No one had to teach David Rangel how to make like a monkey; he's a natural, swinging through eucalyptus trees, hanging from branches with one arm and dangling from the reaches of a tree trunk 20 feet above the valley floor.
"It's fun but scary," the 13-year-old from Antioch, Calif., said as he balanced on a swaying log bridge. I was below, happily affixed to terra firma and taking notes.
Rangel was trying out the Aerial Adventure, a Santa Catalina Island activity that opened this summer. It's one of a raft of new activities and innovations on Southern California's most popular island getaway.
Long considered a day-trip destination, this largely undeveloped isle 22 miles from Long Beach has come into its own with a variety of fresh offerings that provide enough action to fill a long weekend or more.
If you haven't visited Catalina for a few years, you'd be surprised at how much it has changed. In fact, if you've been away for as little as a year, you will find lots of new things to see and do. Here are 20 to try.
Most of the changes have occurred in Avalon, the square-mile city that draws most of the island's tourists.
Visitors find a variety of relatively new elements here, including a beach club, cabanas and restaurants.
They’ll also discover a burgeoning high-adrenaline adventure hub, including the Catalina Climbing Wall and Zip Line Eco Tour, which carries participants from 600 feet above sea level to the valley floor. And, of course, the new Aerial Adventure.
Kids aren't the only ones who enjoy taking to the trees on Aerial Adventure, which offers beginning, intermediate and advanced courses. Most of the people I spotted balancing, climbing and flying on the ropes-and-trees course were adults.
R.J. Fuentes and his wife, Kristina, of Brentwood spent the morning up in the air, celebrating their fourth anniversary.
"It humbles you a bit," R.J. said. "I'm a pretty good athlete, but I'm shaking when I'm up there."
Later this year, visitors to Descanso Canyon can participate in another new adventure activity: a free-fall drop from the planned 60-foot-tall Descanso Drop Tower.
Info: Aerial Adventure; (800) 626-1496. $49 for adults, $39 for children (must be at least 7 years old) and seniors. Packages available combining Zip Line Eco Tour, Climbing Wall and Aerial Adventure.
Looking for water-based adventure instead of land-based? You can flyboard over Avalon Bay like Iron Man with this new summer adventure sport.
Participants hover, glide or do turns above the Pacific Ocean on jets of air and water. Action Flyboarding, which debuted last year, will operate until fall.
Info: Action Flyboarding, (909) 866-0390. $129 per person.
The biggest news in town is the expanded Catalina Island Museum, which grew threefold last year when it moved into the Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building.
The 18,000-square-foot museum marks the most ambitious project on Catalina since island patriarch William Wrigley Jr. built the Avalon Casino in 1929.
Whether you're a fossil hunter, a movie buff or a baseball fan, you won't want to miss the museum and its exhibits.
Try to visit before Dec. 11, when the current exhibition, Chihuly at the Catalina Island Museum, will close. The show, focusing on the work of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, marks the first time the museum has presented the work of a major living artist.
Info: Catalina Island Museum, 217 Metropole Ave.; (310) 510-2414. Chihuly at the Museum tickets, including museum admission, are $17 adults, $15 children, seniors and military.
For those who think there's nothing as great as the great outdoors, there are new trails to explore.
Twenty-seven more miles of trails are being added in the backcountry, which will mean more choice for those who wish to take a day hike when visiting the island.
In 2009 the 37.2-mile Trans-Catalina Trail opened, which allows backpackers to explore the island’s hills and ridges, but the hike's length makes it a multi-day commitment.
The new trails are shorter and explore different areas. Check them out with the Catalina Island Conservancy, which can help you map a route.
Info: Catalina Island Conservancy, (310) 510-2595
Four new tours spotlight island features.
Twilight at the Casino is a 90-minute evening tour that explores the Avalon Casino on Friday and Saturday nights at 6:15. You'll tour the historic theater, drink wine in the ballroom and be able to photograph the bay and city from the structure's balcony. $45.
Avalon Canyon Trail Tour is a 50-minute biofuel Hummer tour that offers sweeping views of Avalon and a backcountry ride through the hills. $41 for adults, $39 for children, seniors and military.
Avalon Harbor Lights Tour takes participants through the city and up Mt. Ada, which overlooks the bay and town, for nighttime views and photo opportunities. $48.
The Flying Fish Voyage is an update of one of Catalina's vintage tours. Participants explore the waters along the island’s coastline after dark looking for an island oddity — flying fish. Yes, they really do fly and you can see them as searchlights play over the water. $32 for adults, $28 for children.
Info: Catalina Island Co., (800) 626-1496
Yo ho ho. Kids can get in the mood for island fun at the new pirate ship playground, a.k.a. Knabe Park, which has climbing rings, a slide, a tower and other activities.
Visitors see the ship, dubbed the SS Knabe, when they depart mainland ferries or cruise ship launches and walk toward central Avalon on Pebbly Beach Road.
There are also new basketball and volleyball courts along the same walkway, named in honor of L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, who retired in 2016.
Tune up and tone up your body at the workout stations on the Avalon Fit Trail on Avalon Canyon Road. The trail features a mix of cardiovascular and strength training equipment, including bikes and elliptical machines, chest and leg presses and a wheelchair-accessible pull-down and vertical press machine.
Begin your workout on the stations at Kid's Park, then follow the pedestrian path to more equipment at Joe Machado Field.
Catalina veterans may remember when there were few options for transporting their luggage into town from the ferry dock other than carrying it themselves.
If they were camping, they had to carry their gear a mile to Hermit Gulch Campground.
No more. Now they can climb aboard the white Avalon Transit electric bus at the dock parking lot and get a ride to town for $2 per person.
Looking for suggestions about what to see and do? The staff at the expanded Catalina Island Visitor Center will be happy to help. The walk-in center is on the Green Pleasure Pier and has information on activities, attractions, hotel and dining facilities.
Staffers offer support in person, online and on the phone in both Spanish and English.
Info: (310) 510-1520
Get the app
The Chamber of Commerce now has a Catalina Island app, which simplifies trip planning. It's free in both the Android and Apple stores. Search for Catalina Island. Text alerts are also available: Text CATALINA to 66866 and then enter contact information.
Food and fun
Mt. Ada, the hillside mansion that once belonged to chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., is a bed and breakfast that rewards its guests with fabulous views of the island and ocean.
Now visitors can take advantage of the views but avoid a pricey overnight stay by attending a Mt. Ada lunch.
The inn serves a three-course lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. $48 per person, including Champagne, mimosas, wine or beer.
Info: Mt. Ada; reservations required, (310) 510-2030
Beverages, Bites and Bay Views is a new afternoon program at Island Spa Catalina, which is opening its observation deck to the public from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays-Sundays.
The deck has great waterfront views, so take an afternoon break and settle in a lounge chair with a glass of wine and a shrimp cocktail.
Info: Island Spa Catalina, 163 Crescent Ave.; (310) 510-7300
Looking for a Sunday brunch? Trendy Avalon Grille now offers one from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The $25-per-person meal includes family-style appetizers and choice of entree. Add bottomless mimosas for $13 per person.
Info: Avalon Grille, 423 Crescent Ave.; (310) 510-7494
The hilltop Holiday Inn Resort, formerly the Catalina Canyon Resort, has been renovated and has a new lobby area, fitness center and meeting space, plus a redesigned exterior and landscaping.
There's also a new restaurant, the Seaport Bistro, a spa and a pool. The hotel is one of the few on the island that is pet-friendly.
Info: Holiday Inn Resort Catalina Island, 888 Country Club Drive; (310) 510-0325
Downtown Avalon is putting on a new face with businesses, especially storefronts, redesigning and updating their properties.
Among the new looks are murals on the Lobster Trap restaurant, new facades on several businesses at Crescent and Sumner streets, and the remodeled county library, sheriff's substation and courthouse.
If you'd rather hike and bike than shop and restaurant hop, Two Harbors, a small community at Catalina's West End, might be your kind of place.
The village, a favorite of boaters, hikers and campers, is low-key and relaxed and emphasizes outdoor activities, including kayaking and other water sports.
Now the rustic community has gotten a face-lift, with a new sandy beach, plush palapas, lounge chairs, a group gathering space, food and beverage service on the beach and a small business center.
Grab a waterfront table at Harbor Sands cafe and watch yachts bob at their moorings while you dine on burgers, clam chowder or fish tacos.
THE BEST WAY TO CATALINA
By sea: Catalina Express, (800) 481-3470, offers frequent daily trips of about one hour from Long Beach and San Pedro to Avalon, Catalina’s main city, from Dana Point to Avalon and from San Pedro to Two Harbors. Round-trip adult fare is $73.50, $2 more for the Dana Point trip.
Catalina Flyer, (800) 830-7744, makes one round trip daily between Newport Beach and Avalon, departing at 9 a.m. from Balboa Pavilion and returning at 4:30 p.m. The trip is 75 minutes each way; passengers have about six hours to explore the island. Adult round-trip fare is $70, seniors, $65, child, $53.
By air: Island Express Helicopters, (800) 228-2566, has 15-minute helicopter flights daily from Long Beach, San Pedro, Santa Ana and Burbank. Fares range from $250 to $750 per person round trip, depending on location.
WHERE TO STAY
Many Catalina accommodations require a two-night stay on weekends.
Holiday Inn Resort, 888 Country Club Drive, Avalon; (800) 315-2621, (310) 510-0325. This hilltop hotel has undergone two years of renovations. The drawback is that it's at least a 10-minute walk to town. Doubles from $249 per night during the summer, from $199 during the off-season.
Pavilion Hotel, 513 Crescent Ave., Avalon; (877) 778-8322, (310) 510-1788. Rooms are small but well-appointed at this renovated bay-front motel. Wine bar, fire pit and garden. Great location; complimentary breakfast and afternoon wine and cheese. Doubles from $329 during the summer, from $165 during the off-season.
Hotel Metropole, 205 Crescent Ave., Avalon; (800) 541-8528. Some waterfront views; most of the 52 rooms have fireplaces and balconies. Doubles from $309 per night during the summer, from $279 per night during the off-season.
Campgrounds, (877) 778-1487, are in Avalon, Two Harbors and at four backcountry sites. Boat-in sites are available. Camping fees range from $22 to $27 per night for adults; an additional $9.25 service fee is charged. Tent cabins and equipment rental available.
WHERE TO EAT
Avalon Grille, 423 Crescent Ave., Avalon; (310) 510-7494. Central location on the bay with large windows and a patio for outdoor dining. Has a wine-country vibe and a seasonal menu. Dinner entrees from $16.
Maggie’s Blue Rose, 417B Crescent Ave., Avalon; (310) 510-3300. Upscale Mexican restaurant offers warm-from-the-griddle handmade tortillas, eight types of margaritas and innovative dishes. Dinner entrees from $15. Sister restaurant to the popular Steve’s Steakhouse, upstairs.
Ristorante Villa Portofino, 101 Crescent Ave, Avalon; (310) 510-2009. Creative regional Italian cuisine served in a fine-dining atmosphere. Watch the passing parade on Crescent Avenue from a window seat or outside bay-view table. Entrees from $16.
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