Catalina Under Sail
On the trip from Los Angeles to Catalina Island, the only traffic you're likely to see is a pod of dolphins, sometimes more than a hundred strong, romping in the boat's wake. Marine life avoids motorized boats, which is one more reason to forgo the ferry and charter a sailboat for a long, custom-tailored weekend on the water. The captain steers, but passengers control the itinerary, the menu, and the playlist blasting from the speakers on deck.
Fall is the best time to make the five-hour voyage, because of the season's reliable winds and fewer boats on the water. "October through mid-November has some of the most spectacular sailing you can have in Southern California," says Tom Collins, base manager at Newport Beach Sailing Charters (three-day charters from $2,550). The first stop, generally, is Avalon, the island's only "city." A dinghy delivers you to the dock, from which a short walk along the promenade leads to the Avalon Grille for a rib eye, followed by karaoke amid the kitschy-cool decor of El Galleon. As for sleeping arrangements, the two-cabin craft has space for two couples plus the captain.
The next day, anchor at White's Landing, a secluded cove where you can snorkel through a kelp forest; afterward, fire up an on-deck barbecue. If you can spare an extra day, explore the island's remote west side, says Chas Howell, who captains for Bluewater Sailing in Marina Del Rey (three-day charters from $3,800). "If you want to go ashore by yourself and do your own thing," he says, "I'm more than willing to become invisible, let you have a good time, then meet up later with the boat."
For Bluewater Sailing, fly to LAX. For Newport Beach Sailing Charters, use Orange County's John Wayne Airport.