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Santa Catalina, California
SANTA CATALINA IS TRAFFIC-FREE!
Words and pictures by Reed Berry
We love our cars.
From well-preserved classics to eye-catching customs and shiny new vehicles rolling right out of the showroom, we really love cars. Few, if any, would probably dispute the claim that southern California is the center of American car culture. However, our love with the automobile comes with a price. There are just too many of them on the road at times and we often find ourselves stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And to make things worse, each year the number of cars on the road increases and our commute gets even longer.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get out of our cars, just for a while, and enjoy a nearby paradise with few cars, no traffic, and not even one stoplight? That’s what I have done today—I’ve taken a quick, smooth one-hour boat ride aboard Catalina Express to southern California’s famed Santa Catalina Island to explore the picturesque city of Avalon. Just stepping off the boat and scanning the harbor brings instant relief from the stress of the mainland.
The Catalina Express
Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that there aren’t any vehicles here. You will have absolutely no trouble getting around this relatively small resort town of less than three square miles. There are trolley tours of the city, and even an occasional taxi can be spotted driving by. Some residents here in Avalon do have their own cars, and I have seen an interesting variety so far, ranging from a newer Toyota Yaris and a Smart car to a military-style Jeep. I even spotted one of the original Honda automobiles – a classic early 70s Honda 600. Sadly, it was not in the best of condition.
If you’re thinking about moving to Avalon and bringing your car with you, think again. There is currently an 8 to 10 year waiting list to own a car on the island. Avalon is the only city in California authorized by the state to regulate the number and size of vehicles on its city streets. There are less than 600 personal cars and trucks in Avalon, and even fewer commercial vehicles and motorcycles. There are over 900 golf carts, many of them rental carts, which is the most common form of transportation for both locals and tourists.
A “Catalina Limo” from Cartopia
The carts that can be seen and heard putting around Catalina, as well as other similarly sized small gasoline or electric vehicles, are designated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles as ‘autoettes’. In order to qualify as an autoette, a vehicle must be less than 55 inches in width, under 120 inches in length, and weigh less than 1,800 pounds. Residents may obtain one autoette permit per household. Just about everything wheeled is tiny here, including the local tow truck which, if it was any smaller, would probably have the name Tonka on it.
While it is possible to see quite a bit of the main waterfront tourist area on foot, the best way to fully experience the city’s sights and beautiful panoramic views is in one of the many available rental carts. I have decided to take a scenic drive around Avalon in an autoette from Cartopia Cart Rental. While it may not be the fastest vehicle around, it is easy to operate and fun to drive. The best part of exploring the city in a rental cart is that you will see everything from beautiful ocean views and quaint bed and breakfast inns to every type of foliage imaginable.
The next stop on my tour is the Descanso Beach Club, a picturesque seaside bar and restaurant, and one of my favorite spots for casual dining in the area. Good food in a beautiful outdoor setting with an amazing view and the amenities of a private beach – it doesn’t get any better than that. I can’t help but remember the first time I came here. Relaxing with friends and enjoying an adult beverage on a gorgeous summer day as Jimmy Buffett tunes played on the sound system. I felt as though we were actually living Jimmy’s song ‘Margaritaville.’
Descanso Beach Club
While some are here for relaxation, others are actively participating in the many activities the area has to offer. For those who like water activities, scuba diving lessons and glass bottom boat tours are available. For those who prefer to keep their feet on solid ground, there is a wide variety of interesting restaurants and shops to explore, as well as guided city tours. Don’t miss the iconic Catalina Casino, an extraordinarily beautiful structure that opened in 1929. There’s no gambling at this Casino – it’s a huge ballroom and a theater that shows recently released feature films.
Avalon is the perfect getaway destination. It combines the beauty of a small tropical resort with an almost limitless list of activities and adventures. There is truly something for everyone here, whether you want to do everything or simply relax in a lounge chair on the beach and do nothing at all. And, because Avalon is only an hour away by boat, you spend less time traveling and more time having fun.
Unfortunately, my relaxing and most enjoyable day in paradise has come to an end and I must return to the mainland to face the crowds and traffic that are my reality. But you can’t get rid of me that easily, Catalina Island. I plan on returning to this traffic-free destination very soon.