Back From Vacation Part 1 – Southern California

by Das Brain

Well, I just got back from vacation last Thursday. The destinations I went to were California (Los Angeles County) and Las Vegas. For this post Part 1, I will mainly write about southern California.

The trip to southern California actually started three Saturdays ago in Las Vegas where my wife and her younger sister flew in on Air Canada. I came in on a later American Airlines flight that same day.


Why were we on different flights? The main reason is that my 16 year old sister-in-law has not flown much before, so in order for her to be safe, I decided that she would fly with my wife on a free Air Canada flight paid by my Aeroplan points. I flew into Las Vegas on the paid American Airlines flight which cost about $450 CAD from Toronto to Las Vegas and return.

We rented a Chevy Monte Carlo from Budget rent-a-car at the Las Vegas, McCarran airport and then drove from Las Vegas to southern California. You can basically, get to southern California driving straight south on I-15. The drive to southern California from Vegas takes about 3-4 hours in good traffic, in total it is a about 250 miles.

The hotel I booked for southern California was a Holiday Inn Express. Holiday Inn is my favourite hotel chain to accumulate points from, and I have always found Holiday Inn hotels to be great value. The Holiday Inn Express hotel we stayed at was in Colton, California which is about 1 hour to Long Beach, and a little bit more to get to L.A (Los Angeles). The hotel cost only $76 a night, which was the cheapest good quality hotel around the area, staying closer to Long Beach would have cost a lot more.

The list of activities we had scheduled for our 4 days in southern California were the following:

  • Catalina Island Snorkeling
  • Long Beach beach
  • Outlet Mall Shopping
  • Mini Golf
  • Eat authentic Mexican food
  • I’ve been to Los Angeles quite a few times by myself for business, and once with my wife and we already did the Hollywood, Santa Monica pier, Rodeo drive and Venice Beach thing already. This time we wanted to experience and explore further south of Los Angeles and Catalina Island has been on my list for a long time.

    On the first full day, we went to do some outlet mall shopping at the Ontario Mills Mall in Ontario, California which was located at I-15 and highway 10. Yes for you Canadians living in Ontario, Canada…..there is a place called Ontario in California. The Ontario Mills outlet mall is pretty big and we couldn’t shop the whole afternoon there, so we came back the next day to finish off the outlet mall. With the strong Canadian dollar and almost on par with the U.S dollar there were some pretty good bargains to be found on apparel and shoes at Ontario Mills Mall.

    Ontario Mills Outlet Mall, Ontario, California

    Cabazon was another outlet mall that we went to, it was located further east of Colton, California along highway 10 at the Cabazon highway exit.

    I was mainly shopping for brand name baseball hats, and I refused to pay over $20 for a baseball cap from either Puma, Adidas, Timberland or Nike. At the 2 outlet malls (Ontario Mills & Cabazon) we went to in southern California I was able to get one of each brand of baseball caps for $9.99 – $14.99 USD and they weren’t the cheap quality hats, they were either the ClimaCool and Dri-Fit type that moisture wick and made of breathable materials. In greater Toronto area, you would be paying from $26 – $30 CAD for a Adidas ClimaCool and Nike Dri-Fit type baseball cap.

    My wife and her sister were out to get the deals on apparel and shoes and they prepared a list before the vacation. My wife was able to get pretty much everything on her list, and her younger sister was a total shopaholic…..she must have spent well over $800 USD on all her back to school clothes from such brands as Abercrombie & Fitch, Lacoste, Guess and others. I couldn’t keep up with the girls…man could they shop, they were like shopping robots. It was all good though, because they saved a lot of money and there was no way they can get the apparels at 30 – 60% off back in Toronto. In addition to the savings, my wife and her sister told me that in California they had fashion items that were not available in Canada, therefore way better selection.

    Fiesta Fun Village Mini GolfMini golfing was really fun, and it gave us a chance to be outside and enjoy the California sun. We went to a place called Fiesta Fun Village. It was a very small theme park about 10 minutes away from our Holiday Inn Express hotel and it had two mini golf courses. We played both courses over the span of 2 hours in the sun and got a nice sun tan too.

    Next we went to an authentic Mexican food restaurant near by called Taco Joes. It was a nice little restaurant with lots of items on the menu. I had somekind of fish taco salad (forgot what it was called) and my wife and sister had a chicken burrito and vegetarian burrito. The food was great, much better than Taco Bell, which is like the only Mexican food restaurant in greater Toronto area. There aren’t many authentic Mexican restaurants in Toronto.

    Taco Joes Mexican Restaurant

    Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to make it to the sandy beach in Long Beach, California. However, we go to Catalina Island which is a beautiful island off the coast of Long Beach and Los Angeles area. In order to get to Catalina Island you need to get a large boat and travel about 1 hour west to the island. The boat we took was operated by Catalina Express and it cost $60 USD for a return ticket per person. The boat ride offered some pretty nice views of the downtown Long Beach area and of the old Queen Mary cruiseliner as we were leaving the port. As we got closer to Catalina Island’s Avalon port from the boat the view of Catalina island was beautiful, the island seemed like it was from somekind of tourism brochure for somewhere in the Mediterranean.

    Das Brain and Sister around the dock Catalina IslandOnce we got on the island the first thing we did was head for the cove where we can snorkel. It was a very small cove which didn’t have a sandy beach, but rather rocky beach area. The cove was called “Lovers Cove” and there were a lot of people there snorkeling in the ocean water. From the road view looking down into the greenish ocean water you can see a few large fishes, but nothing colorful, but once you get into the water and start snorkeling around then you can see a large array of different kinds of fishes including some pretty colorful ones. It was my sister-in-laws first time snorkeling in the ocean and she really enjoyed it, as did my wife and I.

    Das Brain and wife on Catalina Island market area

    Next we headed to the market area of Catalina island. This was a wonderful little area with lots of shops and restaurants and it was nice walking around and browsing through the different shops. Afterwards, we walked towards Descanso beach which was a sandy beach area where you can lie on the beach, sun tan and do other activities like rent a kayak and kayak in the ocean. There is also a casino near Descanso beach for anyone who feels the urge to wager some money…we of course did not go to the casino as we were saving our gambling for our latter part of our vacation in Las Vegas .

                              Catalina Island casino

    All in all, our favourite part of southern California was of course Catalina Island it was a nice one day getaway. You really need more than a day to explore and do all of the wonderful outdoor activities. Catalina Island does have hotels and a camp ground for anyone who would like to stay longer than a day. My wife and I would want to stay longer the next time we go there.
    We really enjoyed our time in southern California, but after 4 days we had to say good bye and start our drive north back to Las Vegas.

    Read “Back From Vacation Part 2a – Las Vegas

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    3 Responses to “Back From Vacation Part 1 – Southern California”

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