Archive for October, 2014

“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is awaiting for me.  Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance.”   And so the song from the 1950’s begins.  However from what I can determine Catalina is only 22 miles from the mainland but still a fun or romantic place to visit.  The island is very Mediterranean in appearance and although you feel far away from the U.S., this island, part of the Channel Islands, belongs to California. So if you find yourself in Los Angeles sometime, think about a trip over to the island.

Catalina is a 76-square-mile island about 80% undeveloped.  This is partly due to the semi arid desert soil filled with cactus, especially prickly pear.  The temperatures are pretty steady year round with winter averages about 65 degrees and summer around 75 degrees with lows between 50-60 degrees.  The island gets about 14” of rain a year and this is crucial since the water supply is dependent on the rainfall.

The only town on the island is Avalon with a population of 3,800.  However weekends and summer the population swells to 10,000.  Avalon was named for an island paradise in the King Arthur legend.  There is also a rustic village called Two Harbors (with a population of
150) which has a B&B and a campground.

From Avalon, there are vehicles that can take you the eighteen miles to Two Harbors
on the only road that cuts through the island but your best option is to take a boat or helicopter from the “airport in the sky.”

Boats and helicopters are, of course, the main way you arrive on the island.  An occasional cruise ship stops but there is not a deep enough pier so you have to tender to get to shore.  There are four different places to catch the high speed ferries that will take you a little over an hour to reach Catalina.  They are San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.  There are
also three airports that have helicopter service: Long Beach, San Pedro and Orange County.

However you get there, when you see the Green Pier, you know you have arrived.  And if you decide to stay overnight you have a choice of oceanfront hotels, usually three or four stories high, private condos, beach houses, B&Bs, or camp sites.  However, I suggest a reservation, especially on weekends and peak times.  And then there is the Inn on Mt. Ada.  In peak times it might take you up to a year to get a reservation in this Wrigley Mansion of yesteryear.  The Inn has won awards from Conde Nast, Fodor’s, Trip Advisor, and Forbes.  A complimentary golf cart (the main means of transportation on the island) is included in your stay as well as breakfast and lunch.  However no children under 14 years of age are allowed.

The island was inhabited by Native Americans for over 7,000 years but the first known European explorer came in 1542.  Sixty years later another explorer from Spain named the island after St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Modern day development did not begin until The Banning Brothers purchased the island
in 1894.  In 1898, the Avalon Tuna Club, the oldest fishing club in the U.S., was founded and begin attracting many famous men like Zane Grey, John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, and Winston Churchill.

After a devastating fire in 1915, the brothers never recovered their investment and
sold the island in 1919 to William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate.  He used his wealth to develop Avalon into one of the most unique island resorts in the country.

In 1921, Wrigley started bringing the Chicago Cubs for spring training and this
continued for thirty years.  Fourteen buffalo were brought to the island to film a classic Zane Grey movie and still roam around today in the back country.

In 1928 Wrigley started construction of the famous Catalina Casino which
took a year to complete.  The building was designed with a ballroom over a 1200 seat movie theater in the Moorish Alhambra style with Art Deco fixtures.  In the 1940’s and 1950s all the famous Big Bands played at the Casino on weekends.  It is such a unique looking building; it,
along with the green Pier, is a symbol of Catalina.

Many Hollywood stars in the 1940s and 1950s came to play on the island.  Humphrey Bogart was often seen and Norma Jeane lived on the island before she became Marilyn Monroe.  This is also where Robert Wagner and Natalie Woopd’s boat was anchored when she drowned.

There are many events on the island from music to races to sports and something seems
to be going on every weekend.  There is no place like the casino for the JazzTrax Festival and every September the Catalina Film Festival takes place there.

Besides sitting back and relaxing what can the average tourist do on the island?  In addition to relaxing on the beaches, you can rent a golf cart for a two hour ride around the hills of Avalon—but watch out for all the tourist drivers.  For those who like water adventures there is a glass bottom boat, a semi-submersible submarine tour, kayaks and paddleboards, snorkeling, diving, jet skiing, fishing, or parasailing.  For land adventures there is hiking, biking, a climbing wall and a zipline.  You can also visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden or the Nature Center in Avalon Canyon.

As the song continues, “water all around you everywhere” Catalina is a relaxed
friendly island easy to explore on foot or golf cart.  And while you are there, don’t forget to eat
some fresh seafood found in most restaurants.

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