Island romance, Catalina-style

The Southern California gem makes a great couples retreat, but the kids will love it, too

Catalina view

Twenty-two miles from the California mainland Catalina is a kingdom unto itself.

Dave Lauridsen

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  • Splashing at Avalon Beach

Romantic getaways can be tricky. Trust me on this. My husband and I have indulged in our share. The secluded hotels, low candlelight, champagne, and outsize expectations for the boudoir are all pleasant, no doubt, but also fundamentally generic.

Truly romantic experiences, I've found, are singular, often serendipitous, and tailored to exactly one couple: you.

Which makes Southern California's Catalina Island, with its remarkable variety of landscapes, views, activities, and fleeting, beguiling moments ― the kind that make a person's heart swell and her sweetheart's hand migrate tantalizingly to her knee ― one of the most romantic spots in the West.

A one-of-a-kind island

My husband, Russell, and I had come to Catalina to celebrate our 10th anniversary, just the two of us ― a plan hobbled somewhat by the presence of our son, Max. (No babysitter. It happens.) But as it turns out, his company was crucial. Anyone who wants to see Catalina at its most alluring should bring a child.

Our trip, like most to Catalina, began in the harbor town of Avalon. This is also where most visits end; the vast majority of island tourists never leave the town's cobblestoned main street and small, white beach. I understand why. You can fill many happy hours shopping, snacking, making sandcastles, and dangling your toes in the sea. But inertia, I suspect, also holds people. To leave Avalon, you must climb.

 

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