California fall travel ideas: Catalina and Las Vegas trips

Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas and Nicole Vas

Good morning, fellow Escapists. It’s surprising how changing your mode of transportation can enhance your appreciation of a familiar destination, whether it’s seeing Las Vegas by railbike instead of by car or exploring Santa Catalina Island on foot instead of by four-wheeler.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find these twists on visiting Vegas and Catalina, as well as other ideas for your fall travels. As always, hit me up with destination recommendations and tips you’d like to see shared in Escapes.

🏝️ A 38.5-mile journey across Santa Catalina Island

The Trans-Catalina Trail is a grueling “38.5-mile route of extreme ups and downs” — in other words, it’s no stroll through downtown Avalon.

Times Assistant Travel Editor Mary Forgione recently tackled the trail from Avalon, on the east side of the island, to its end at Two Harbors and reported on her experience.

“You never walk on flat ground,” Tony Budrovich, chief executive of the Catalina Island Conservancy, told Forgione. “You’re either going uphill or downhill. That is highly challenging for a hiker.”

But despite the challenges, hikers are rewarded with picture-perfect ocean views, beach-side campgrounds and a deep immersion in nature just an hour’s boat ride from L.A.

About 8,000 hikers attempt the Trans-Catalina Trail each year, making it difficult to secure permits for the campgrounds along the way. Curious about how to hike the trail? Forgione outlines her route and other tips in her story.

Campground with tents overlooking the ocean

Two Harbors is the largest campground along the Trans-Catalina Trail.

(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

🚂 Take a railbike ride near Las Vegas

The Times has reported on awe-inspiring railbike adventures through the redwoods in Fort Bragg, Calif., but did you know you can take a railbike through the desert near Las Vegas?

Rail Explorers USA offers a variety of tours, including a night-time ride on an illuminated railbike. The 4-mile downhill journey takes riders from the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City to Railroad Pass, with a 20-minute break at a picnic area.

Tickets include free entry to the museum, in addition to a ride back to the top of the hill in a historic train. Visitors should bring a drink and snack for the break.

Two-person railbike from $85; a Quad Explorer from $150.

Illustration of a railbike on railroad tracks with Las Vegas in the background.

(Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times)

🕺 Crash — and catch a movie — in this retro hotel suite

Drive-in movie theaters had a major moment during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’ve rediscovered your love of drive-ins — or just want to bask in all things retro — consider a stay at this ’50s Suite in Los Alamos, Calif.

The suite at the Central Coast’s Victorian Mansion features a “Cadillac bed” parked in front of a giant movie screen with an authentic projector, so guests can enjoy their favorite classics before hitting the hay.

Of course, the nostalgic vibes don’t stop there. A neon snack bar sign, old-school mural and board game table complete the mid-century theme. Keep an eye out for the graffiti in the bathroom too.

The suite costs $245 per night, which includes breakfast.

Illustration of a vintage car in front of a movie screen.

(Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times)

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🐶 Adventure with your four-legged best friend

Despite L.A.’s lack of dog-friendly beaches, Southern California is a treasure trove of activities to enjoy with your pup.

Times contributor Rosemary McClure recently compiled a guide to the 22 best things to do with your dog in the area, from the poshest pooch-friendly hotels to unusual training classes.

One of my favorite suggestions on this list? Stand-up paddleboarding in Point Loma.

San Diego company SUP Pups will teach you and your dog to enjoy paddling the water together. Private classes start at $60 per hour.

Is your dog ready to kick it to the next level? McClure also included a doggy learn-to-surf class in her roundup.

Dogs playing on the beach.

Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach is the only beach in L.A. County that allows dogs off leash.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Airfares are lower than usual right now — but prices won’t stay down for long, writes Times business reporter Hugo Martín.
  • “Hawaii is not our playground,” writes Chris Colin in Afar. He reports on locals who are pushing back against the state’s packaging as a “picturesque paradise” for tourists.
  • Hostels — bastions of affordable travel — are barely surviving the pandemic. Alexandra E. Petri reports on their future in the New York Times.
  • On your next hike, spare a thought for the trail builders who made it possible, writes Christine Negroni in the Washington Post.
  • Locals on the Italian island of Linosa are working to protect seabird eggs they once hunted. Guia Baggi describes their conservation efforts in Atlas Obscura.

📸 Photo of the week

Low water levels in a lake.

Water levels at Lake Shasta are lower as drought conditions persist.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Song: “Lady by the Sea” by Stephen Sanchez

Favorite lyric: “Your voice it blooms the flowers on the beach”

Best place to listen: Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Illustrated polaroid frame with a photo of a woman looking at a beach sunset. 'Lady by the Sea' is written at bottom of frame

(James Lee / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)