Westin Verasa, Napa ready to pop the cork


Just ahead of “Crush,” the most popular time of year in Napa Valley, The Westin Verasa, Napa is now accepting hotel reservations and has uncorked an introductory rate of $289 per night.

When The Westin celebrates its grand opening on Sept. 18, visitors will encounter a unique wine country getaway. Located only blocks away from The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, and the new Oxbow Public Market, the hotel is destined to become a focal point of Downtown Napa.

It will become a culinary destination thanks to Chef Ken Frank, who is moving his award-winning restaurant La Toque, named one of the “Best Restaurants in America” by The Wine Spectator, to The Westin Verasa, Napa.

Rates are subject to change and based on availability. This price will expire on Nov. 15, 2008. For reservations and information visit www.westin.com/verasanapa.

Bird migrations and Greek history

For travelers interested in discovering and connecting with nature this fall, the Mono Lake Committee is offering a variety of field seminars, including Fall Bird Migration on August 23-24.

Visitors can also immerse themselves in all things Greek at St. Nicholas Ranch in Dunlap with its Ancient Mythology and the Golden Age of Classical Greece program, August 24-29, which includes Greek history, folklore and music.

  For a free California Visitor’s Guide, go to www.VisitCalifornia.com.

McGrath State Beach beckons


Photos by Marlene Greer, Correspondent

McGrath State Beach, Ventura County: 80 miles

By Marlene Greer

McGrath State Beach, an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, is a quiet stretch of sand and nature tucked amid the farm fields of Oxnard. Its beauty is in its flower-dotted dunes, long natural sandbar and many campsites tucked amid the native shrubs and trees.
The state beach is two miles long, with the Santa Clara River forming the northern boundary. The mouth of the river forms the Santa Clara Estuary, a 133-acre preserve for many species of birds, including the western snowy plover, burrowing owl and California least tern. It’s also a stopover spot for migratory birds, making this area a great spot for bird-watchers.
Visitors can enjoy hiking, beachcombing and fishing, providing hours of peaceful solitude. A morning walk is the ideal time to enjoy the dunes and study the preserve’s birds before the campground springs to life. At this hour, the dunes are nearly deserted.
Later in the day, when the sun begins to warm the air, families make their way from the campground with blankets, towels, fishing poles and coolers in tow, across the dunes to the windswept beaches.


Walking to the beach, however, is a bit of a trek. It is about 300 yards to the estuary and another 100 to the beach. When the estuary water rises, it becomes too deep to walk across. Visitors then have to walk south down the beach a half-mile before coming to a spot in the estuary shallow enough to walk across.
For shorter walks, two interpretive trails lead from McGrath’s day-use parking area into the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve. A short path winds through the preserve’s woodlands, thick with willows and cottonwoods.
There are several benches along the trail to relax and enjoy the quiet – and perhaps spot a bird or two. But the trees and tall reeds surrounding the trail block any view of the estuary.
Step off the trail and take the path leading to the left to make your way to the riverbank for a view of the estuary. It can be a bit buggy here, but it’s worth a stop.
The second trail follows the estuary’s boundary with McGrath State Beach. It ends at the riverbank for a grand view of the estuary, river mouth and sandbar.
A sign along the estuary trail explained the sandbar sometimes blocks the flow of the river into the ocean. As the river rises, its trapped water spreads into the marsh, raising the level of the water in the estuary and flooding some areas of the park and campground.
The rising water level forces visitors to walk a long way south along the dunes before finding a shallow spot to cross to the beach. Eventually, the river breaks through and the cycle starts all over.
The shifting sand had blocked the river mouth all spring and summer, raising the level of the estuary. But, according to park officials, last week the river broke through the sand bar.
The main trail also starts from the day-use parking. It winds along the campground’s edge and over the dunes.
Visitors probably won’t do much swimming at McGrath because of the dangerous currents and riptides. Many visitors wade and swim in the estuary, but, frankly, the water is not all that pleasant to look at.
McGrath State Beach has 174 campsites, each with a table and fire pit. Most are nestled among the trees, offering privacy.


The park’s large, open grassy area is great for families. We saw groups of kids playing soccer and badminton, as well as riding their bikes.
Whether you choose a grassy site or one in the trees, it’s best to park as far away from Harbor Boulevard as you can get. The busy highway can get very noisy.
And who wants noise when you’re there to enjoy the birds and the beach?

2211 Harbor Blvd., Oxnard
5 miles south of Ventura off Highway 101
Entrance fee: $8
Camping fee: $25, firewood available from camp host for $6
Amenities: 174 campsites, flush toilets, hot showers, dump station, no hookups
Reservations: (800) 444-7275; www.parks.ca.gov
Information: (805) 654-4744

Kids fly, stay and eat free in Tahiti

Less than eight hours from Los Angeles, Tahiti is closer than you think, with Air Tahiti Nui’s daily nonstop service to Papeete, Tahiti.  The airline was named one of the “World’s Best” international airlines in this month’s issue of “Travel +Leisure.” 

One of the best packages offered by Air Tahiti Nui is the Family Fun vacation where children age 2-11 fly, stay and eat free.

From hiking and boating excursions to white and black sand beaches with calm, shallow water for snorkeling to Jeep rides into the island’s dormant volcano, Tahiti offers many adventures for adults and children alike.

The package offers six days in Tahiti including round trip airfare and fuel surcharges from Los Angeles, five nights at the oceanfront Le Meridien Tahiti, a free welcome gift per child, and hotel transfers.

Prices begin from $1,998* per adult for Wednesday and Friday departures. One child per adult can fly, stay and eat free, for a maximum quad occupancy. 

To book (866) 456-6000 or visit www.airtahitinui-usa.com/paradise.
* Prices are based on double occupancy. Government and airport taxes of $97 per person, including children, are additional.  The package needs to be booked by Dec. 31, for travel Nov. 1, 2008 – May 31, 2009 with black out dates of Dec. 11, 2008 – Jan. 11, 2009.

Adventurers wanted at LEGOLAND


Young ladies enjoys new Sea Life Aquarium at LEGOLAND. (Photo courtesy of LEGOLAND)

By Richard Irwin

Staff Writer

Vacations fuel the imagination. Especially in young children, who invariably have to write a school essay on “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

There is still time this summer to give your kids something to write about — and you can get there on a single tank of gas: Legoland in Carlsbad.

The place sparks the imagination in children of all ages. Yes, even doting grandparents enjoy this unique park.

The 128-acre park caters to 2 to 12-year-olds. It advertises “Adventurers Wanted,” and youngsters can indeed stretch their imaginations on the bluffs overlooking the deep, blue Pacific.

Little pirates can battle it out on sailing ships with water cannons. (Innocent spectators beware: the water from the cannons easily spurt past the nearby fences.)

Older knights can take on The Dragon, a spirited roller-coaster housed in a magnificent castle. One young rider admitted to being a little scared on his first roller-coaster ride, but he ended up whooping and hollering with the rest of us.

Families trying to keep up with the Joneses, the Indiana Joneses that is, will like the new Land of Adventure. You’ve probably seen the endless TV comercials for it, but the ride is quite fun. Explorers board jeeps on the Lost Kingdom Adventure, and blast away at targets in the fabulous Egyptian temple. (A word of warning; this new ride often has long lines with a waiting time of more than an hour. It’s best to go there first thing when the park opens at 10 a.m. or shortly before closing at 8 p.m.)

Families will also enjoy “Journey to the Lost Temple,” a new musical adventure. The park’s first year-round musical production was written for children ages 2 to 12. More than 30 young volunteers get to act in the funny show.

The littlest firefighters will love the Fun Town Fire Department show. The volunteer firemen are hilarious as they learn “to put the wet stuff on the hot stuff.”

Then the whole family can jump on a shiny red firetruck next door to become the hero in their own 911 emergency. It takes teamwork to propel the large truck along the tracks to the fire. Then parents pump while kids point hoses at the burning buildings. Fun!

And now there’s even more to see with the opening of the Sea Life Aquarium this week.  The voyage begins in the rushing waters of our own Sierra Nevada Mountains and continues to the pounding surf of San Francisco Harbor.

Deep sea explorers will end up in the depths of the ocean, where they’ll discover the lost city of Atlantis. The 175,000-gallon aquarium features real creatures in real water and several Lego sculptures, including a 10-foot-tall statue of Poseidon.

“I’m really excited to see the reaction of sharks, sting rays, snappers and other creatures to this underwater world full of Lego models,” said senior curator Chris Spaulding.

But don’t worry about getting wet. A 35-foot-long acrylic ocean tunnel allows guests to walk through the “lost city” without a wetsuit and scuba tank.

The aquarium’s “Save Our Seas” (SOS) campaign teaches children about the big problems facing our oceans, as well as suggested solutions, Spaulding said. It does this through many interactive activities, including the Southern California Tide Pool, play zones and quiz trails.

Sea Life also offers a seahorse kingdom, a bay of rays and a shoaling ring, where kids will be surrounded by shimmering schools of fish.

Legoland has a two-day ticket to both the park and aquarium for $65 for children 3 to 12 and $80 for adults. That’s a great deal when you consider that a one-day ticket to both is $60 for kids and $70 for adults.

If you buy the two-day tickets online at sandiegonorth.com, it’s only $56 for adults and $52.50 for kids.

But a hotel package may offer the best deal. Check the Web site for more ways to save. For example, a one- night stay at the Quality Inn of Carlsbad with one-day admission to Legoland for a couple with two children under 12 is about $320.

I chose to stay at the new Sheraton Carlsbad located next door to Legoland. Sheraton has its own private entrance to the park. In fact, it’s only a five-minute walk across the hotel’s parking lot to Legoland.

I like the convenience of not having to drive to the amusement park and pay for parking. The private entrance also lets you get to the most popular attractions before the lines get too long.

The Sheraton has a Legoland package, starting at $262 a night. This package includes two park admissions, a full American breakfast in your room and a 4 p.m. late checkout, based on availability.

After a hectic lunch in the park, I was anxious to get back to the hotel for a nice relaxed dinner. The Twenty/20 Grill and Wine Bar welcomes families.

The children’s menu is reasonable, including all the kids’ favorites: three-cheese or pepperoni pizza, pizza oven hot dogs, crispy chicken fingers or Blue Box macaroni and cheese. All are $6 each.

Adults will enjoy a menu that features vineyard cuisine. Specialties range from chargrilled lamb loin with roast red grape ver jus, warm potato croutons and a wild berry salad for $28 to a hearth-baked three-cheese pizza for $10.

I ordered the Waikato chicken, a pan-roasted breast with herbs and focaccia crumbs, accompanied by crushed Yukon potatoes, spinach, tomato bisque, fresh lime squeeze and French feta for $18. It was delicious.

The servers were friendly and efficient. The wine bar offers many interesting wines by the glass, as well as bottle. And it has a lot of handcrafted suds, too.

After a long day of rides and shows, there’s nothing like knowing you have a nice room right on the other side of the back fence.

After a restful night, we were back at Legoland for Day 2, ready to build more memories for the whole family.


(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801


1 Lego Drive


(760) 918-5346




5480 Grand Pacific Drive


(760) 827-2400


Directions: Take the San Bernardino Freeway east to the 57 south. Merge onto the 5 Freeway south. Take exit 48, turn left on Cannon Drive, then right on Legoland Drive. Slight left to stay on Legoland Drive, at the traffic circle take the second exit to stay on Legoland Drive.

Buena Park offers family specials

Knott’s Berry Farm Resort Hotel is offering a special family package that includes two nights stay, one breakfast buffet for four, parking, and 2 days admission to Knott’s Theme park for four. This offer costs $369 plus tax.

Only steps away from the Knott’s Berry Farm Theme Park, the hotel has 320 guest rooms and all-new amenities such as tennis and basketball courts, a golf pro, fitness center, and sauna. For information, call toll free (866) 752-2444 for reservations.

The Holiday Inn’s Family Bed and Breakfast Summer Special is only $95 per night plus tax. This includes accommodations for up to two adults and two children, as well as breakfast for the family (kids eat free, and 2 adult meals are valued up to $20 at Ventanas Restaurant).

The hotel provides free scheduled transportation to area attractions such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Knott’s Soak City, California Adventure, Medieval Times, and Pirates Dinner Adventure.

For more information on how to book this Bed & Breakfast Summer Special log onto their website at www.hibuenapark.com/familyBBB.

You snooze you lose at Wild Animal Park


An African elephant and its calf enjoy some hay at the San Diego Zoo’s
Wild Animal Park. (Photo by Ken Bohn, courtesy of San Diego Zoo)

ESCONDIDO: 100 miles

By Richard Irwin
Saff Writer


The lions were restless. And so were we.
Only a thin canvas wall stood between us and the roaring cats. Sleep came slowly, but the morning came oh so quickly as elephants trumpeted the new dawn.
Crawling out of our beds, we stumbled out onto the nearby patio, where we were greeted by a huge pachyderm enjoying a morning shower.
“Look!” exclaimed 10-year-old Meghan Pender of Pasadena. “The elephant’s giving himself a bath!”
Only 20 feet away, a bull elephant frolicked in the sprinklers. He ran back and forth, just like a little kid playing in the sprinklers on a hot day. The huge beast sounded his pleasure, awakening the rest of the camp. A nearby mama elephant and her baby nearby got nervous and ran away.
Meghan’s eyes widened as the giant beast played only a few yards away. She giggled as the feisty elephant began to kick a ball around.
Welcome to the Roar and Snore Camp at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, where there’s not much snoring, but plenty of roaring.
“Did you hear the lions last night?” Meghan asked me. Then she turned to her mother, Andrea. “Mom, can I bring my friends here for a sleepover on my birthday?”
The Pender family had gathered near the low chainlink fence to watch the mom and baby elephants bathe in the pool below them. Meghan’s 8-year-old Matthew leaned on a fence post, braced by their father, Mike.
And so it would go as our safari played out on the plains of San Diego County. Who knew you could travel 100 miles from the San Gabriel Valley and feel like you were 6,000 miles away?
The night before, three rhinos had shared our campfire. One of the guides said the rhinos like to sleep near the campground, but nobody knows why.
It’s amazing how much you learn at the Wild Animal Park. Most of it you absorb as you wander among the beasts.
On an earlier trip, I had learned that rhinos aren’t mean, they’re just very nearsighted. If you don’t make any sudden movements, you can actually feed them by hand. Granted, we were standing on the platform of a large stake truck on a photo safari. But dropping vegetables into those giant maws was still an exhilarating experience. Especially when they nudged the truck to encourage us to serve their meal a little faster. Waiter!
There are zoos and there are wild animal parks. The two are completely different animals. At the zoo, the creatures are behind bars. In animal parks, they run free. You are their guests.
“I’ve come here three times,” said Nancy Moffat of South Lake, Texas. “This year I brought my 5-year-old granddaughter, Tru, from Dallas.”
Moffat had told her granddaughter all about the unique campground, where visitors wake up to the sights and sounds of Africa.
A camaraderie grew among the campers as their children madenew friends. Soon everyone was greeting each other by name. We had formed our own tribe, banding together like the herds we had come to watch.
When the animals couldn’t come to us, we hiked out to them. The overnight program includes several guided tours, with exciting behind-the-scenes visits.
The Penders pondered their fate as we waited for security to unlock a gate to the tiger compound.
“Be careful as you go around the wall,” our guide warned. “Sometimes the tigers are waiting for us just inside the fence.”
She told us about one time a big cat had scared the wits out of her. Fortunately, Blanca, the white tiger we were visiting, stood out against the gathering dusk.
Blanca likes to wait until the keepers’ backs are turned, then runs down the hill next to them. The “playful” 315-pound tiger will sometimes leap at the fence.
Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the time of day, but the white tiger lay slumbering against the back wall. Even from a distance, we could tell Blanca was huge.
We trekked back to our camp at Kilima Point; the day visitors were leaving the park. Soon we were alone with the animals.
After building a roaring campfire, everyone enjoyed s’mores, cookies and hot chocolate. The rhinos dozed happily nearby.
Many families wandered off on another guided tour to see the elephants. But it’s hard to see a big elephant with a little flashlight.
Others chose to bask near the flickering flames as another guide talked about the fascinating animals crying out in the darkness all around us.
Only the bravest campers volunteered for the late-night hike to lion country. The rest retired to the relative safety of our tents.
Inside our 9-by-14 foot shelters, campers found six sleeping pads, camp chairs and an electric lantern. Everyone has to bring their own sleeping bags, pillows and toiletries.
Everyone that is, except the families who had reserved the premium tents. These 12-by-16-foot canvas condos featured a queen-size platform bed with safari-themed sleeping bags and pillows. They also had lights, refrigerator, heater and fan. So much for roughing it.
The camp’s 44 tents lined the ridge overlooking the 60-acre African exhibit. Down below, rhinos, giraffes and zebras wandered a vast savanna.
There are many ways to enjoy this African enclave. Board the colorful tram that replaced the old monorail system. Or reserve one of the nifty new Segways or safari carts. The photo caravan is also fun.
But the best way to see the preening predators is on foot.
As we sauntered by the lion exhibit, four cubs bounded up the slope to their mother. Only an invisible sheet of glass separated us from the proud pride. Amazing!
The next morning, we had breakfast with three cheetahs. The Penders watched closely as specialists fed the fastest animals on earth.
So how do you feed a cheetah?
Very carefully!
Actually, the three cats had been trained to sit patiently, while their caretaker fed them a meat mixture.
“They were raised by humans, so they’re used to us,” said Mike Burke, a zoologist who has worked at the park for three years. “
The campers had been just as patient, lining up for own meals. The park fed us the usual picnic dinner, hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken cooked over an outdoor grill. So the kids were happy campers.
Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes and cereal.
After packing up, families are free to enjoy the rest of the park on their own.
<NO1><NO>If they’re not too sleep-deprived, they can enjoy the many shows and presentations. But they’ll always remember the night of roaring, even if they didn’t get the chance to do much snoring.
<MC>(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801

15500 San Pasqual Valley Road

Directions: Take the San Bernardino Freeway east to 71 south toward Corona. Merge onto the 91 East to the 15 south toward San Diego. Merge onto 78 east toward Ramona, then turn left onto East Washington Avenue. Turn right on North Ash Street and head straight to find the park.

Cost: $109 for children 4-11 and $129 for adults on Wednesdays and Sundays. $119 for kids and $139 for adults on Fridays and Saturdays through the end of October. Park admission ($24 for children, $34 for adults) also required. Tents with a view cost more. Premium tents are $150 for children and $210 for adults anytime.

Info: (619) 231-1515; www.sandiegozoo.org

20 tall ships sailing into San Diego Bay

More than twenty tall ships and other fascinating vessels from around the world are scheduled to appear at the 2008 Festival of Sail hosted by the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The festival kicks off with a majestic parade of tall ships on San Diego Bay on Wednesday, August 20. Festival of Sail will stretch along Harbor Drive on the embarcadero in downtown San Diego.

Several tall ships will fight in cannon battles on San Diego Bay-Friday through Sunday. Visitors to the festival can sample marvelous food and drink and shop for one of-a-kind items among the hundreds of festival vendors

Hotel Del offers summer getaway

Still looking for a late summer getaway. Here’s a new special at the famous Hotel del Coronado.

Set at ocean’s edge on San Diego‘s Coronado Beach, the pool at the world-famous Hotel del Coronado enjoys an unsurpassed setting.  Poolside cabanas provide a perfect escape from the beachfront action, and guests can take advantage of poolside dining at the Splash Bar. 

Kids can experience the best of both worlds – with surfing lessons in the ocean, followed by a refreshing swim in the pool. 

Adults may wish to take their relaxation even further with a visit to the Spa at The Del, followed by a dip in the spa’s striking ocean view outdoor vanishing-edge pool.


Hotel del Coronado Endless Summer Getaway (available Aug. 21 – Sept. 21)


        $100 resort credit valid for all poolside and beach activities (dining, poolside cabana rentals, surfing lessons, beach rentals and more)

        Tent City Kids’ Camp registration for up to two children

        One 50-minute spa treatment

        Smashball beach paddle set

        From $575 per night


For reservations or additional information, call (800) Hotel Del or visit www.hoteldel.com.

Catalina beckons just offshore


The Holly Hill House, a Catalina landmark since 1890, is the third oldest
house in Avalon. (Staff photo by Jerome Orense)

Long Beach: 33 miles.

By Pia Abelgas Orense
Staff Writer

Catalina Island’s town of Avalon, with moored yachts bobbing on its bay and colorful cottages resting on the hills, has been likened to an idyllic Mediterranean port.
Avalon is indeed a romantic, quiet town. There are no big-name stores here, no commercial development, no urban sprawl, no traffic lights. Instead, you get a charming little oasis surrounded by sun-soaked hills and unspoiled countryside. Cars are restricted on the island so residents drive golf carts and the speed limit is 15 miles per hour, contributing to the town’s slow, leisurely pace.
For people who live in the inner cities of Los Angeles County, Avalon is the ideal place for detoxifying — from stress, from urban living, from sensory pollution. A mere 22 miles away from Los Angeles’ ports, the island is the ultimate place to “get away” without really going away.
It takes a little more than an hour by boat to get to the island from San Pedro or Long Beach. High-speed catamarans leave the mainland ports as early as 8 a.m. and the last boat returns at 8 p.m., making it alluring for those who only want to visit for a day. Avalon is only a square mile so a day is enough to experience the town’s charm and beauty.
For first-time visitors, there’s plenty to do and see. You can swim, parasail, snorkel and scuba dive.
Why not rent a kayak or paddle boat; take a glass-bottom boat or submarine tour; or just soak in the sun. Bus tours wind through the town’s streets to the coastline road, which goes up to an elevation of 400 feet to Mount Ada, and down to Avalon Canyon.
When we visited Avalon for a day earlier this summer, we opted out of any of the tours and water activities. Instead we decided to do a lot of walking and a lot of eating.
Our first stop to get in vacation mode was A Touch of Heaven Day Spa at the Metropole Market Place. The spa is tucked in a quiet courtyard next to Hotel Metropole. It’s so small the receptionist’s desk is outside the door under an awning.
The interior can only accommodate two guests at a time, but the room is beautifully decorated and perfectly dim. It’s more cozy than cramped.
The spa offers several therapeutic massages, including reflexology, accupressure and stone therapy. My husband and I signed up for the “Couples Romance,” which was an hour of medium-pressure Swedish massage using aromatic oils. The package cost $180 for 60 minutes and $240 for 90 minutes.
The sound of trickling water and soft music helped us relax but voices from the courtyard a few feet away proved to be a minor distraction.
Metropole Market Place is home to several souvenir shops. A word to the wise: items are more expensive here than in other souvenir shops in town. A sweater, for example, that costs about $15 in a store two blocks away sells for nearly $50 at the Metropole.
There are several dining options in Avalon, with restaurants’ specialties ranging from waffles and burgers to fine dining.
We had lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant (actually, it’s the only one) in town: Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden on Sumner Street. It’s not on the island’s main street, which is Crescent Avenue, so it is easy to overlook and it seems to be more popular with locals than tourists.
The Schwezan-style cuisine was cheap (average $5 for a plate) and delicious. The friendly staff brought our orders in under five minutes. There’s nothing fancy about the place, but it offers a simple charm.
Later in the afternoon, we had huge scoops of ice cream on freshly baked waffle cones from Big Olaf’s on Crescent Avenue.
After lunch, we took the tram ($2 one-way) from Beacon Street to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden at the top of Avalon Canyon Road. The landmark is a memorial to William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate who invested millions in developing Avalon, while preserving the natural beauty of the island.
The Botanical Garden showcases California native plants, some of which are rare and listed as endangered species.
But the focal point is the 130-foot-tall Wrigley Memorial on top of the canyon. The structure is made of crushed island stones, blue flagstone from the less inhabited side of the island and tiles glazed by hand from the Catalina Pottery plant.
The top of the memorial offers a magnificent view of Avalon Bay and, on a clear day, outlines of beach communities on the mainland.
The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling up and down the streets that branched off Crescent Avenue, the town’s main artery that runs the length of the harbor.
Check out the Catalina Casino, the iconic building that defines most postcards and photos of Catalina Island. The Casino sits on a perch above the harbor, like a queen on her throne.
Its red circular Art Deco dome is the first thing visitors see as their boat enters Avalon Bay. The historic theater on the first floor is the town’s only movie house, running one first-run film on weekend nights. Above the theater is the famed circular ballroom, a popular destination for weddings.
Farther down the road is Descanso Beach, which is perfect for picnics or a quick volleyball game. Maps of Avalon point out South Beach and Middle Beach along the crescent-shaped harbor, but these two are more just small strips of sand than a full-service beach.
Still, the two small beaches and the pier next to them are the perfect spots for staring at the bobbing yachts on the bay and for watching boats carrying tourists entering and leaving the harbor.
Those 22 miles from Los Angeles to Catalina Island can make a world of difference. On a Southland freeway, 22 miles can only take you from one crowded city to another. But that same distance on the ocean can transport you from one crowded mainland to a completely different mindset.
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2669

Transportation: Catalina Express from Long Beach and San Pedro ($66.50, roundtrip). Catalina Flyer from Newport Beach and Dana Point ($68.50, roundtrip). The boat ride from the Long Beach Downtown Landing to Avalon Bay is about an hour, just enough time to relax and detach yourself mentally from life on the mainland. To get to Downtown Landing, take the 710 Freeway South into Long Beach. Stay to the left and follow signs to downtown and exit Golden Shore Avenue. Turn right at stop right, follow around to terminal on the right. Parking structure is on the left.

Accommodations: From expensive and romantic bed-and-breakfasts (Inn on Mt. St. Ada, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, $360 to $750 per night) to affordable and family-friendly (Hermosa Hotel and Cottages, $55 to $175 per night). Mid-week stays are always cheaper since most hotels require two-night minimums on weekends.

Packages: Most hotels partner with Catalina Express and other service vendors to offer packages that include lodging, boat transportation and sightseeing tours or activities. A sample deal for August: For $691, you get two roundtrip tickets aboard the Catalina Express from Long Beach to Avalon, a two-night weekend stay at Hotel St. Lauren on Beacon Street, two tours (glass bottom boat and a city tour), cab rides to and from the hotel to the boat landing, and daily breakfast (coffee, juice and croissant).