A great beach town has all the essentials—sand, surf, fish tacos—but also possesses a certain something that sets it apart from its neighbors. Want quiet and dreamy? Hidden and uncrowded? Arty and sophisticated? Whatever you're looking for, you'll find it in Southern California. Hop on a flight, rent a car, and soak up the sunshine.
The glittering blue bay and its bobbing sailboats. The steep hillsides dotted with pastel houses. The sun-bright sky. The town of Avalon on Catalina Island is so breezily Mediterranean that when you step off the ferry you half expect to hear Meryl Streep singing "Mamma Mia!" You're only an hour's cruise from the mainland, but it can feel like you've somehow traveled to another part of the world.
With almost no cars, Avalon is an easy place to navigate on foot. Or you can make like a local and zip around on a golf cart; they're available for rent. When it's time to eat, the Avalon Grille has a sure, creative hand with seafood (such as the pan-seared scallops) and with cocktails. The Wrigley Martini—a tribute to chewing-gum titan William Wrigley Jr., who helped develop Catalina as a resort 100 years ago—comes complete with a pack of Doublemint gum.
Being an island, Catalina is also rich in aquatic fun. Gazing at marine life through the portholes of Catalina Adventure Tours' semi-submarine Nautilus is a classic. If the brilliant-hued fish you see inspire you to break out in song, nobody will mind.