#sparktravels: Catalina Island

by Ayu Sofyan

It’s the Catalina Wine Mixer!

My childhood, my home, and my entire heart; California is always as magical as everyone makes it out to be. Just like the movies, it’s a site for famous tourist attractions, with endless Hollywood Stars, Pacific Coast beaches, the hills of San Fran, and much more. But to me, traveling home to LA remains a place to take a breather from the Austin scene, to visit close friends and family, and to embark on a little soul searching, if you will. Each time back never fails to rejuvenate me.

Known for more than just as the “Wine Mixer” from Step Brothers, Catalina Island lies 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. A true vacation within a vacation. To arrive at the islands, they offer various ferry rides to Avalon (the Eastern city of Catalina) off multiple harbors along Long Beach. We left the coast around 8AM and from there, the departure time and the trip itself took approximately 45 minutes. Packed like sardines, I absolutely loved sitting on the top deck. Even though the wind got the best of my hair, nothing beats the third-floor view of the sunrise, the Southern California skyline, and even the dolphins.

Off to Catalina.

Upon arrival, I could not wait to stretch my legs out and begin exploring. We immediately found a restaurant located on the edge of Main Street called Maggie’s Blue Rose. High arched pillars and bright colored geometric plates radiated a tropical and islandic vibe. We decided to take our seats on the patio deck to enjoy the Mediterranean climate and half people watching, half eat the delicious Mexican cuisine. 

Main Street.
Spinach, Jicama, and Orange Salad + Fish Tacos.

Halfway across the island, we commenced part one on our journey – snorkeling at Catalina’s famous local Lover’s Cove. Treading down the staircase that leads into the ocean, we rested all our belongings on the washed-up rocks four feet from the crashing waves. I swam far out from the coast (to the point where I couldn’t even see the bottom of the ocean!) and fed frozen vegetables to the swarms of fishes around me. With my mask, I could see everything so clearly; every little thing was magnified – the different colors and types of fish, the texture of the coral, and the graininess of the sand.

One of my favorite soul-searching moments was swimming closer to the bottom of the ocean before the edge dropped off. Realizing how big, blue, and vast the ocean was, I embraced my surroundings and found solace in being alone. There’s serenity in a place like the ocean and that’s the most ironic part of it – the one place I can’t breathe, my mind and heart breathe the most.

Snorkeling at Lover’s Cove.
Pebbly beach road.

After soaking in the ocean (literally), I wanted to explore more of Catalina. Walking up and down different streets of the island, I immersed myself into their lifestyle. I visited a local ice cream place that’s notorious for their homemade and booze-y flavors. It was everything I could have asked for especially being under the California sun for so long. Continuing the adventure, I strolled along different paths of local shops – where many sold souvenirs and hidden local art. On the way towards the north side of the island to see Descanso Beach (a private and inclusive beach with a bar), I saw tons of artists observing different views to paint on their own canvases. In conjunction to the painters, I could hear music being played from all corners of the streets; A Jazz man playing the saxophone on one end, an acoustic player on the other. The artistic expression displayed within such a small portion of the island never seized to amaze me. 

 

Famous Catalina casino.
Soul searching.

To conclude the trip, I wanted to go all out and paddle board around the entirety of the island. Mind you, I’ve done stand-up paddle boarding before (shout out to the Austin’s Colorado river!) – but this environment differed immensely from what I knew. Austin lacks waves and currents while the shoreline of Catalina’s retaliated so strong against my own self. I paddled, and I paddled, and I paddled, only to advance about 3 feet ahead of me. This proposed a major challenge but I couldn’t and didn’t want to stop as I knew it would be worth it in the long run. And worth it, it was. As I passed by another individual on a board, or a boat, they’d all wave hello and asked how I was doing as if they knew me. It was so courteous and different from your typical LA lifestyle and for once, it felt as if I belonged. Not only was this experience an entire arm workout for me, but I got to encounter what they call, the true Catalina experience.

Soul searching part 2.

By the end, we took the ferry back and I’ve never felt more exhausted in my life. Slumped into the corner of my seat, I overlooked the ocean and watched the beautiful sun set. 

Late night Catalina.

Southern California will always be more than just glass-bottom boats, scuba diving, and beachin’ around. It’s my home, and it’s all I’ve ever known. People ask me all the time which state I like better and my answer is always the same: I love California, but I love the hearts of Texans. This place itself felt like a paradise and I never wanted to leave. I loved being able to pause life for a second, not worry about a single thing, and truly soak in the simplicity of life. This summer I had the chance to soul search, and soul searching I did.

I left my heart in California, but I’ll be back for it soon.

 

Originally from Southern California, and with dreams of becoming an ambassador, Ayu Sofyan is a second year International Relations major. She loves traveling the world until her heart’s content, all things art, and coffee, coffee, coffee! 

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