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Getting to L.A.’s closest island paradise is half the fun on the Catalina Express. PHOTO BY MIMI SLAWOFF
by Mimi Slawoff
Feel like escaping to an island, forest retreat or Mediterranean enclave without breaking the bank? You won’t need a passport or plane ticket to enjoy these wallet-friendly local getaways with your family.
Enjoy island breezes and sip smoothies on the beach without ever hopping on a plane. Just 22 miles (a one-hour boat ride) from Long Beach, Catalina Island is worlds away from city noise and traffic. In fact, few cars are allowed on the pedestrian-friendly island. Residents cruise about in golf carts, and visitors can rent carts, too. An abundance of land and water activities make Catalina an ideal day or overnight trip.
Getting there is half the fun aboard the Catalina Express (888-510-0555, www.CatalinaExpress.com), a fleet of high speed boats that sail year-round from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point to Avalon (Catalina’s only city) and rustic Two Harbors. Roundtrip fares: $70.50 adults, $55 ages 2-12, $5 infants. Sail free on your birthday through April 30, 2013, and receive a 10-percent discount on a room and a complimentary bottle of wine or champagne at Hotel Villa Portofino.
Island activities through the Santa Catalina Island Company (www.VisitCatalinaIsland.com) include snorkeling, SCUBA, kayaking, bicycling, parasailing and many land and water tours. Zipline Eco Tour offers day and night adventures and SNUBA – where participants dive 20 feet underwater without heavy equipment to view marine life. Treat the kids to a flying fish boat trip. From onboard a boat with powerful searchlights you’ll see hundreds of fish jumping in and out of the water. The 5th Annual Flying Fish Festival celebrates the return of these marine flyers with family fun themed activities May 31-June 3.
For a remote island experience sail to Two Harbors at Catalina’s isthmus, where many scenes from Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Clark Gable, were filmed in 1935. Amenities include beach camping, water sports, a restaurant and general store.
Navitat Canopy Adventures lets you fly through the trees without flying to the tropics. PHOTO COURTESY NAVITAT CANOPY ADVENTURES
Fly Through a Forest
You won’t see parrots or monkeys like you would in a tropical forest, but Navitat Canopy Adventures in Wrightwood (www.Navitat.com/Wrightwood) specializes in exhilarating zipline tours with an immersive nature experience. Canopy guides, trained in local ecology by a naturalist, chat about trees, plants and the San Andreas Fault line that runs through this portion of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The nearly four-hour adventure begins with a short hike and three initial zips where you learn how to rappel. Another short hike leads to the heart of the course, where you climb sky stairs (a log ladder), cross sky bridges (rope bridges), rappel from platforms and fly on zips. For the final rappel, you can choose to freefall the first 10 feet of a 48-foot drop, attached to special auto-delay equipment that catches and lowers you to the ground.
Navitat is located 75 miles northeast of L.A. on the property of Wrightwood Guest Ranch. Tours run through November. Prices: $109 adults, $99 ages 10-17. Weight restrictions: 90-250 pounds.
Find a Mediterranean climate – and a solar Ferris wheel – in nearby Santa Monica. PHOTO BY MIMI SLAWOFF
Bask in a Mediterranean Climate
Beyond Santa Monica’s wide, sandy beaches is an eco-friendly community that’s home to celebrities, families, professionals, renters and surfers. Spend a day exploring the city’s historic sites and chic boutiques to learn why this beach town has mass appeal.
Start with breakfast at the weekly Sunday Farmers Market (2640 Main Street) featuring made-to-order omelets, crepes, fresh baked goods, produce, specialty coffees, clothing, jewelry, and pony rides and live music for children. While on Main Street, peruse the hip, urban boutiques.
Biking around town is a good way to see outdoor art including murals, sculptures, sea walls and statuaries. Learn about Santa Monica’s history on a three-hour Pedal or Not Electric Bicycle Tour (www.pedalornot.net) offered at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Spend an hour or two at the Annenberg Community Beach House (http://beachhouse.smgov.net/), the former estate of actress Marion Davies. She and William Randolph Hearst hosted numerous parties attended by Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and other such celebrities. Today the oceanfront beach house’s historic pool, children’s play area, gallery, café, and guest house are open to the public. Free admission. Pool fees: $10 adults, $4 ages 1-17, $24 family pass (two adults, two kids).
Around late afternoon, head over to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium where Heal the Bay exhibits educate visitors about the environment. $5 donations, $3 minimum entry fee. Free for ages12 and under.
Watch the sunset from Pacific Park (http://www.pacpark.com) on the pier, which also marks the end of Route 66. The amusement park’s rides and attractions include the five-story West Coaster roller coaster, the nine-story Pacific Plunge tower ride, the only over-water miniature golf course, and the nine-story Pacific Wheel Ferris wheel – the first solar-powered wheel in the world.
Let’s Go columnist Mimi Slawoff is a veteran family travel writer. Follow her on Twitter @mimitravelz.
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