Although it sits just 26-miles across the sea from Long Beach, Santa Catalina has a faraway feel to it. Charming, peaceful and quaint, the cheerful little island bustles in spring and summer and snoozes in winter.
As you arrive by air or sea, the magical misty green peaks of a mountain range rising from the ocean floor that form this and the other Channel Islands seem to greet you with a smile. Next, your eyes focus on the gleaming buildings climbing the hillside above the Mediterranean-style port of Avalon and its legendary casino. Finally you’ll come into the thriving harbor, alive with pleasure boats and the occasional cruise ship. The picturesque, winding streets of the island are lined with red-tiled houses, boutiques, dive shops, quaint stores, and galleries. Alas, hotel rooms here are in short supply and are pricey during summer; many visitors simply take the ferry over for the day (it takes about an hour).
Catalina Island’s resident population of more than 3,750 is far outnumbered by the influx of up to 12,000 visitors a day, and the town of Avalon, established in 1913, is straining at the seams. Fortunately, most of the island (21 miles long by 8 miles wide) has been preserved in its unspoiled natural state, and traffic is generally limited to golf carts and the buses that transport visitors along the back roads. (You can see even more of the island if you hike
Most of the island has been privately owned since the native Indians were resettled on the mainland in 1811. Avalon was named in 1888 by the sister of an early developer, George Shatto, after the island of Avalon in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the refuge of blessed souls in Celtic mythology. In 1919, William Wrigley Jr., the chewing-gum scion, purchased the Santa Catalina Island Company, built a casino for ballroom dancing in Avalon and a mansion for himself, and established a spring-training camp for his baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. Avalon became a popular tourist spot during the 1930s, but most of the interior of the island and much of the coastline remained undeveloped. A nonprofit conservancy acquired the title to about 88 percent of the island in 1975 and now administers this unique open space in conjunction with the County of Los Angeles.
The native wildlife in Catalina’s underdeveloped interior is extraordinary. It is home to more than 100 species of birds and 400 species of native plant life (including eight types found only on this island, such as the Catalina ironweed, wild tomato, and dudleya hassei, which translates to “live forever”). Herds of wild bison (left by a movie crew several decades ago) roam free over the back region of the island
If you’ve never visited, or are in the mood to return, now is the time with lots of promotions and specials being offered by Catalina Express, the leading boat transportation to and from Catalina Island, such as a free roundtrip on your birthday throughout the rest of this year.
- Villa Portofino Fall Jazz Romance Package--offers rates starting at $169 per person that includesround-trip boat transportation, taxi transfers, continental breakfast, romantic CD, champagne; 15% discount shopping coupon for Island Threadz & Island Style. (888) 510-0555. Click on www.hotelvillaportofino.com.
- A Touch of S Heaven Spa -- enjoy a romantic side by side couples Sweet Thai Massage for $40 off the normal $220 pricc with Centennial certificate at www.ATouchOfHeavenDaySpa.com.
- Jazztrak Festiva special -- Buy a Sunday night Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival ticket and use the certificate to get one free Sunday afternoon session ticket for the first weekend. Call . 866-872-9849 or click on www.jazztrax.com.
- Free Zip Line eco tour—receive a complimentary Zip Line with the purchase of 3 Zip Line tickets. Good for four people to Zip Line together. Propel down 5 separate zips, dropping from 500’ to 60’ above sea level at heart pounding speeds. www.visitcatalinaisland.com.
See why it’s fun to visit to Catalina.