Sway to the Rhythm of a Good Time and a Little Humiliation

Leave the shame at your table and take the tune out of your pocket, it’s time for karaoke on Catalina Island. Karaoke is your only chance at stardom, or, if you’re like me and completely bomb it on stage, it’s your only chance to at least pretend to be a star for five minutes of your vacation. There’s only one place in Avalon to get an experience like that, and it’s at El Galleon restaurant on the Crescent Avenue boardwalk. I still remember walking by the New Orleans themed restaurant after dark as a teenager, just waiting for the day I could be old enough to be a part of that fun-loving crowd. Now that I finally visited at a legal age, I know it was certainly worth the wait. The food is tasty, the atmosphere is lively, and the drinks provide the liquid courage necessary for those folks to get up and show ‘em what their mama gave ‘em (or in some cases, didn’t).

El Galleon was Catalina’s premiere karaoke bar in 1967, and still remains the only attraction to get your groove on to the rhythm of, or lack there of, visitors, islanders, and the rare celebrity appearance. For many adult visitors over the age of twenty-one, Catalina Island offers an experience to let loose on a hot summer night. This experience includes daytime shenanigans and more often than not, a night out of sloshed rowdiness. The great thing about karaoke on a fun night out, there is no judgment, there is no shame, and there is no promise of musical tone. But who cares about tone in a karaoke bar anyway? No matter how wild that brave soul gets while up on the El Gallon stage, the happy customers and friendly staff will always encourage you to hit that high note, sway those hips a little more, and cheer you on no matter what happens.


At El Galleon, it is all about providing good food and good times, the rest relies on the attitude of the performer. Confidence radiates passed the outdoor patio and onto the boardwalk, where by-passers even catch a slight pep in their step hearing old throwback tunes like Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues”, Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”, or who can forget the classic Grease duet to “Summer Nights”. You keep trying to hit that end of the song high note, I mean John Travolta could hardly even get it right. If you haven’t been on stage at El Galleon, I suggest you get some of that courage in you and try it, and if you still don’t have the willpower to bring yourself up there, definitely stay at the bar and cheer on those who do.

 

Luxury Navigation for a Shorter Commute

Catalina Island welcomes millions of visitors every year, and offers an incredible experience in its unique allurement. Beyond its many spectacular views, tasty eateries, and Island atmosphere, the incomparable style of transportation stands alone. The Town of Avalon may be small in size (just 1 mile long), but the size of its beauty is immeasurable. Throughout the narrow streets, tight corners and elegant hills, the primary means of getting around are janky golf carts and more efficiently, but hardly less nerdy, Smart Cars. Among these many beauties of Catalina Island, a unique artistic culture lives within. This culture normally isn’t represented by a standard golf cart, but is preserved through the head-turning shuttle carts of Mark Malan’s Hermosa Hotel and Catalina Cottages. Although, these “shuttle carts” are exceedingly more amazing than any shuttle I’ve ever seen.

The three main carts include a red Model T, an H3 Hummer replica, and a classic blue roadster. These original carts are, as of August, accompanied by a 12-seater Limo Cart for maximum guest accommodation. To the staff of the Hermosa Hotel, they see the experience of riding in one of these carts as more than just a groovy means of Island transportation, but a pure tourist attraction. It is a memory to be made, a memory to be shared with family and friends. To summarize the reason he provides such a unique experience to the visitors of Catalina, Mark Malan calls it “currency in smiles.” Catalina Island is already such a beautiful place to explore and create new experience, and the luxury that is packed in one of these custom golf carts encompasses a similar goal.

In many vacationer’s cases, it is possible to hop in a taxi or ride in a shuttle van. The occasional shuttle bus comes around for some hotels, but for others, they mainly wheel their four bags, two bikes, a dog or a stroller across the brick boardwalk and up a few blocks to their hotel. While I’m sure no kid complains about that journey, these studly carts present a popular and stylish way to arrive at your hotel and even catch a lift to your room from the lobby. Oh yeah, the carts are also available for guests to drive themselves around in. Talk about the full Avalon experience, driving one of these roadsters around the town will catch the attention of visitors and locals alike. Next time you’re walking your bags across Metropole Avenue, take a stop by Hermosa Hotel and Catalina Cottages and take a picture in one of the carts, and next time you visit, you’ll be driving it for real.

 

Town Historian Serves as Catalina Island's Personal Google

"Welcome to Catalina, if you have any questions or needs, I'd be happy to help you." Chances are you've heard lifelong local Chuck Liddell's signature greeting if you've stepped off any boat at Catalina's Cabrillo Mole any time in the past year. He hasn't been standing at dock 5 next to the visitor information sign for long, but since March of 2014 Chuck has assisted nearly 29,000 Island guests with every type of question and request imaginable. That means if one out of every ten people he greets asks him a question, Chuck has smiled his friendly smile to almost 290,000 visitors since last year. For many, this interaction is one of a kind, and one of the most memorable at that.

Think about it, what other city in the entire United States has a personal community greeter who can literally tell you anything you could ask about the town? That goes for every type of question as well, from something as simple as "Where can I rent a golf cart" to as operational as "Where do you get your power?" There are even the far fetched questions, for example,  "Is the Island surrounded by water" (derp, aren't they all?). But no matter how complex or how straight forward the answer, Chuck addresses every one the same: with a smile, a helpful response, and a point in the right direction.

Chuck truly cares about more than just providing visitor information. He is so attentive to the people he interacts with, one time he even provided an extremely busy woman from Utah with a detailed map to help her finish all her tasks in time for her to take her socks off and enjoy the ocean water for the first time. Chuck nearly teared up at the reminiscence of that day.

The best part about what Chuck does for the community is that nobody really makes him do what he does. He is simply a considerate local who wants to help the community as much as the visitors it welcomes. He doesn't do it for the credit, or the money, or for the spotlight, he purely does it just to show that somebody cares. From your very first step onto the brick pathway into town, he lets you know someone is there to help you have the most enjoyable stay possible, no matter how long or short your vacation may be. He allows local businesses to focus on their business, and keeps visitors from having to ask all around town just to find their hotel or the best activity for their respective groups. Whether you've past Chuck on your walk to town or have yet to take your first step onto the Mole, he is there to assist you, and to always help you "have a great stay in Catalina."

Mini Golf, Mini Cousins, Massive Catalina Fun

A quick getaway to Catalina Island can always be packed with activities and memories for every age. It is a small town with a large potential for fun, and that fun doesn’t stop short in a small golf course either. Golf Gardens in Avalon has remained my most favorable miniature golf course since the day I putt my first ever hole-in-one as a kid on hole seventeen. Fifteen years later, I now create new mini golf memories with my little cousins, meanwhile I still golf like I did as a toddler. My skill level hasn’t changed, but neither has my love for the most creative mini golf course I’ve ever played. Each hole is as tricky and as cleverly placed as the last. The obstacles are all extremely genuine and present a new twist with every turn. All eighteen holes are a blast to attempt a triumphant conquering of your peers and family members. And let’s not forget, an ultimate chance for bragging rights.

For me, and for most I’ve seen, the toughest, most entertaining hole has got to be number 7. The twisted maze of green deceives the eyes of all ages, because everyone knows exactly where they should aim, though the ball rarely nails the sweet spot on the angled cement. More often than not, and when I say more often I am referring to the adults who think they’ve got it in the bag, the ball will miss the angle, hit the curb and roll right back to the start. Then, my snarky little cousins get up there and whack away without a single step of strategy, and hit that same sweet spot which their mother and I cannot hit for the life of us. Now, don’t be fooled by my frustration, I am just a tad competitive (yes just a tad now get off my back). Anyway, don’t be fooled because I have just about mastered the other seventeen clever greens at Golf Gardens, I’m sure of it. Although there was that time my girlfriend beat me over Fourth of July weekend, but that’s beside the point.

The miniature golf course at Golf Gardens provides the ultimate activity for family fun, competitive friends or even a relaxing date night. When it comes to Golf Gardens, age really is just a number, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered Pebble Beach or are just taking your first swing at it. I say give it a try for your first, fifth, or even twentieth time; I just went for my twenty-second time and I still get as big of a thrill out of it as that first hole-in-one. Try it out and you could hit your first hole-in-one too! Now I can’t guarantee that, but I will guarantee a wonderful experience and memories for all.

Undersea Excursion, Memorable Submersion

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Mayday! Mayday! We are taking a nosedive straight into the depths of the famous and fabulous Lover’s Cove on Catalina Island. Do not be afraid of what lies ahead though, your clothes will remain dry and your smiles wide. Aboard the ever-so-popular Semi-Submersible Vessel, “The Nautilus,” family fun is more than the correct choice, it’s the only choice. No, not because you are confined in a vessel under the ocean, but because it is truly a sweet time for every age. Not many moments beat watching a child’s face light up as it stares down a school of fish merely four inches away. Did I say a child’s face? I meant your face is going to light up like a child when you get to shoot fish food out like a torpedo, and then become swarmed by several kinds of hungry fish.

I was actually fortunate enough to join my sister, her husband and my beautiful niece on an undersea excursion. The clear blue ocean radiating the windows of the Nautilus combined with childlike wonder, the trip around the cove was full of fascination. I heard “oohs” and “awes” from every wide-eyed kid on board, and even a few from my brother-in-law who proved you can never be too young to retain childhood curiosity about the vast wonders of the ocean. In case you forgot that, go take a dive aboard the Nautilus and wonder on.

Catalina's Original Boardshop, Island Skate Culture

For generations, California skateboarders have been developing new moves and new styles within a proud culture that has remained steady throughout. Just before the turn of the century, these skateboarders would ride through Catalina sharing this culture and growing their abilities together. A particular set of kids came to be known as the "Catalina Skate Crew", but despite the increase of skate culture on the Island, there were still no stores available to buy all their favorite skate brands. Enter 1998, and CSC Boardshop is born.

CSC Boardshop is the first of its kind to bring the best skate culture brands across the Pacific to Avalon. After several location switches, CSC has been living comfortably along Crescent Ave. in between Metropole and Whitley since about 2006. The selection of men's and women's action sport clothing still remains right on top with the best brands and the coolest styles. They supply select brands that have been around and grown alongside the skate culture since the 90's, such as Volcom, and brands who have impacted the growth in recent culture as well, such as RVCA, Brixton, and Roark. I personally am going back after pay day to pick up a handful of swag hats and maybe even a bathing suit (not that I need another one).  CSC Boardshop has understood the style that fits the culture of skating across not only Catalina, but California as a whole, since they brought the culture to the Island nearly twenty years ago. The spirit of companionship and culture that Catalina Skate Crew originally brought to this Island still lives on every day through CSC Boardshop.

A Dash of Paradise and A Touch of Heaven

Every few weeks I find myself speaking the famous phrase we all wish would come true more often, “I could really use a massage today.” However, as frequently as I would like a massage is not comparable to the number of times I actually go out and receive one. The benefits of hands on massage therapy reach everything from stress relief to soothing muscle pain to helping you live a healthier, energetic lifestyle overall. When I first walked up the steps to A Touch of Heaven Day Spa's secret garden massage tables I thought I had died and went to heaven. Though when my one hour Sweet Thai massage was said and done, I had never felt more alive and rejuvenated. Sweet Thai is a type of massage invented by the owner, Sana Hernandez, which combines traditional deep tissue Swedish methods with the art of Eastern Thai healing methods.

No matter which of the several rooms your massage takes place in at A Touch of Heaven, you enter through a sensational garden scene within the beautiful Metropole Marketplace that is grown and maintained by Sana herself. As your treatment of choice is taking place, you exist in a world of tranquility and relief. All of the massage therapists on staff are certified in virtually every type of treatment you could think of, including Acupressure, both Swedish and Thai massage, and healing energy Reiki. There were even a select few I had never even heard of previous to my experience, such as LaStone Therapy, involving alternate placement of heated and frozen stones to provoke both relaxing and re-energizing sensations in the body.

A Touch of Heaven’s most popular package is the couples massage, which takes place in an open space room either in the elegant rooftop garden space or down in the expansive, soothing floor level rooms. The spa also holds group healing classes with an array of different types of corporate business retreats, family gatherings, or wedding party celebrations. This experience is an entity of it’s own, and a rather unique way to enjoy the company of friends and family. The secret garden patio area provides an escape within a getaway in the already glorious destination of Catalina Island.

Aside from one of the most soothing experiences on the Island, the spa provides informed suggestions on specific organic massage oils that are most accommodating to your body. The staff truly understands the most holistic solutions to suit your lifestyle and keep your aches away. Their expert opinions are so helpful, Sana once eliminated a man’s breathing problems to the point he no longer needed his oxygen tank to help him. A Touch of Heaven presents more than simply the opportunity for pain relief, but provides a comfortable, replenishing healing experience for both your mind and your body.

Segway, Way up the Catalina Island Outback in this Extreme Excursion

You know how every kid wants to grow up to be a robot super spy? Well, maybe that was just me, and maybe I still could do it too. Or maybe I’ve found a way to, at the very least, feel like a robot super spy. Catalina Segways has the helmet, the machine and the speed to help you experience the most unique Island tour around, and feel like a robot super spy in the process. My family and I took a trip on the off road tour up the rugged, virtually unknown outback trails behind the golf course. After about twenty minutes of training down in the Balboa Pavilion with Chris, our tour guide and Segway master, we were ready to navigate safely and joyfully. With top speeds of 13 mph, we robocopped our way up the road to the conservancy where the trail started.

I believe my aunt said it best when she said, “I don’t think many people can say that they segwayed up a hiking trail.” And that is exactly what we did, with the beefy tires and stability of the segway on our side, we trekked our way up the canyon to a beautiful overhead view of the Avalon Bay. As a lifetime Catalina local, Chris had a new and interesting story to tell with every uphill battle we faced. Although it was never much of a battle because the segway made it easy and painless. He also made sure our group was safe throughout the tour with every tight turn and bulging rock that came about. This off road tour was absolutely a blast, and we took the less extreme path. There is an XTreme off road tour as well, but we wanted to take it a little easy. Although, once we quickly learned how good of a time the less extreme trail was, we all agreed we could have probably handled the XTreme trail as well, but we’re saving that for the next time we ride along with Catalina Segway.