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Catalina Island (California) Overview
Catalina, third largest of the Channel Islands, feels like a world away.
Twenty-two miles west into the Pacific from Los Angeles, the island combines natural beauty with a wide range of amenities and activities. With over fifty miles of shoreline, secluded coves and dramatic views, this destination has earned a reputation as "the island of romance."
Fittingly, Avalon, Catalina's mile-square port city, is named for an island paradise in the King Arthur legend. Catalina's most famous landmark, the 1929 Art Deco Casino, dominates the waterfront. Rows of shops, restaurants and hotels stretch along Crescent Avenue and up into narrow streets dotted with bougainvillea-framed bungalows. Most of the town's attractions are within comfortable walking distance from the pier - snorkeling, kayaking, dining and shopping.
The good news is that Catalina's charms should be enjoyed for years to come. The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, a non-profit organization, owns and manages over 80% of the 76-square-mile island, a gift from the family of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. The Conservancy's holdings include Catalina's rugged interior and most of the coastline. Its goal is to restore and preserve the island's natural state.
Catalina is a relaxed, friendly island with a Mediterranean feel, easy to explore on foot or by golf cart. Its rich marine life and clear calm waters make it a popular destination for water sports, from fishing and wake boarding to snorkeling and kayaking.
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Other Mexican Riviera Cruise Ports:
Acapulco • Cabo San Lucas • Catalina Island (California) • Ensenada • Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo • La Paz • Manzanillo • Mazatlan • Monterey • Puerto Vallarta
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The U.S. dollar is the official currency and ATMs are plentiful.
Buffalo Milk: A frothy blend of vodka, Kahlua, fresh banana and coconut milk served at Armstrong's Fish Market (the drink is named in honor of a herd of some 300 buffalo, descendants of animals brought here as movie extras in 1925, which still roam Catalina's interior).
Where You're Docked
Catalina's port is too small for cruise ships. Instead, ships anchor outside the harbor and tender passengers to Green Pleasure Pier in the center of downtown Avalon.
Green Pleasure Pier is a hub of activity. It's home to the Visitors Bureau, as well as rentals for motorboats, wave runners and fishing equipment. Glass bottom boat tours and semi-submersible tours launch from here. For years, the pier has been Avalon's official weigh station for sport fishermen, including Zane Grey, Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin. Nearby Crescent Avenue is a pleasant place to window shop and enjoy an ice cream cone.
Insider's Tip: On weekdays, tourists easily mingle with the island's 3,800 year-round residents. But on weekends and during the summer, it can be tough to find a place to lay your beach towel. To escape the crowds, bring your mask and snorkel on a short walk from the boat dock to the preserve at Lover's Cove. With no fishing or boat anchorage allowed, the Cove is rich in marine life. Or visit Little Harbor on the southwest shore, reached by Catalina Safari Shuttle Bus. Rugged waves crash on two beautiful sandy beaches at this secluded cove.
Cars are limited on Catalina (there's a 8-10 year waiting list to own a car on the island). Most folks walk or rent golf carts and bicycles, the preferred modes of transportation. Even the sheriff drives a golf cart fitted with a siren and special high-speed gears (about $30/hour for carts for those 25 and older with a driver's license; $10/hour for bikes).
The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden: After chewing gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr. bought a majority interest in Catalina in 1919, he proceeded to ferry guests by steamship to his hotel and Casino. The Memorial in his honor offers dramatic views of Avalon Bay. Wrigley's wife Ada planned the peaceful 37 acre garden that features endemic plants like the rare Catalina Ironwood (1400 Avalon Canyon Road, open 8 am to 5 pm daily).
Casino:In the 1930's and 1940's, big bands and musicians like Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman played for thousands of dancers at this 12 story, art deco building. Though those glamorous days are over, the elegant ballroom with its fifty foot ceiling and Tiffany chandelier still draws crowds for concerts, weddings and annual October jazz festival. Other highlights include the 1,200-seat movie theater, with its classic pipe organ and murals, Catalina Island Museum featuring a collection of Native American artifacts, photos and pottery, and Catalina Art Association gallery. Be sure to check out the view of the harbor and mainland from the terrace.
Chimes Tower: In 1925, Ada Wrigley presented this tower, located near the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, to the town of Avalon. Ever since, the chimes have been tolling on the quarter of the hour between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Catalina Island Golf Course: In 1892, the Banning brothers built this course, the first in Southern California. A very young Tiger Woods played here, as did Craig Stadler and Amy Alcott (green fees are $27 for 9 holes, $48 for 18 holes, www.scico.com).
Interior: Most of Catalina's interior remains rugged and uninhabitable, like it was over 450 years ago when Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo arrived. To see this wild side of the island, The Catalina Island Conservancy (www.catalinaconservancy.org) offers a half-day, 4-wheel drive jeep tour to the island's interior. A knowledgeable naturalist points out endemic plants as well as buffalo, bald eagles, foxes, and squirrels.
Been There, Done That
Take a Dive: With its easy entry and shallow depths, the Casino Point Marine Park is a great place to take a scuba lesson or join a guided dive. In addition to giant kelp, a sunken 70-foot schooner and artificial reefs provide habitats for marine life like bright orange garibaldi, calico bass, and lobster (www.catalinadiverssupply.com).
Escape to Two Harbors: Located at the island's windward side, about 18 land miles and 12 nautical miles west of Avalon, this village of 150 people features an isthmus on one side and Catalina Harbor on the other. A hike to the top of the cliffs overlooking the isthmus rewards visitors with views of both sides of the island. Or take a half-day rafting "cruise," (www.catalinaoceanrafting.com), whose highlights may be spotting sea caves, bald eagles, harbor seals and flying fish.
Paddle past pelicans, topside, by kayak (www.kayakcatalinaisland.com). There are kayaks built for two, open deck kayaks for beginners and intermediates as well as decked kayaks for experienced ocean kayakers.
Seafood: Along with a sushi bar, Flip's Saltwater Bar & Grill features live music (128 Catalina Avenue). On the deck at Armstrong's Fish Market, enjoy lunch favorites like fresh swordfish and mahi-mahi (306 Crescent). For fish and chips or seafood cocktail, stop by Avalon Seafood, known locally as Rosie's (end of Green Pleasure Pier, spring to fall).
Italian: Cafe Prego offers plentiful portions of homemade pasta and fresh seafood, an extensive list of California and Italian wines, and a harbor view (603 Crescent Avenue). Ristorante Villa Portofino serves similar selections (101 Crescent).
Desserts: Satisfy your sweet tooth with saltwater taffy and caramel apples at Lloyds of Avalon Confectionery (315 Crescent). Nearby is a new Cold Stone Creamery (118 Sumner Street).
Staying in Touch
Tradewinds Internet Cafe & Expresso Bar serves up lattes and cappuccinos along with its four terminals and one laptop. The Internet rate is $12 per hour or $3 for fifteen minutes (119 Sumner Street).
Coastal Whale Watching Adventure: January to March, experience majestic gray whales from an ocean-going power inflatable. Duration: 2 hours. Price: $59 for adults, $45 for children.
Coastal Eco Rafting Adventure: April to December, explore ten miles of Catalina's coastline, including sea lions and harbor seals. The trip finishes with a dolphin search several miles offshore. Duration: 2 hours. Price: $59 for adults, $45 for children.
Avalon Inland Motor Tour: Among the highlights of this bus tour is an Arabian horse demonstration at El Rancho Escondido, the Wrigley family's working ranch. Duration: 3 hours 45 minutes. Price: $47.25 adults, $23.75 for children.
Avalon Casino Tour: The guided tour includes a history of the building's construction, ballroom and Avalon Theatre. Duration: 55 minutes. Price: $12.75 for adults, $6.50 for seniors. Offered by Royal Caribbean.
For More Information
Visit www.catalina.com, or call 310-510-1520
Visit www.catalinaconservancy.org, or call 310-510-2595
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