Recently, I hopped over to Catalina Island for a short island escape. To get there you don’t have to travel very far from Los Angeles: Just catch a 1-hour ferry from Long Beach and you’ve arrived. Once on the island there is much to do. Hiking. Ziplining. Climbing. Kayaking. Snorkeling. Stand-up Paddleboarding. Sailing. Parasailing. A luxury spa opened up at the end of 2014, as well.

Despite knowing some of these details, I hadn’t visited Catalina since a high school field trip 15 years ago. The truth is, most Los Angeles residents forget that Catalina is such a convenient local escape. So on my recent getaway, when I encountered top-notch dining experiences and a vibe that feels like a cross between Hanalei Bay (on the North Shore of Kauai) and the French Riviera, I realized, I’ve been missing out. Many of us have.

And Catalina is especially suited for the kind of getaway that includes walking hand-in-hand with your guy or gal, slowing down to take in the natural surroundings, and getting some much needed pampering. Here are my top three attractions for a romantic getaway on L.A.’s island paradise.

 

The beachfront at Descanso Beach Club

Beach Bliss

Almost 90 percent of the nearly 50,000 acres of Catalina Island is nature reserve comprising mountains and shoreline to explore. The island’s main town of Avalon is full of quaint shops, restaurants, and ocean vistas, all in walking distance from hotels. Locals themselves get around mostly by foot or by golf cart. The latter option is the main motorized form of transportation on the island.

While exploring, be sure to stroll along the coastline to the north of Avalon, where you’ll find Descanso Beach Club. It is a private beach club open to the public (this just means if you’re not a member, you have to pay to get in). The place has extensive grounds, a restaurant, coffee shop, climbing wall, and a not-to-miss zipline through the trees.

Viewfinder Tip: The best time to visit Catalina is mid-week, to avoid crowds.

Instantly upon walking onto the property I felt transported to a tropical destination far, far away. Kayaks for rent were piled high to my right. Inside a freestanding hut, bartenders were shaking up cocktails, Tom Cruise-Kokomo style. Rows of comfy-looking lounge chairs sat atop silky sand. And I noticed a cabana with a sign out front advertising beachfront massages. This is a place for fun all day long.

Time for some pampering

After you spend most of the day sipping tropical beverages and dining along the water, head over to the Island Spa Catalina for a more intimate experience. This enclave used to be a town square; today it is manicured grounds for robed vacationers catching rays by the pool, soaking in saunas, being rubbed down on massage tables, and working out in the yoga and exercise room.

For a romantic experience, a couples massage is a perfect plan before dinner. You can get a manicure and have a blow-out (the kind for hair) on the property as well.

  • Passengers disembarking the Catalina Express

  • Outside the Island Spa

  • Inside the Island Spa

  • A view of Avalon

Seafood with a view

Once you’re ready for dinner, head over to Bluewater Grill. The restaurant is located right in the center of town, on the water. On warm days, the best seats in the house are out on the veranda, which overlooks the surf crashing onto rocks below. Sitting inside the main dining room is pretty great, too. The interior of the restaurant has windows facing out in most directions, showcasing the seemingly endless ocean and mountain vistas. High ceilings with rustic wood beams and large outdoor lamps reflect a maritime theme.

The menu focuses on seafood. I ordered the tasty Mahi Mahi tacos, hoping for a light lunch, but the portion was huge. Within minutes, servers brought over a loaf of steaming sourdough bread. Sourdough is my weakness, and I ate the entire delicious thing with butter. So much for a light lunch!

As I enjoyed my tacos, I noticed the cocktail menu, which featured classics such as the Maitai and the Dark & Stormy. It hit me that the Bluewater could be quite fun for a date night, especially if your hotel is within stumbling distance. Between the drinks, the views, and the sunsets, Catalina is a place for lovers at all times of year.

What do you look for in a romantic island escape?