The island of romance
Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me,(26 miles) Santa Catalina
lyrics by The Four Preps
Written by Robin Dohrn-Simpson
Yes, it’s true Santa Catalina Island is 26 miles across the sea from Los Angeles and one of the eight islands in the Channel Island archipelago. Even if you’ve never been, you’ve probably seen it as many movies are set here. Into the Wild, Jaws, Waterworld and Mutiny on the Bounty, to name a few. Today tourists come to the main town of Avalon for day trips and weekend getaways alike. With its warm Mediterranean climate, warm water and colorful garibaldi fish, the island is a perfect water sport destination.
William Wrigley Jr., of chewing gum fame, began developing the island in the 1920’s investing millions of dollars into the infrastructure. He brought the Chicago Cubs here for spring training in 1920 and they stayed for 30 years.
Another major accomplishment of Mr. Wrigley’s is the iconic Catalina Casino, which is the symbol of the island. In operation for almost 100 years, it takes its name casino as a “gathering place”. Interestingly, it has never been a gambling place. It was, however, the first circular building of its time and is an icon of the past times when people would motor over to enjoy dinner and dancing. Today, the fully restored building hosts a variety of events including the famous Jazz Trax Festival in the fall. After 90 years as a haven for movie buffs, the Avalon theatre in the Catalina Casino ended its run as a traditional film venue in 2019. With strong community backing, the theatre will make a return in the near future. Dailey tours are offered and with hopes to offer special events like ‘the Silent Movies’ screening and their annual Catalina Film Festival.
Today, most arrive in Avalon via the high-speed passenger ferry service, Catalina Express that departs from mainland locations such as Dana Point, San Pedro and Long Beach on a variety of boats. You can bring bikes, camping gear and coolers onboard. For current schedules and prices go to https://www.catalinaexpress.com/
Others motor their own boats across the channel. Avalon harbor, Hamilton Cove and Descanso Bay have moorings for rent.
If you are a private pilot and want to fly over, by all means, do it! Airport in the Sky sits high on a mountain in the center of the island.
Avalon village, on the eastern side of the island, wraps around the harbor and is a short walk from the ferry terminal. This walkway extends from the terminal across the bay to the Catalina Opera House. Tile murals dot the walkway. Wrigley, in an attempt to lure tourists in the1920s and 30s, started manufacturing decorative art tiles and that industry continues to this day. Tile murals and fountains are found throughout the village.
Distances are short in Avalon. Most places are walkable, however, if you prefer you can rent a golf cart, bikes or catch a “taxi”. Avalon is clean, safe and full of places to eat, drink and shop.
Things to do
Water sports are a big draw in the island. Scuba and snorkel divers can enjoy reefs and shipwrecks at Lover’s Cove and Descanso Beach. Many divers put-in at the Casino where you can find the Avalon Underwater Dive Park. If you want to see this but don’t want to get wet, take a glass bottom boat tour. Alternatively, if you want to fly over the water you can take up parasailing.
Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens
Ada Wrigley along with horticulturalist Albert Conrad planted the original Desert Plant Collection. You can take a horticulturist tour of the grounds and get the whole story of the California islands endemic plants. The Wrigley Memorial Monument on the property is in memory of Mr. Wrigley.
If you’re really adventuresome, try your hand at zip lining, or take a bus or jeep tour to the interior of the island. You might even run into a bison, or two or three. The bison were brought over for a movie in the early 1920’s and left behind. Currently 150 of these beasts roam the island.
Where to stay on Catalina
The island features a variety of accommodations from intimate Bed and Breakfasts and small inns all the way to a large resort.
The Wrigley Mansion stands on a hillside overlooking the harbor of Avalon and was the family summer home for many years. Today it is a B&B with six suites.
Mr. Wrigley also had his hands in the Hotel Atwater, which was the first hotel he owned. The recently renovated hotel features 95 rooms and suites.
Another Hollywood legend who made a lasting impression is author Zane Grey. In the 1920’s two Zane Grey movies were partially filmed on the island. “The Thundering Herd” was responsible for leaving 14 bison on the island and starting the current herd that roam freely here now. Zane built his pueblo in Avalon. The 16-room Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, built in 1924 and converted to a hotel in 1939, after his passing, offers a glimpse into the past. Enjoy the sweeping views of Avalon Bay as you sit on the balcony with your drink of choice.
Holiday Inn Resort Catalina Island for those who prefer a more resort-style experience. Situated in the hills, off the beaten path, the hotel offers shuttles to the waterfront and restaurant area. If you want a spa experience, the resort offers a spa treatment tailored to your desires. With their own restaurant on-site, you don’t have to leave this paradise if you don’t want to.
Hamilton Cove Vacation Rentals
There’s a new kid in town and it’s a large hillside resort with villas cascading down the mountain ending at a private beach. Enjoy a 1, 2 or 3 bedroom villa with a balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The resort offers all the amenities one would expect such as tennis courts, croquet, a putting course, swimming pools and a fitness center. If you’re looking for a villa to purchase, this is a good starting point.
Where to eat and drink in Avalon
Walk along Crescent Avenue and have your choice of restaurants. Many open-air eateries line the waterfront. Turn inland on any street and find more tantalizing restaurants, walk-up delicatessens or snack shacks. Seafood is a popular draw as is Mexican food.
Some island favorites are Avalon Grille, an elegant steak and seafood restaurant with an excellent menu. One diner recommended the sashimi-grade tuna, citrus, shallots and avocado puree dusted with nori powder and served with tempura nori crisps. That sounds delightful.
The Lobster Trap, a colorfully painted corner restaurant with scenes of Green Pleasure Pier and sea life, offers both seafood and Mexican food. Visitors comment on the delicious smell of bacon and crustaceans barbecued as they walked by. Bacon wrapped shrimp is a favorite as is the clam chowder.
The Cottage Restaurant is famous for their breakfasts. The Chef’s Mess Omelet with six eggs and eight ingredients along with potatoes, biscuits and gravy and toast. It’s enough to feed even the hungriest person. The menu is extensive and surely anyone who loves breakfast or brunch will find something they enjoy on their menu.
In the mood for tacos and a margarita? How about Coyote Joe’s. This restaurant is open from 11am-11pm. That is great news right there. If you get a late start for dinner, it is not a problem this eatery will be open. Their menu is extensive with all your Mexican favorites, and they also offer a variety of seafood dishes. If you’ve never tried California’s famous fish tacos, this would be a great place to try one- or two.
Catalina Island Brew House, loved for their coffee and an egg and cheese breakfast croissant in the morning or brew (or two) and a pretzel for a snack. Sit on their patio and people-watch with a local brew.
For more information on Catalina Island go to: https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/
Catalina’s Other Side, Two Harbors
There is another side of Catalina Island, the western side. Not as well traveled, smaller and accessible by ferry from San Pedro or by bus or boat from Avalon on the Discover Two Harbors Cyclone Power Boat.
The rustic village of Two Harbors is a favorite for surfers since the waves are bigger over here. The two favorite surf spots are Shark Harbor and Ben Weston Beach. This side of the island is more casual with summer camps for families and children.
There are three main lodging choices here Banning House Lodge, Villa Santa Rosa and Villa Santa Cruz.
Water sports are popular here with kayak and stand-up paddle board rentals, diving, fishing and mountain biking. For those wanting to lounge, visit Harbor Sands and grab a palapa complete with beach chairs, towels and fruit smoothies or a lounge chair and relax. Enjoy beachfront dining at the Harbor Reef Restaurant.
For more information go to: https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/two-harbors/
Covid compliate list: https://www.lovecatalina.com/covid-19/open-retail-locations/
A tropical heaven out in the ocean covered with trees and girls.
If I have to swim I’d do it forever till I’m gazin’ on those island pearls.
Forty kilometers in a leaky old boat,
Any old thing that’ll stay afloat.
When we arrive we’ll all promote romance, romance, romance.
Santa Catalina lyrics by The Four Preps