I may have been lying on a massage table in Avalon, but I felt transported to the beach of a Greek island.
The location was Island Spa Catalina, where I was trying out the heated sand bed, one of only a few in the United States. The treatment technique is based on ancient Greek concepts, using heated sand to promote comfort.
I'd heard about the hike to Ballast Point for years. "It's steep," friends said, "but the view is worth it." They were right on both counts.
Ballast Point rises above Two Harbors, a small settlement about 20 miles northwest of Avalon. Summer and fall are perfect times to visit Two Harbors; catch a Catalina Express boat leaving San Pedro in the morning and return in the late afternoon or early evening.
We were walking up a steep dirt road that wound around the rugged hills behind Avalon. It was mid-morning and a misty fog bank separated Catalina from the mainland, masking our view of the sea. But as we climbed, the hazy clouds lifted and the sun broke through, warming the air and glittering on the water below.
You know that bright greenish-blue color that jumps out at you when you look at the Avalon Pleasure Pier? I'm told that some people like it so well that they have the hardware store mix up batches of it for their do-it-yourself projects. They call it Pier Green. I think it looks pretty cool from the water, and from the land, too. But I can't imagine living in a house that color. Or trying to sleep in a bedroom painted that shade.
High on a hill overlooking Avalon, Terri Cooke and her husband, Eugene, just sat down to a memorable lunch at the Inn on Mt. Ada. It's a perfect Catalina Island kind of day: sunny skies, cobalt blue water and gentle breezes. Far below, the couple can see the red-roofed Catalina Casino, pleasure boats rocking in the harbor and two sets of parasailers soaring across the sky.
One of the easiest ways for a visitor to fall in love with a place is by exploring its restaurants and trying local food. In Avalon, that means spending an afternoon with Taste of Catalina Food Tours, which offers a couple of delicious ways to get to know the island.
Quick now: What do these people have in common? Taylor Swift, Ronald Reagan, the Chicago Cubs, Katy Perry, George Harrison, Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood.
You guessed it. Catalina.
It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. And it might as well be me and my friends.
Our task: To turn a lump of brownish-red clay into the colorful ceramic tiles that Catalina has been famous for since the 1930s.
Winter or summer, Catalina Island is jam-packed with fun activities to keep kids excited and busy -- for a day, a weekend or a week. If it happens to be the off-season, so much the better: hotel prices are down, the crowds have thinned out and your odds of seeing whales on the trip from the mainland to the island have increased.