Southern California's Catalina Island, with its remarkable variety of landscapes, views, activities, and fleeting, beguiling moments, is one of the most romantic spots in the West. You can shop, snack, and dangle your toes in the sea in the charming harbor town of Avalon; bounce over the rugged backcountry on a Jeep Eco-Tour; visit with the fish on a semisubmersible tour of Avalon Bay's marine preserve; and much more. Best of all, it's just 22 miles from the mainland ― an easy, one-hour ferry ride from Long Beach, Dana Point, and San Pedro.
Catalina Express provides daily ferry service year-round from ports at Long Beach, Dana Point, and San Pedro. The trip lasts about an hour (from Long Beach and San Pedro $57 round-trip, $44 ages 2-11, $4 ages 1 and under; from Dana Point $59 round-trip, $46 ages 2-11, $4 ages 1 and under; 800/429-4601). Island Express Helicopters will fly you to Catalina in 15 minutes from Long Beach or San Pedro ($152 round-trip; 800/228-2566).
WHERE TO STAY
The Avalon Hotel. Its Craftsman-inspired interiors are stylish, its rooms spacious, and the ocean view from its rooftop deck sweeping. 15 rooms from $195, including continental breakfast; www.theavalonhotel.com or 310/510-7070.
Hotel Vista Del Mar. Newly remodeled, this hotel overlooks Avalon's main street and the bay beyond. Most of the 14 rooms are equipped with wide-screen TVs and ultra-luxe bathrooms. From $215 through Sep, including continental breakfast; www.hotel-vistadelmar.com or 800/601-3836.
WHERE TO EAT
Armstrong's Fish Market & Seafood Restaurant. Not fancy, but good, fresh seafood and, from the patio, views of sailboats bobbing in the bay. $$; 306 Crescent Ave.; 310/510-0113.
Ristorante Villa Portofino. Classically romantic, all soft candlelight and dark wood, and elegant, haute pasta dishes that'll have your partner spearing at the food on your plate. $$; 101 Crescent; 310/510-2009.
Steve's Steakhouse Bar and Grille. A menu to please the carnivore as well as the fish lover, with a sweeping ocean overlook from a second-story location. $$$$; 417 Crescent; 310/510-0333.
WHAT TO DO
Brown's Bikes. Rent a 21-speed mountain bike or a cushy single-speed cruiser, ideal for Avalon's flat beach-front. From $5 per hour; 107 Pebbly Beach Rd.; www.catalinabiking.com or 310/510-0986.
Catalina Trans-portation Services. Taxis, shuttles, tours. Rolls-Royce from $99 per half-hour; www.catalinatransportationservices.com or 310/510-0342.
Descanso Beach Ocean Sports. Two- to four-hour guided kayaking adventures. Try the three-hour Fox Canyon excursion, an easy 1½ miles of ocean paddling (instructions included), followed by a nature walk. From $50 per person; on Descanso Beach; www.kayakcatalinaisland.com or 310/510-1226.
Discovery Tours Undersea Tour. Experience an aquarium from the inside out during a semi-submersible tour of Lover's Cove, a marine preserve in Avalon Bay. $35, $17 ages 11 and under (nighttime tours are slightly less); at the base of the Green Pier; www.visitcatalinaisland.com or 800/626-7489.
Jeep Eco-Tours. Spend a half- or full day exploring the untrammeled interior of the island. From $495 for four hours per Jeep; 125 Claressa Ave.; www.catalinaconservancy.org or 310/510-2595.