Off the beaten path.

So many people I know go to the places that everyone else goes to, like everyone has the same checklist. If they go to anyplace off the beaten path, it’s because they were usually forced there.

The tour company set up a 10 day vacation package for us. Three of the stops were a, b, and c, and then there was that stop in that small town. The cruise ship had all good stops but that one stop at isle of such-and-such. Do either of these scenarios sound familiar? We all know the package tour people that end up someplace that is two star, as opposed to four star, and instantly think it’s the low point of the vacation.

These people are what I like to classified as the Doing It Wrong crowd. I like to gravitate toward the people who think; WTH we’re headed in that direction anyway, let’s stop at the other little place too. These are the people that end up at the same spots, and view them as the best part of a vacation.

So, what do you think about the little places? The places that aren’t generally on the tourist map? The places with more dirt roads and fewer junk shops for tourists? Are they part of your checklist, or are they places you’re forced to go to?

I admit that I go through phases here. I will spend time doing the off-beat travel options, and then I will spend time back on the major routes. I like the off-beat places. They give the rest of the world a good perspective.

Off-beat can actually mean a great many things. I classify off-beat as a place not commonly internationally traveled to. It could be a city that no one goes to, a town located in the middle of nowhere or it could literately be the middle of nowhere. What and where it is doesn’t matter to me as much as the escape that it offers to me.

A while ago, I took a weekend and went diving on Catalina Island, off the coast of California. Considering that the island is only about an hour off the coast of the USA, most people would say that the place isn’t exactly off the beaten path. I confess, until I looked up kelp diving in California, I hadn’t really heard of the place. If I had heard of it before, it was probably on a Discovery Channel documentary about Clovis People, or some such thing. I didn’t know where it was. Or what redeeming qualities it had. Turns out, it had a lot of them!

The story goes like this: I caught a flight into John Wayne Airport outside of Los Angeles. On the ground, I grabbed a rental car and headed for the Long Beach Pier. In retrospect, a shuttle might have been as good an idea. The traffic in the south half of LA is tragic at best.

I came in later in the afternoon, so I decided to hangout around Long Beach and catch the morning ferry. I parked the car at the Queen Mary Hotel and checked in. Yes, that would be the ocean liner Queen Mary. The ship is permanently moored at the Long Beach Harbor and is utilized as a floating hotel. The ship-hotel experience was very cool. The staff was excellent and wandering around the ship was pretty fun. There was a bunch of other stuff to do in the area as well, but a couple of beers and I wasn’t in the mood to explore more traffic chaos.

In the morning, I took the short drive around about a dozen redirection turns to the ferry terminal. Parking was located in a parking garage across the street, and was realistically priced. That was shocking all by itself. The Ferry connection was fast, friendly, and super easy to figure out. There is a high-speed ferry from Long Beach to Avalon, on Catalina Island, a couple times a day. I caught the first one of the day, and a coffee for the ride. The trip was forty five minutes each way, and without problems. The ferry is stable in the water, and the crew are happy people. Once underway, there isn’t a lot to do but watch water go by, so people usually just couch-out and watch the passing ocean.

As we pulled into the Avalon marina, all of the local boat traffic parted way and let the big ferry come on in. The half-moon harbor that Avalon is situated around is more reminiscent of a small Caribbean or European fishing village than it is anywhere in America. You walk off the ferry at the far end of the harbor and a host of overgrown golf cart-like vehicles await you. For me, my hotel was on the opposite end of town, so I grabbed a taxi golf cart and headed down the boardwalk.

The majority of the town of Avalon is laid out in the same arc that the harbor has. And as such, the fancier places are closest to the water. Like most tourist supported villages, the majority of activities were water-based. Scuba diving, fishing, and snorkeling trips were all easy to be found. There were also numerous in-island events. Mountain biking around the mountain roads, trekking, and the like. Needless to say, the hip bars and clubs were all on the boardwalk. All of them seemed to be open, but didn’t come to life till later in the evening. Club schedules set to the usual tourist clock. People in from whatever boat trip, given time to shower and eat, add an hour for chillin, and then party. Avalon seemed to have this timing fully figured out.

During the day, Avalon was a pretty sleepy place. People enjoying some ocean time around the sandy/rocky harbor or wandering around the town shops and diners. The lack of traffic made walking the streets quite easy. The vast majority of vehicles on the island are the size of golf carts. There are full sized vehicles, but they are mostly construction equipment. There was even a golf cart sized tow truck. It was so cool, I stopped and took a picture of it. It’s in a box of pictures – somewhere.

As for the diving, it was good. The kelp was thick, but the water was turbid so the visibility sucked. And, all the pictures were dark and blurry. The diving itself was nice. I had always wanted to dive kelp, so I enjoyed it very much. The area around Avalon isn’t as dense as Monterey and other sections of the coast, but it had a good patch of kelp for a first experience.

When I got off the ferry back in Long Beach, I felt like I was actually returning to the USA. Strange, but it was so far removed from the California scene that I literally felt like I had left the country. THAT feeling, will always make it a great place for me. An off-beat stop, away from the hustle of Cali, and super chill. A place that was also surprisingly uncrowded. I recommend it to anyone looking for something different.

That’s my quick story about finding someplace new. What would yours be? Taking a long muti-day layover on Iceland? Maybe catching the mail ship out to Ascension Island? Maybe a weekend on Catalina? It doesn’t really matter where it is, as long as it gives you a new experience. A fresh and unexpected experience. That experience that leaves you happy you went there. Not the experience that makes you say, oh we went there too.

Get out there. Go find those places. If they turn out to be great, let me know where they were. I’ll add them to my checklist.


Catalina Island, Avalon Harbor. Taken from the casino side, sometime around 2010. Good times!


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