May, while the average cost for the luxe Grand Suite — formerly Wrigley’s room — is around $885.

Fortunately, there are some budget options on the island including this glamping retreat, which costs $60 per night. Keep in mind that you’ll need to take a shuttle from Avalon or hike 10 miles to the tents. Either way, the price of your stay includes full immersion in Catalina Island’s wild side.

Illustration of glamping in Catalina
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times

)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Love’s Travel Stop has been a comforting constant on Kelli Jo Ford’s travels between Virginia and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Don’t miss Ford’s homage to the classic rest-stop chain — as well as her journeys west to reconnect with family — in Afar.
  • What’s it like to stay overnight in one of Mendocino’s mysterious water tower hotels? Freda Moon writes about her stay in SFGate.
  • Yes, you can stay in a ski town for under $100 a night, Megan Michelson writes in Outside Online. Here are her tips for planning ski trips on a budget.
  • Alaskan Dream Cruises is the only Indigenous-owned cruise line in the U.S. Bailey Berg describes her experience learning about Indigenous culture and lands on a cruise from Sitka to Juneau.
  • There’s a national obsession with larger-than-life roadside attractions in Australia. Tiare Tuuhia explains how these enormous attractions came to be in Atlas Obscura.
    Photo of gas pump with vibrant background colors.
    Love’s Travel Stop is a beloved gas-station pit stop for many travelers on the road.
    (Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

📸 Photo of the week

An aerial view of people enjoying Descanso Beach Club.
People playing in the water and sunning on Catalina Island at Descanso Beach Club, which features Avalon’s only beachside restaurant and bar.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Song: All Too Well (10 Minute Version) by Taylor Swift

Favorite lyric: “You were tossing me the car keys, ‘f— the patriarchy’ / key chain on the ground, we were always skipping town.”

Where to play it: Anywhere you consider “upstate.” (Fellow Swifties: it’s always worth packing an extra scarf.)

An illustrated polaroid frame with a picture of a VW van driving through a tree trunk
Take a drive somewhere upstate in honor of this week’s song — perhaps a road trip to the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, Calif.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)


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