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.
Some of us are so addicted to caffeine that we'd be happy to take our lattes intravenously. But you don't need to do that in Avalon, which is filled to the brim with coffee joints that will help you kick-start your day. Whether you're seeking café au lait, Americanos, blended drinks or drip coffee, you'll find it here.
A fat lemon-colored sun was shining overhead when the Cat Express ferry left the dock in Long Beach, but by the time we reached Avalon, clouds had started to move in. The sun was playing hide and seek as I stepped off the boat, and before I'd rounded the corner ontoCrescent avenue, big drops of rain were beginning to fall.
You don't need to go on safari to see wild creatures up close—just head to Catalina's back country, where bison and deer room free and you might catch a glimpse of an animal seen nowhere else in the world.
Dolphin Quest, an open-top inflatable boat, offers an electrifying way to tour the coastline off Catalina. Racing at speeds up to 40 mph, the boat cruises the waters east of the island looking for sea life, especially dolphins.
You know what you'll never see in Catalina? A stop light. That's because the island has so few cars that it doesn't need them.
Vehicles are severely restricted here; it takes 14 years on a waiting list to get permission to havea car. But you don't have to walk everywhere to see the sights. There are toursby bus, Jeep, van and Hummer. Or you can do as the islanders do and get rollingin a golf cart, which is one of our favorite ways to see the town.