New Yorkers may head to the Hamptons to get away, but when Californians need some R&R with a little adventure mixed in, they sail to the Channel Islands. The archipelago, which parallels the state’s southern coast, is a low-key oasis of laid-back life. Here’s a look at two of the area’s eight islands worth exploring: Catalina Island, home to the charming beach town of Avalon, and Santa Cruz, a rugged, uninhabited isle.
Although it’s technically part of Channel Islands, Catalina is in a class by itself as the only island in the chain where people live year-round. To get there, take the Catalina Island Express ferry from San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point ($74.50-$76.50 round trip) to Avalon, Catalina’s beachfront village.
What to do: Tour Catalina with Urban Adventure Quest ($49/team), an “Amazing Race”-style scavenger hunt that takes you past the island’s sights. Seeing the island from 800 feet in the air by parasailing with Island Water Charters ($79/person) is another unique way to take in its mountains, marina and village. And for some serious R&R, head to Descanso Beach Club (1 St. Catherine Way, 310-510-7410) in Avalon. Spend an afternoon lazing on the comfy chaise lounges ($75 for two), at its public beach or hop on a kayak tour to Frog Rock, a deserted beach a 40-minute paddle away.
Where to eat: The Bluewater Avalon (306 Crescent Ave., 310-510-3474) on Catalina’s main strip grills up freshly-caught swordfish, scallops topped with bacon and parsley and fluffy fried calamari garnished with charred lemon. The restaurant’s patio stretches over the water — an ideal spot to watch the sunset.
Where to stay: Though many come to just spend the day, Catalina Island is home to several boutique hotels, including the Aurora Hotel & Spa (137 Marilla Ave., 310-510-0454), a cozy spot with ocean views that’s a five-minute walk from the main strip.
At nearly 100 square miles, Santa Cruz is the largest island off California’s coast. Its mountains, dramatic cliffs and sea caves attract campers, hikers and divers from all over. Touring the largely undisturbed island is like stepping back in time.
What to do: Half the fun is getting there. Island Packers ($59/day, $79/overnight), transports day and overnight travelers from Ventura on an hourlong ferry ride, during which you might encounter dolphins and whales. Once on Santa Cruz, hike one of several trails that crisscross the island for breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. There is also a large campground area for spending the night.
Where to eat: Santa Cruz has no facilities besides toilets, and campers and day-trippers have to bring their own food and drinks. But you can have a sit-down meal in Ventura, an ideal mainland base for a trip to the island. Cafe Fiore (66 California St., 805-653-1266), a cute Italian eatery in downtown Ventura, offers fresh takes on old world dishes.
Where to stay: Ventura is a tourist destination in its own right. The Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor Resort (1050 Schooner Drive, 805-658-1212) is located on the bay of the thriving beach town.