The Catalina Island Guide For Everyone

My second time visiting Catalina made me fall even more in love with this island just off the Southern California coast. This time around, I was not pregnant and it was one of my first trips away from my infant daughter–meaning MOM WAS OFF DUTY! I was ready to dive into all the experiences on Catalina that I couldn’t do the first time around.

What always gets me is how This island is popular for all types of travelers–from the wee ones to the older set, the luxury seekers to the adrenaline junkies. With 48 hours to enjoy, I chose to do a little bit of everything.

THE OUTDOOR ADVENTURER

Highlights: I enjoyed a whole new perspective of Catalina from the treetops. The Aerial Adventure ropes course has routes for beginners to the experts. The beautifully designed courses subtly blend in with the surrounding nature. Challenge yourself to jump off platforms, maneuver around and balance feet above the ground.

Tips: Work up your confidence by starting with one of the two beginner routes. Once you get the hang of the ropes and clipping/unclipping, you can move on to the intermediate and advanced routes.

Cost: Adults, $49.95, Children/Seniors/Military: $39.95

Also check out: Zipline Eco Tour

THE LUXURY SEEKER

Highlights: The former Wrigley residence, the Mt Ada hotel is only accessible for those staying in one of the 12 guest rooms– unless you have a lunch reservation. Step inside this former Wrigley residence to enjoy a memorable lunch on their wraparound patio, which might be my favorite view of Catalina Island. The three course lunch includes your choice of champagne, wine or beer.

Tips: Take a golf cart up to the hotel for a scenic drive.

Cost: $62 per person

Also check out: the Island Spa Catalina to pamper yourself poolside.

THE WATER BABY

  • Kayaking off of Descanso Beach

Highlights: The waters around Catalina are crystal clear and a stunning turquoise shade of blue. Appreciate their clarity upclose from your own kayak. You can opt for a guided tour or just taking one out on your own and either way, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking coastal views and new appreciation for California’s rugged beauty.

Tips: Take the Journey to Frog Rock tour to be treated to insider knowledge on the island and a stop on a breathtaking beach only accessible by boat.

Cost: $22 Single Kayak, $30 Double Kayak; Frog Rock Tour: $54 Adults, Children 25% off

Also check out: Snorkeling

THE HISTORY BUFF

Highlights: I wouldn’t say I seek out every museum when I travel but I am sure glad that I toured the recently built Catalina Museum. The building itself is a work of art and the exhibits are fascinating. Walk through on your own or take a guided tour to learn about the stories that give this island its unique personality. From Hollywood starlets to presidents, baseball heroes to wartime tales–Catalina’s history is truly unexpected and exciting.

Tips: Come for one of their monthly outdoor movie screenings located on the roof. Do not miss the Bird Park exhibit that shares the quirky history of the exotic bird sanctuary that once existed in town.

Cost: $17 Adults/Children (under 15) Free

Also check out: Wrigley’s Catalina

THE FAMILY TRIP

Highlights: Just under the water, there’s a whole new world of marine life. Dive into it without ever getting wet on the Undersea Expedition. It’s a safe, comfortable way for an up close look at the vivid Garibaldi, the impressive kelp forests and maybe an occasional dolphin if you are lucky.

Photo courtesy of Catalina Undersea Adventure

Tips: Be prepared for lots of photo opportunities both in the submersible and above the water when they sail back on the surface.

Cost: $39.95 Adults/$37.95 Children

Also check out: Glass Bottom Boat Voyage

THE FOOD FOCUSED

Highlights: A circular bar, comfortable booths and water views, the Avalon Grille tastes as good as it looks. Menu signatures include the hangar steak and the pan seared scallops and I particularly loved the tempura green beans.

Tips: This restaurant is popular so definitely book ahead. And order yourself a Wrigley Martini for me.

Cost: Appetizers around $18, Entrées around $35

Also check out: Bluewater Grill

IMPORTANT TRAVEL DETAILS

Where to Stay: The Pavilion Hotel

Personally, I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else. The waterfront location is an easy walk from the ferry and perfectly situated to access all the main spots in Avalon by foot.

I love the tropical courtyard where you can enjoy their included (hearty) breakfast spread in the cool mornings or toast to a fun day next to the fire pits during the complimentary wine hour. The crisp, nautical rooms are spacious and comfortable and the included bike rental was very helpful for getting around.

Cost:  $180 to $350 per night, dependent on season

Getting There: Catalina Express

The ferry ride is half the fun of going to Catalina, in my opinion. With many departures daily, this hour cruise covers the 22 watery miles in just an hour. Sip on bloody marys in the Commodore’s Lounge or soak up the sun on the outer deck. You might even spot a dolphin or a whale! Cost: $74.50 Adult Roundtrip/ $59 Children Roundtrip/ Under 2 years old Free

The Best things To Do in Santa Barbara

My Tips on How to Explore this California Beach Town

Santa Barbara is a captivating beach town that to me, feels like nowhere else on along the pacific coast. It has a distinct, down-to-earth yet kinda quirky personality that is nestled in the midst of mountains, shoreline and sunshine.  For a Santa Monica resident like myself, I try to escape to SB a few times per year as it is a scenic 2 hour drive and a world away from the touristed, trafficky LA hotspots. Since so many people have asked for my favorite things to do when I go, I decided to post up some highlights.

Surrey the City

When I first arrive in a new town, I usually like to walk, jog or bike the streets to get a feel for the place. But in Santa Barbara there’s an even more unique and hilarious method of getting around– the Surrey! This ‘tuk-tuk meets bike’ is powered by your own two legs, but you can have the help of a partner, or even the whole family! You aren’t in a hurry in a surrey (wow didn’t mean to rhyme) but that is the beauty of it. You sit back, enjoy the scenery and easily stop whenever you want to take a photo or grab a bite.

I suggest taking your surrey along the beach front path and stopping at Shoreline Beach Cafe for delicious bites and drinks, right in the sand. I rented our surrey from Wheels of Fun, conveniently located right near the beach and at the start of the Funk Zone.

Kayaking Along the Coast

Santa Barbara has a spectacular coastline. Cove beaches, gentle waves and palm tree studded stretches of sand. The way the coast curves in and out makes for jaw-dropping views as the sun sets and I always envy the people drifting along the sailboats in the horizon.

I think the best way to appreciate Santa Barbara’s best asset (IMO) is by getting IN it! Swimming is wonderful but I prefer kayaking the deep blue waters to cover more ground, take photos and hang out for a few hours. The on-the-water vantage point lets you appreciate the shoreline to one side, the endless blue to the other and all the marine life all the way to the sea floor, below your paddles.

There are a few good options for kayaking. I’ve paddled the harbor and really liked the “front door” look at the breathtaking boats in the marina as well as the reverse perspective of the town from the water. It is also very family friendly since it relatively calm and can be done in an hour.

It also doesn’t hurt that on our paddle, sea lions were swimming alongside our boat. I’d recommend this harbor tour to set you up with kayaks and a guide

If you are looking for something a little more unique and more adventurous, the four kayak excursion at Refugio State Park might be more your speed. This 3 mile tour covers one of the least developed parts of California’s coast, which means LOTS of wildlife. Your guide informs you about all the plants and wildlife that makes these waters home. I also like that there’s even a stop to have an included lunch on a secluded beach. Learn more about the Refugio State Beach Kayak tour here.

Surfs Up

Whether you are a local looking to improve your skills or a visitor wanting to check off “surfing in California” from the Bucket List, it’s a good idea to pick up a board and head out. You are in California after all.

But many of our waves are no joke and I wouldn’t recommend diving into surfing as a novice–without some guidance at least (I always go out with a guide as I am still learning as well).

Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers that guidance, and the gear, so you can get out on the waves confidently and safely. Choose from a 2 or 4 hour lesson, which comes with boards, wetsuits and instruction– no matter what level you are at. You surf at a nearby beach that has gentle waves and is free from rocks which is a perfect place to learn. It’s also only 15 minutes away so you can still make it back to town for a well deserved post-surf lunch or happy hour.

Speaking of happy hour… THE FuNk ZoNe

It’s no secret that the Funk Zone is the fun place to be, especially from 4:30 to sunset. Every time I visit it, it feels different and to be honest, even better! My last time touring the FZ, I was pregnant, so I had a very sober look at all the wineries, breweries, cocktail bars and little shops in between. Let me tell you, if I thought it was awesome sober, imagine how great it is if you can have a drink or two.

After sipping our way through many, here are the stops in the Funk Zone that stick out.

Figueroa Brewing Company: The outdoor patio and frequent live music made me love this place, even though I don’t love beer.

Kunin: The Cape Cod beach vibe of this place made me fall in love immediately and it was lovely to post up a high top and linger over a glass of local pinot noir.

Test Pilot: I can’t help but love a good cocktail and a good cocktail in a perfectly decorated tiki style bar? My love overflows. Definitely stop here if just to admire the ship wheel lamp that adorns the main bar.

Wine Not?

The ideal way to experience the wine country near Santa Barbara is to do so worry-free. Booking with Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours takes away the hassles associated with transportation, itinerary, and they even provide lunch and cold drinks. You are spending the day drinking wine, so you aren’t driving so you’ll need a shuttle service anyway (much easier than trying to find ubers at some of these more remote locations).

SB Wine Country Tours offers one tour in particular that I think looks incredible. It is a Cupcake and Wine Tour, where you eat your way through a cupcake & wine pairing, explore Los Olivos and have lunch at a small winery. The town of Los Olivos is so charming and perfect for an afternoon visit. Plus the wineries that they takes you too, like Sunstone and Brander, make each stop intoxicating. 🙂

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For more of my favorite things to do, check out my 24 Hours in Santa Barbara video!

What are your favorite things to do in Santa Barbara? I am always looking for new things to try on my next trip!

xo

Kelley

How To do a Day Trip to the Channel Islands


If you’ve been to the Southern California Coast, chances are you’ve seen the Channel Islands. On clear days, they rise up out of the Pacific, faint outlines in the distance. They’ve always beckoned me. I would gaze at them and wonder how could islands exist in plain sight that I haven’t explored? They appeared to be such a California adventure–hiking, kayaking, epic views and immersion in nature. I finally gave into their ‘siren call’ and made the voyage out. This was something that I didn’t think was possible while having a baby girl at home! I did it all in one day and was able to get back home in time to tuck Aurora in. Here’s how.

The Channel Islands

Still cannot believe that this is epic landscape is in my backyard

The Channel Islands are comprised of five individual islands differing in size and together they make up the protected area of Channel Islands National Park. To access them, you take a ferry or boat out of Ventura Harbor. The main island of Santa Cruz, the largest and most accessible, has a campground, 15 hiking trails, and the main anchorage of Scorpion Bay.

Plan Ahead

The island is all pack in and pack out, so it is vital to plan out your day ahead of time. There aren’t any public structures, besides restrooms and changing areas, so you need to have everything you need with you. (see my packing list below) Since I had limited time, I wanted to maximize each moment that I had out there, so I decided to book an experience through Santa Barbara Adventure Company.

Pablo from Santa Barbara Adventure Company

SB Adventure Company is a highly rated mom-pop shop that provides a variety of adventures on the mainland and off, all year round. Their high reviews and years of experience in the Channel Islands put me at ease. It was important to me to have good guides too so I could learn more and feel safe and secure out on the water.

Craving something active–and especially something that I can’t usually do with a little one– I booked the Adventure Sea Cave Kayak tour. This would give me a guided tour of the famous sea caves along the coast of the island. Plus, I love being on the water and this was about as close as I could get, save for swimming in the chilly temps! Guides, kayaks, gear were all included, so all I had to do was show up at the dock!

How to Get There:

It can be done in a day–even from Los Angeles!

I left my house a little after 7am and jetted up the PCH to Ventura Harbor. Watching the surfers catch early waves and the sun yawning up the sky made the drive very scenic and quick! With the detailed directions of where to meet at Ventura Harbor, I had no problem finding SB Adventure Company when I pulled in.

Island Packers is the ferry service that brings you out to Santa Cruz Island and they have several ferries back and forth throughout the day. As I was doing this in March, a lower season, there were less ferries scheduled than in the summer, for example. We had planned to take the 9am out there and the 3:30pm ferry back.

The ferry itself is a lovely ride! Coffee is served on board and the hour ride was smooth and breathtaking. We even had a surprise escort of dolphins on the way over. What a refreshing start to the day.

First steps on Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

This island is simply majestic. It was in full bloom from the recent rains, so the hillsides were covered in wildflowers as our ferry pulled up to the dock.

View of Scorpion Bay

Once on land, our guide walked us over to changing area where we could get the necessary clothing for kayaking. They had wetsuits, water shoes, helmets and life jackets waiting for us. They even had waterproof holders for cell phones, which I definitely recommend!

Ready to GO

I opted to wear a wetsuit just on my legs, to make sure I wouldn’t be chilly in the water. However, the sun was out so I didn’t zip it all the way up–a long sleeve shirt was perfect. I brought along water and all my GoPros.

Kayaking

Down at the beach, the kayaks were waiting for us. After a quick safety briefing, my guide, Pablo, was pushing me into the clear waters. As there were a few other tours that day, we opted to go in the opposite direction first to get an unobstructed access to the caves.

The glassiest water

With the water so deep and clear, the impressive kelp forests engulfed us. Pablo told us about this incredible plant and he even encouraged me to give them as taste. Honestly, it was not bad!

Floating snacks 🙂

We ventured into our first cave–following his lead and turning once inside. I had been worried that it would be difficult to turn but it wasn’t bad at all. We just had to time it with the waves.

Incredible kelp forests

We passed around an island where there is loud and quite impressive blowhole. This blowhole was formed by years of sea water crashing into the rock and needed a way to get out. You can get close to it but be warned, you will get wet!

The Blowhole!

Pablo pointed out endemic plants and birds as we paddled by. It was nesting season so we noticed one cave full of birds nests and hungry chirping baby birds. Having a guide like Pablo point out and explain more about specific plants and animals gave so much context to the whole experience that would have been lost if I just went out on my  own.

Learning about the unique flora and fauna on these little islands

We stopped at Geology Cove, a quiet area where you can see clearly see history of the formation of the island through the delineated layers of Earth. Pablo explained how animals used to be able to walk here from the mainland, and over time, the ocean rose and the channel between the islands and the rest of California grew deep, stranding many types of plants and animal here such as the scrub jay, the deer mouse, the spotted skunk and the adorable islands foxes!

Pitstop for a quick viewpoint hike

Our next pitstop was at a rocky beach, where Pablo helped us pull in our kayaks for a quick viewpoint nature walk. The 360 degree views of the island from here were well worth the stop. The beach itself even had some of the most beautiful seashells that I had ever seen!

Elephant Belly Cave

Our last kayak adventure was to Elephant Belly Cave. This was by far the largest cave that we saw. We paddled inside and even shot through a narrow path way for a little adrenaline rush! I didn’t think I could do something like this but Pablo made it simple and put my fears at ease.

Shooting through the passage

Hiking and Picnic

Back on the island, we changed into dry clothes for a short hike and lunch. Visitors are required to stay on one of the designated hiking trails in order to minimize human impact on the island.

We elected to take the hike along the cliff over Scorpion Bay for those photogenic views. A special treat was because it was springtime walking through the waist high wildflowers was truly an experience I won’t forget.

Up here we found the perfect spot for a picnic. Channel Islands Provisioners, the recommended food provider of SB Adventure Company, had supplied us with adorable, trash free packed lunches. The vintage napkin and farmers market sourced ingredients won me over right away! After all that paddling, it was nice to have a delicious, healthy lunch all packed and chilled in an individual cooler just waiting for me.

Farmer’s Market sourced lunched from Channel Island Provisioners!

Exciting Ferry Home

After a slew of photos, it was time to board the ferry back to the mainland–but the adventure was not over then. On board, just as we were cheersing a day well spent with beers, the captain alerted us that he saw whales. Before I knew it, we had changed course and were speeding in the direction of 3 gray whales, migrating up the coast. They crested and dove, giving us a show of tails and spouts. Who knew that this was a whale watching tour too!

What a DAY

The dolphins wanted some attention too and just after, we saw a mega pod of around 700 dolphins–the most that I’ve ever seen and probably ever WILL see. It was literally jaw-dropping. They bounded in our wake and swam up along side the boat, leaping out of the water with joy. I was giddy!

This photo does not do justice just how many dolphins we saw!

We pulled into Ventura Harbor at 5pm and it was a coastline drive home. On my ride back, I couldn’t believe how much I’d done and seen in just 8 hours. It renewed my love and appreciation for California, for nature and for making time for mini adventures throughout our lives. I believe it is always important to take a step back from the day to day grind and just immerse in nature. It is good for the soul, the body and the mind.

Thank you SB Adventure Company for taking all the stress out of planning this epic California day for me!

Ventura Harbor

Packing List:

  • Sunscreen
  • Refillable Water bottle
  • Fast drying athletic clothing for kayaking
  • Sneakers
  • Sunglasses
  • Backpack
  • GoPro (if you are like me and want to photograph on the water)
  • Lunch & Snacks!

***Note to Moms: I know many of you follow my adventures with my daughter and know that I am still breastfeeding. I was able to pump and preserve all my milk during the trip–no problem. SB Adventure Company was very flexible and helpful when it came to making time for me to pump and finding privacy. For that I am very grateful as well.

Where to Travel to in 2019

I was honored to speak at the LA Travel and Adventures show for the third time this past weekend. This year I decided to share more top destinations for 2019. I chose to give you alternatives to some more well known, more touristy places. By the way, the more touristy options are popular for a reason! I love all these places listed. However, if you want more value, more authenticity and just less tourists (I do!) than this is what I suggest.

Instead of South Africa, go to… CHAD

Zakouma National Park, Chad

Chad’s Zakouma National Park is proud to have bounced back from nearly decimated wildlife populations due to poaching. Their conservations efforts have led to a park teeming with life. However, access is limited. Come 2020, only those who’ve made large donations to the park can enter so get in now while you can!

 

Instead of Thailand, go to… VIETNAM

If you are in the market for a beach vacation with history, amazing food and that laidback Southeastern Asian vibe, Vietnam is your best bet. Far less touristy than the very well known beaches and islands of Thailand, Vietnam’s central coast has over 2000 miles of sandy while beaches, not to mention a ton of new hotel openings ranging from a luxe Anantara, a J.W. Marriott and mom & pop beach bungalows.

 

Instead of Beijing, go to… SUZHOU

Suzhou’s Canals

If it is Ancient China you seek, you will have a hard time finding it in the smoggy, trafficky city of Beijing (I swear the traffic there is the worst in the world). Suzhou, a stunningly preserved city that was the summer playground of the emperors, is a step back in time. You can float down canals of the old city, walk through working silk factories (silk was discovered here) and partake in calligraphy lessons. Not to mention, there are over 250 gardens for you to find your zen.

What makes Suzhou even better–no cars needed! Fly to Shanghai and take the 35 minute bullet train into the city and you are all set.

 

Instead of KYOTO, go to… SETOUCHI

Iya Valley, Setouchi, Japan

Kyoto has long been touted as the cultural place to go in Japan. Well, though beautiful, this city is VERY popular. Instead, check out the region of Setouchi to the south. Just a bullet train or short flight away, this watery region is all coastlines and islands. Seaplanes, biking paths, kayaking by temples–there is so much outdoor adventure in addition to all the authentic local culture. Soba, Sake and Kobe are from here. Stop by the oldest onsen in Japan for the ultimate relaxation or stay in a farmhouse in Iya if you want to feel like you are in the Japan of centuries ago.

 

Instead of Cinque Terre, go to… SESTRI LEVANTE

Sestri Levante

In Sestri Levante, you’ll find a seaside, medieval village with local kids licking gelato scoops and old men gossiping on benches. This is real Italy and a great value for that seaside Italian escape. Far less crowds and far more authenticity awaits you in this Ligurian charmer.


Instead of Barcelona go to… GIRONA

The walls of Girona

Girona is like one of Barcelona’s medieval neighborhoods, but without the chain stores, throngs of tourists and cheesiness that accompany a big city. Girona’s stunning look has made it an important location in Game of Thrones, and walking through the walled streets you can really see why. Quite classy with excellent Catalan food (you can have Michelin here if you like) and charming bed and breakfasts (Check out Hotel Nord 1901), the walled city of Girona is wonderful stay. Bonus: you are 20 minutes from Costa Brava!

 

Instead of Caribbean Cruise… MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE

Monaco, from the Viking Star

Hit up some of Europe’s poshest ports via cruise, and not have to deal with teh prices and hassles of visiting on your own. The cruise lines tend to attract a tamer crowd more interested in the local history and stops, than the party scene. Plus, I recommend that you choose an embarkation or disembarkation city that you want to stay a few extra days in so you can really dig into one spot.

 

Instead of Cancun… Zihuatanejo

Just a quick flight from LA, this Mexican beach paradise lacks the high rises and spring break feel of Cancun, in favor of local fisherman, thatched palapas and sunset that will knock the mezcal out of your hand. Whether you stay at the bougie Thompson Zihuatanejo or a smaller boutique hotel, you will want to be near Las Ropas Beach.

 

Instead of Hawaii… Tahiti

Tahiti has captured the heart of the US all over again, this time with Obama vacationing there for weeks and Moana capturing the hearts of all the kids out there. Now, Tahiti is not just for honeymooners or the rich & famous. The once exorbitantly expensive flight over has been cut down to only $330 each way (FrenchBee.com, SFO to Tahiti). Air France and other airlines have followed suit and cut their fares.

If you want highend, try The Brando on its own private island. For a more cultural and affordable experience, Tahitian pensions (bed and breakfasts) are great options.

 

Instead of Rio de Janeiro… SALVADOR

Salvador’s Pelourinho Neighborhood

The capital of Bahia, Salvador as an edge. Afro Brazilian culture meets Portuguese colonialism, and all of this is set on a coastline. You will have a much more local experience as soon as you set foot here. Don’t miss the multi colored buildings of Pelourinho, the old village.

My recommendation is to use Salvador as a base to explore the surfing in Itacare or the waterfalls and grottoes of Chapada Diamantina, both short flights from here.

Agree? Disagree? Have places to add? Leave them in the comments!

xoxo Kelley

Catalina Island Avalon Harbor

Escapes from LA: Catalina Island

I have to be honest. If you asked me to hop on a plane anywhere for a quick getaway, I’d say ‘take me to the Mediterranean!’ Who doesn’t love indigo water, crystalline shorelines, charming villages, locally made food and abundance of outdoor cafés? However, European destinations along the Med tend to be quite pricey, not to mention a long flight for us Americans (especially for other Californians like me). But that’s why I couldn’t be more surprised, delighted, and borderline obsessed with this European-esque destination that I recently discovered in my own backyard.

Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

Catalina Island is not exactly “new.” It’s been inhabited for at least 8000 years, originally by the Native American tribe, the Pimungans. More recently, William Wrigley (yes, like the chewing gum) owned the island and brought his baseball team there for their annual spring training from 1921-1951. And of course, Hollywood also fell in love with Catalina, using it as the location for many early films as well as the playground for the stars and show biz elite. After visiting for myself for the first time, I can see why this island has been so popular for so long.

 

WHEN TO GO

I visited with a group of friends in early March, far outside of Catalina’s high season, which typically runs from June through September. Off season, or shoulder season travel is one of my all-time favorite travel hacks. It generally results in a much better experience overall because you aren’t battling crowds, lines and high prices. My tip would be to travel in either March through May or late September through November, to maximize best weather and least amount of people. However, don’t forget that it is Southern California so even December or January could have perfect weather!

Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

We also opted for a weekday stay as opposed to the popular weekend trips, arriving on a Monday and departing on a Wednesday. Like off-season travel, weekday travel usually means better rates and less people so you can focus on enjoying the destination without as much hassle.

Catalina Express Ferry

GETTING THERE

Catalina Express

Catalina Island is visible from Santa Monica all the way down to Laguna Beach, but this large SoCal island is actually much further away than it looks. The Catalina Express offers daily shuttles via high speed catamaran that whisk you out into the Pacific and get you onshore in about an hour. It’s also a fun ride! We departed from Long Beach and I sat outside, enjoying the salty breezes and the watery views. We even had a dolphin sighting! Note: there is a full bar for those that want to start the party the moment we leave the mainland.

Luxe Tip–> For those that have less time and the itch to splurge, there are helicopters that can bring you over in just 15 minutes!

 

WHERE TO STAY

Though it is possible to experience Catalina for the day, I would recommend staying at least one night, ideally two. During the day, the main town of Avalon is usually busy with other daytrippers and the cruise passengers. However by night, the town empties out and you can enjoy the calm, quiet beauty of this island gem.

Pavilion Hotel Catalina Island

Pavilion Hotel

As I am the “Hotel Snob,” where I stay is very important and I would stay at the Pavilion Hotel again in a heartbeat. The well appointed property is located right on the main street, in the center of Avalon. It has water views, as well as a sunny complimentary breakfast and daily wine hour on the patio.  I particularly loved all the outdoor seating areas, fire pits and secluded loungers in the garden. This small hotel felt tranquil and private, even though it is just steps from the hustle and bustle of downtown Avalon.

 

The rooms are crisp and sea-inspired. New and clean, I wouldn’t call them extravagant in any way, but I wasn’t left wanting for anything. The separate sink and vanity area also served as a mini kitchenette with coffee and mini fridge. Of course, I would have loved it if the hotel had a pool but that is a rarity on Catalina Island in general.

 

WHERE TO EAT

Avalon Grille Catalina

Avalon Grille

This is one of the nicest options on the island and I’d recommend that you book it for one special dinner. The elegant menu has everything from well cooked steaks to local seafood to a mouthwatering burger. Definitely order the fried green beans to share! Also, as I’m always all about the atmosphere, I felt that the classy interior makes it work for a romantic night but the wraparound bar also makes it accessible for cocktails and appetizers. It was even busy on a Monday night, proving that the islanders love this spot as well.

 

The Lobster Trap Catalina

Image courtesy of Catalina Chamber of Commerce

The Lobster Trap

Another great dinner option at a lower price point is The Lobster Trap. This seafood joint is an institution in Avalon and you will be overwhelmed by the local “Cheers” vibe the minute you walk in. The owner was handing out shots, our makeshift table was on top of a pool table and there was a live lobster running across the table. However, the service couldn’t be friendlier and the no-frills seafood plates were fresh and delicious. I could see how a dinner here might turn into an all night affair as the bar was hopping, even on a Tuesday at 7pm.

Catalina Bluewater Grill

Image courtesy of @darinainwanderlust

Bluewater Grill

This one wins for best location as it is set on top of the water. We came for a sunny lunch and had a tremendous view of the Avalon Bay as well as fun, casual fare like shrimp caesars and fish tacos. I’d definitely go back for dinner or to check out their bar in the evening. Just like Europe’s sunny outdoor patios, the Bluewater Grill is a place you’d want to hang out for a few hours with a coffee or a cocktail.

 

Lloyd’s of Avalon

You have to give a lot of credit to a candy shop that’s been in business since 1934. They make all their own chocolates, salt water taffy and fudge, and even claim to have served Marilyn Monroe.

 

Scoops Catalina Avalon

Image courtesy of Scoops Instagram @scoopscatalina

Scoops

As always, I sought out the best local ice cream on Avalon and all locals pointed here: Scoops. This is the place to go for the best homemade ice cream and gelato. Beware though, in the summer the lines can get long!

 

WHAT TO DO

There is a LOT that you can do on the island, ranging from outdoor exploration, hikes, shopping, scuba, water sports and more. Normally the adventurer, I toned it back to focus more on relaxed, soft adventures as I was 7 months pregnant and I am happy that I did.View of Avalon Harbor Catalina

Golf Cart

Not only is the golf cart THE mode of transportation on the island, I find driving them to be so fun. It feels like you are on vacation! There are self guided routes that you can take to access the best vistas of the island and to take in a variety of landscapes.Golf Cart Catalina Island

 

Island Spa Catalina

Island Spa Catalina

This secluded hideaway is located at the end of Avalon’s main drag and it really is an oasis. When you step inside, the private courtyard has sun deck, a beautiful pool, a lounge area with sea views, and even a spa café. Take a class in their Wellness Studio or indulge in a massage at their spa. Or just grab a day pass for a day of R&R.

Descanso Beach Club Catalina

Descanso Beach Club

Just a 15 minute walk from the center of town along the water, the Descanso Beach Club was probably my favorite experience in Avalon. The sandy beach is bookended by natural cliffs on one side and the Catalina Casino on the other, making it feel like your private beach oasis for the day. If you come early, you’ll have it all to yourself but as the day wears on, the beach club kicks it up a notch. The outdoor bar and restaurant definitely becomes the place on the island to party!

Kayaking Catalina

The crystal clear water is not just perfect for swimming, you can hit up Descanso Beach Ocean Sports to rent an SUP or kayak. Take it a step further and go on a kayaking tour. I highly recommend the guided 2 hour kayak tour to Frog Rock. Our morning paddle out on the glittering water was breathtaking and I loved learning more about the life under the water from our knowledgeable guide. We stopped on a beach only accessible by kayak to rest, take photos, and enjoy some freshly made cookies. Pebble beaches, giant rocks, arid cliffs and glittering ocean–were we sure this wasn’t the Mediterranean?

 

Catalina Casino

Catalina Casino Tour

I am not going to lie, this walking tour was a bit a slow for me as it is geared towards an older set. But if you are a history buff, you will definitely appreciate the access to the first theatre in America that was “designed for talkies” as well as the pink art deco ballroom. From the top of the Casino, the views of Avalon and the bay might be some of the best on the island, so for me, that was the highlight. Plus, the Casino is the icon of Catalina so it important to understand its significance.

 

And More Adrenaline-Pumping Adventures

Many of my friends were able to partake in the more adventurous activities and the best reviews came from the East End hummer tour where my friends saw the island’s famous wild buffalo, parasailing 800 feet above the water, ziplining through canyons, and tight rope walking along the tree top ropes course.

East End Adventure Catalina

Image courtesy of the Catalina Island Company

Though I’ve mentioned the popularity of Catalina Island, I am actually most awed by the fact that the island is mostly untouched! 88% of the island is a nature preserve and the town of Avalon, the main hub of Catalina, is only home to 4000 residents. The rest of Catalina belongs to the bald eagles, the bison, the fox and the rest of the flora and fauna that live on or around its shores. For an island that is in plain sight of one of the US’s busiest cities, I am so impressed that it has retained its natural landscape and retro charm. Though you don’t need a passport to get here, it surely feels like you step off of the ferry into another world entirely.Selfie View Catalina

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stay tuned for my video of this incredible island oasis COMING SOON!

 

xoxo

Kelley

torii gate

Top 5 Adventures in Setouchi, Japan

Japan might be synonymous with gardens, temples, sushi and cherry blossoms, but did you also realize that it is home to a wild variety of adventures? I spent 2 weeks exploring the Setouchi Region in Southwest Japan, which is famous for its breathtaking landscapes so it’s no surprise that outdoor adventures are plentiful here. I had no idea that Japan looked like this! We explored beaches and coasts, clear waters, rugged mountains, sweeping valleys and iconic cities throughout this region, and it is the adventures that stand out to me most. Here is a list of my favorite experiences throughout the region. Note that since Setouchi is all about the Seto Inland Sea, each of these experiences have to do with water in some way.

  1. Kayak the Floating Gate

torii gate

 

You’ve probably seen images of this incredible gate, the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine. Itsukushima is a Shinto Shrine and World Heritage Site, and I think it is a marvel unto itself. Built to honor the gods of the sea, it has been a popular place of worship for sea travels ever since the Edo period. This outdoor shrine is located on the shores of the sacred Miyajima Island, constructed near and even in the water. But this particular torii gate might be one of Japan’s most iconic images. The gate is built right on the water so during high tide, when the water surrounds it, it appears to be floating. High tide is the perfect time to see it up close, by kayaking!

Itsukushima Shrine

We rented kayaks from a small shop, right in the center of town. They helped us bring the kayaks out to the shore and provided a guide to help us paddle and navigate the two-seater kayaks. It was helpful to have help paddling since I had to stop a few times to take photos! I couldn’t believe how stunning the gate was as we passed through it. The vermillion color, the ornate carvings and the striking backdrop is even more tremendous when you experience it on the water. I will cherish the photos I took of this kayak adventure forever.

 

2. Fly in a Seaplane

Setouchi Seaplanes flight seaplane

The Seto Inland Sea is home to thousands of islands and it is probably the most dramatic part of this entire region. To take in the breadth of the sea as well as the beauty of the terrain, a seaplane gives you an incomparable perspective.

Setouchi Seaplanes

I couldn’t recommend Setouchi Seaplanes more. This company has an ultra hip, ultra modern checkin counter and lounge, complete with complimentary drinks and snacks. Check out their cute selection of souvenirs from their gift shop.

From there, you are guided onto the dock for a quick security check and then onto the seaplane. With one seat on either side, and 3 rows behind the pilots, our group of 6 had plenty of room. There are two amphibious aircraft available and I was excited that we flew in the bright red and green “L’ala Rossa.” As we took off from the water, it was exhilarating to see the islands, roads, and bridges get smaller and smaller. What I didn’t expect was how photogenic the landscape would be from this angle. I was captivated by the glittering sea, the uninhabited islands and the miniscule speeding boats as are we soared for 50 minutes. The pilots pointed out highlights along the route and I felt the entire service was very professional and the planes were very well maintained. Let’s not forget, it definitely pumps the adrenaline too!

 

3. Bike the Shimanami Kaido

Shimanami Kaido Biking

With over 37 miles of paved bike paths, it is no wonder that cyclist flock to Setouchi for their biking vacations. Not only are the paths very well constructed, they are extremely scenic as well! We picked up our bike at our homebase, the Hotel Cycle in Onomichi, and from there we biked along the coastal paths. This allowed us to stop at beaches, admire water views, cross some of Setouchi’s many architectural bridges and hop from island to island. We biked to Ikuchijima Island to explore the vivid Kosanji Temple. And if you are hungry, check out the delicious tempura restaurants in town!  

 

4. Cruise the Oboke Gorge

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley Boat

Yet another water adventure can be found away from the Seto Sea, up in the mountains of the Iya Valley on Tokushima Island. Surrounded by what seems to be endless, wooded peaks, this region is already spectacular. But try experiencing it by boat.

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley

We embarked on a sightseeing boat to explore the Oboke Gorge, a crystal clear part of the Yoshinaro River. The cruise was very relaxed and peaceful. It was such a lovely way take in the fresh air and surrounding nature of the Iya Valley. Plus the water is so clear, you are can see wild koi fish splashing about under the hull.

 

5. Cross the Kazura Bridge

Kazura Bridge Iya Valley

You wouldn’t expect a bridge to be an adventure, but this one is! The Kazura Bridge is a hanging rope bridge that spans 50 feet above a river. It is thought to have been built by the samurai that lived in these mountains, who chose to built it out of vines and ropes so they could cut it down in case they were being trailed by attackers.

Standing on the Kazura Bridge

Now it is a picturesque tourist destination for it’s Iya Valley views but also for the bragging rights of crossing it. I am not going to lie, I was a little scared when I stepped on it. I had not expected the vines to be so far apart, making me very aware of the 50 foot drop between each step. The bridge also sways with movement and with the wind, so hold on!

 

The best way to understand these adventures is to see them!

Check out my Adventure video where I dive into all these Setouchi experiences and even more that I didn’t mention! 

Kauai Sheraton Aulii Luau

Top 5 Things to do on Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaii and I are in a serious relationship. We just met last spring, when I first landed in Maui with my husband. We spent 10 days roaming her grassy hills, sand swept beaches and lush jungles. Eager to return and explore more of Hawaii’s shores, I returned to Oahu, just a few months later. This time I was on a film assignment so it was I was accompanied only by my camera. Together with our rental car, we saw all ends of the most populated island–from Waikiki to Kailua to the North Shore.

Maui sunset

Just recently,  exactly one year from my first trip to these paradisiacal islands, I flew back to Hawaii yet again. This time I was visting Kauai. What made it even more special was my mom was joining me. I couldn’t wait for her to experience the state that I loved so much. An added bonus was that since I am pregnant, this was a little mother/daughter babymoon!

Babymoon in Kauai

I’d heard all the rumors that Kauai was “the best” and I assumed that there was a reason that this verdant island was the top pick for honeymooners. But I thoroughly loved Maui and Oahu, both for different reasons; how could Kauai really compete?

From the moment I stepped outside of Kauai’s Lihue airport, I felt a big difference in just the air! The air was fragrant and more humid than other islands. As we drove to the South Shore for our stay at Ko’a Kea Resort, we passed through many lush landscapes which could have been out of Jurassic Park (it was filmed here after all!).

Koa Kea Resort Kauai pool

Our resort was a stylish boutique and it was small–which I loved. It felt totally laid-back and manageable–not a huge box style hotel. Poipu Beach was calm, clean with a good amount of sunseekers, but it not packed to the gills. There was even room for the seals that nap on the beach just about every afternoon.

Driving on Kauai

To me, Kauai is the more rugged, natural and chill version of the other islands. I’d maybe describe it as the hippie little sister with a lot of wild beauty and spiritual depth. In just 6 days, my mom and I put over 1000 miles on our car so it’s safe to say, we covered a lot of ground. However since my mom and I were not in a condition to hike, we limited activities to those accessible by easy walks, drives or boat rides. The following were the five highlights of our trip that I’d recommend to everyone–suitable for all ages and abilities. And next time I return, I plan to embark on some epic hikes, cruise the rivers on kayaks and take to the skies by helicopter.

 

  1. Snorkel with Seals 

Underwater snorkeling Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach is located in the sunny south of the island, which has the least rainfall on the island and thus the best conditions for snorkeling. It also helps that the waves are generally mild, making it family friendly and easy to see the world that is brimming with life just under the water.

Seals on Poipu Beach

I was staying just steps away from this beach at the Ko’a Kea Resort, so it made it easy to head out there each morning when the water was at its glassiest. To my surprise, the schools of brightly colored schools were just steps from the shore. I was barely standing in 4 feet of water and all I had to do was look down to see hundreds of multi hued fish! To be immersed in the marine life, snorkel between the shore and the small island off of the beach. But definitely try to get there early as many tourists know about this spot as well.

Since the seals seem to love to sunbathe on this beach, you might get lucky and be in the water as they pass by. These graceful creatures are still wild and respect them by giving them their space. If one comes near you, don’t try to touch it or swim near them. We are the outsiders in their home so we need to be good guests.

 

  1. Experience a traditional Hawaiian Luau

Aulii Luau Kauai

I love how Hawaii’s history, traditions and stories are still such a strong part of the islands today. The vibrant culture unlike any other state in the USA, let alone any other place in the world. It is so special to see how it is still alive and I think one of the best ways for mainlanders to understand it is through a luau.

Aulii Luau Sheraton Kauai

It was our first night on Kauai, we were lucky enough to attend the Aulii Luau on the South shore. My mom was giddy –this would be her first luau ever and she’d always wanted to experience one. The outdoor party was taking place at the Sheraton Kauai, just steps from their pink sand beach, in a prime spot for one of Poipu’s signature sunsets. The gold, pink, purple and orange of the sunset was just the opening act for a memorable, Hawaiian evening.

Sunset at the Aulii Luau Kauai

We had Premier seating, which allows you reserved seats at one of the front tables. General seating is at one of the long tables further back and it is first come, first served.  I recommend the Premier if you are most interested in dancing. You might be the farthest from the food, but you are closest to the stage and thus can appreciate all the details, especially the expressions on the dancers’ faces!

Kalua Pork Buffet Aulii Luau Kauai

The buffet dinner included a lot of fresh, local dishes and Hawaiian specialities. I tried the purple poi for the first time and enjoyed the kalua pig. Following the meal, there is a whole dessert table. The pineapple upside down cake was the winner there for me! We had to walk to get our own drinks which included mai tais, blue Hawaiian’s and beer and wine options. As I was pregnant, I did not indulge but my mom enjoyed a mai tai and the white wine.

But not surprisingly, the show itself was the best part. The talented dancers gave skilled, emotional performances, each one very different from the one before. The bright and wild, costumes and the tiki stage design was a sensory overload. I particularly loved the coed performance with the grass skirts. And of course, the fire dancer brought the audience to gasps, oohs and ahhs. What a way to spend our first night in Kauai!

 

  1. Cruise the Na Pali Coast by Boat

Na Pali Coast Holo Holo

This might be one of the most well-known areas of the island but no one lives here and there are no roads. The 15 miles of coastline is nature at its most beautiful. Sheer, jagged cliffs, soaring mountains and rocky coves meet the swells of the sea along this magical stretch. It is no wonder that it is such a sacred part in Hawaiian legend.

We chose to explore the coastline by boat. We embarked with Holo Holo Boat Tours, a highly rated  boat tour company that operated out of nearby Port Allen harbor. Our vessel was a 65 foot power catamaran– the island’s fastest tour boat. It was very spacious and had plenty of spaces to sit, which came in handy on this 4 hour tour.

Na Pali Coast Holo Holo Charter

The route was up to the coastline and then back, but along the way, we had quite a surprise show. Whales were jumping out of the water, slapping the surface and diving down deep, showing off their tales. I have been on whale watches before I’d never seen so many whales, so close!

Na Pali Coast tour with Holo Holo

Once we made it to Na Pali, the boat slowed down so we could fully appreciate the drama of this place. Our captain told us more about the landscape, pointing out sites of importance for the Hawaiians and even spotting a sea turtle swimming in a cave. As we cruised back down, the sun was setting and an onboard dinner was served–chips, guacamole, cheese and crackers and some delicious kalua pork tacos. This was a memorable way to spend an afternoon on Kauai and we were happy to have sailed with Holo Holo. Just note, it is a bumpy ride so be prepared for a roller coaster style ride and to get wet!

 

  1. Wake up with Waterfalls and Breakfast Bowls

Acai Bowl Kauai

The island has hundreds of waterfalls in its rich jungles, but there are five that are the most well known for their grandeur and convenience. Since we were not hiking on this trip, we chose the easiest one to drive too: Opaeka’a Falls. Located just near the cute town of Kapaa, you drive just off the main Highway 56 to a convenient parking. From here, you can view the falls from above. The 151 foot falls are 40 miles wide and lovely for a photo opp.

Opaekaa Falls Kauai

After, make sure to stop for breakfast or lunch in Kapaa. I strongly recommend the salads and coffee at the trendy Java Kai. Or if you want a cute back patio vibe with banana trees and chickens running around, EatHealthy Cafe was as delicious as it was adorable. My coconut bowl there was very memorable but their entire vegan menu looked great.

EatHealthy Cafe Kauai

 

  1. Explore the North Shore

Hanalei Bay North Shore Kauai

We stayed on the South Shore, but I had to check out the legendary North Shore of Kauai. My mom and I drove up early on a Saturday, knowing that it’ll take over an hour and it did! We headed to the town of Hanalei, nestled at the foot of vibrant green mountains and next to the surfer’s paradise of Hanalei Bay. The town had a laid-back, slightly touristy vibe, with charming shops, cafes and restaurants. We snagged a few t-shirts and some coffee before settling on a food truck for picnic lunch to go.

Fresh Bite Kauai Hanalei

Don’t be fooled, the Hanalei food trucks are excellent and we loved Fresh Bite, which served up locally grown greens and organic meats in their salads, sandwiches and poi bowls. I highly recommend grabbing your lunch to go so you can enjoy it on the sand of one of the nearby beaches. (Need more info on the food trucks? Go here.)

Mai Tai at the St Regis Princeville

After your beach day, check out a hotel icon and have drinks at the St. Regis Princeville. We were hit with a sudden rainstorm, a common occurrence on this side of the island, but that didn’t dampen our outdoor happy hour! We had a dry seat overlooking the bay and were delighted to witness a complimentary Hawaiian song and champagne sabering just before sunset.

Happy Hour at St Regis Princeville Kauai

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kauai is a stunning island and for us, it was restorative, natural and just uplifting. It has an overall ambiance that is very positive if you are open to it. For a babymoon and a mother/daughter trip, it was PERFECT. But I would recommend it to all sorts of groups of friends, families, couples and adventurers! If you have any tips, please let me know for my next trip!

 

xo

Kelley

Food Guide of Valais, Switzerland

The Valais region in the South East of Switzerland is known for its sunshine! All this sun makes for a great growing season—fruits, vegetables, grains, grapes all grow very well here, making the food of the Valais so fresh and delicious. I tasted rosti, a fried potato hash, with pork sausage, at 3000 meters on top of Gornergrat and freshly made chicken with spaetzle on the Matterhorn. I sipped wines with a local vintner, ate handmade chocolates with a chocolatier and dined al fresco at family home on a hillside with a Michelin chef. Food is a way of life in the Valais, and it is savored. Don’t miss the apres ski bars in Zermatt to enjoy some of the local beers and wines too!

Featured: Chef Franck Reynaud, David Chocolates, Hotel Etrier, Hotel Pollux, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Gornergrat, Adrenatur Nature Park

24 Hours in the Valais, Switzerland

Glaciers, ziplines, mountain peaks and stunning views–Valais is one of Switzerland’s most gorgeous regions. I explore the best things to do in one full day from the Matterhorn to Gornergrat, fat biking in Crans Montana to dining on the best food ever. Oh and don’t forget apres ski. You will love your 24 hours in Valais.

Valais Luxury Switzerland

Luxury Guide of the Valais, Switzerland