I stepped off the ferry onto the dock. The crossing was pleasant and I even splurged and sat in the Commodores Lounge. So far, this little get away is going my way. I walked down the road toward Avalon and started to see the lines of people. First, for the golf cart rental. Next, a souvenir shop selling all the expected items branded with Catalina Island in various forms. After that, another golf cart rental stand. Then, the first restaurant on the road, a Pancake House, which is excellent even if it is crowded.
Catalina Island is amazing, don’t get me wrong. But like any other absolutely beautiful and a isolated place, the main economic drive of the City of Avalon is tourism. Flashy signs and small souvenirs abound. Everyone should absolutely get their “wikki wacked” at Luau Larry’s and enjoy some sun at the picturesque Descanso Beach Club. Highlights can be found on the Visit Catalina website and most Instagram and Facebook posts of visitors.
Anthony Bourdain said “Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”. To me that translates to, get off the beaten path.
If you wander your way back into the blocks behind the main road in Avalon, you will find an array of colorfully painted houses with a few restaurants sprinkled in. Keep following the road back a few more blocks and you reach a five-way intersection. Why that is a thing I do not know, but turning up the left fork will take you past a small locals’ favorite called The Sand Trap directly across the street from a golf course. Keep following this road and it will take you past the school, a baseball field, the bird park, and the campground. Take a right at the fork, and it will take you up a steep hill right past the pro shop for said golf course and it will continue on to more houses and another hotel and even more breathtaking views.
Naming a restaurant that is directly across from a golf course, The Sand Trap is just funny. It doesn’t make it less funny that the course in question, Catalina Island Golf Course, has some pretty steep bunkering so the irony was not lost on me and it really is some great marketing.
The course has a long history and in its current incarnation is a 9-hole golf course with five Par-4’s and four Par-3’s. For a golf course on an island, there is no water features which to me was a surprise. The course instead uses the natural beauty of the island, highlighting its canyons by actually bringing you back into them and the views by providing a different vantage point. Catalina Island Golf Course doesn’t let up showing you the island from a new points of view. The absolute biggest obstacle, for me anyway, is the sandy pot bunkers; they are deep, they are fluffy, and they are everywhere.
After playing my first round at Catalina Island Golf Course, I returned my cart and rental clubs and the gentleman in the pro shop recommended I walked back down the stairs and grab some food. I looked around in the pro shop for a while and found a memento for the trip. Then, I walked back down the hill and I sat down at The Sand Trap… and then didn’t get up again until they closed. I made friends at the bar with both employees and locals.
They told me who to talk to, where to go and best of all, what touristy places are worth the stop. I did end up getting my “wikki wacked”, and have the hat to prove it. Not to mention stopping off and enjoying Descanso’s Mai Tai and poke bowl with my toes in the sand is now one of my favorite things to do on a warm day.
Getting off the beaten path isn’t always about missing the touristy stops, it is about finding out which ones are really worth it. Not only did I get to experience the places everyone puts on their Instagram and Facebook but, I also got to see the island from an entirely different point of view and made new friends. Getting off the beaten path is the best way to experience a new place and you never know what you might find.