Forty-six miles away from the ever busy city of Los Angeles is Santa Catalina Island, California. This island, more commonly known as simply Catalina Island, has what would seem to be very little to show for when compared to Los Angeles. It doesn’t have all fast foods and stoplights, celebrities and celebrity chefs, or busy roads with lots of traffic. You won’t see a lot of fancy cars, extravagant venues and shows, or an endless variety of lights and glitter to keep you entertained…
However, for what it doesn’t have, it has been able to make up for with its vintage seaside charm. You will cherish the serenity of taking a break from your busy lifestyle. Catalina Island is a destination point for many people and families who have a desire to relax and enjoy beautiful natural scenes and landscape at its best. It enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the best wishes wishes of its residents and guests. It’s a different world at Catalina Island…being there gives you the feeling of traveling back in time.
This rocky island is located off the coast of California in the Gulf of Santa Catalina. It spans about 22 miles long and 8 miles wide. At 2,097 feet, mount Orizaba is its highest point. The Native American Tongva tribe originally settled on the island at least 8,000 years ago. Catalina Island had its previous name as Pimugna with people living on it referred to as Pimugnan.
However, things started changing on the island at the first arrival of the Europeans. Explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovered the island claiming it for Spain. It was claimed later on by Mexico and finally the United States of America.
On the eve of St Catherine’s Day, in 1602, the second Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino sighted the island and renamed it Santa Catalina. He did this in the honor of Saint Catherine. The island was mainly used for otter hunting, gold digging and smuggling for most of the years following this period. This was all until the 1920s when William Wrigley Jr. developed it into a tourist destination.
In 1975, Philip Wrigley, who was his son, deeded 42,135 acres to the Catalina Island Conservancy which had been established with his help in 1972. Hence, the conservancy gained control of approximately 90 percent of the island.
More about Catalina Island
Although Catalina Island is one of the eight channel islands, it not listed among the Channel Islands National Park. The islands of the park include Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara Islands. Located in Los Angeles County, the island has two main destination points for tourists and visitors – Avalon and Two Harbors. Both are extremely popular destinations for tourists and offer a wide variety of places to stay and things to do.
The city of Avalon is the energetic and busy part of the island consisting of cruise ship visitors, gift shops, restaurants and tours. It serves as the only incorporated city found on the island. If you come to the island using a high-speed Catalina Island ferry, you will get docked at Cabrillo Mole boat landing. This landing is just a short walking distance to the main part of the town.
From there, you can find luggage service to help you get your belongings to town and a variety of Catalina Island hotels and other places to stay. Surrounding the actual bay is the Crescent Avenue which is really a mall for pedestrians. It’s located between Metropole Avenue and Clarissa Avenue and is a very scenic place. Often, hundreds of boats sit anchored the harbor creating a festive atmosphere.
This part of Catalina Island provides tourists with lots of things to do. You can visit the Wrigley Mansion, ride a glass bottom boat, and see the historic Catalina Island Museum. You can tour the Botanic Gardens and perhaps even hike to the ridge which gives you a view of the other side of the island.
Another favorite of Avalon is the Catalina Casino and Descanso Beach Club (just beyond the casino). This is a very private beach where you can rent out a cabana and relax throughout the day. You can either watch the water sports or actually take part in them.
Avalon has a population of 3,728 residents (according to 2010 census). The older part of the town consists of small houses and buildings in different architectural styles. The city attracts over 1 million tourists annually ranging from individuals to film stars. These visitors often come in cruise ships, but the area maintains its charm and allure to this day.
Also known as the Isthmus Cove, this part of Catalina Island is a sleepy harbor located on the island’s west end. The town of Two Harbors consists of some some small lodges, a B&B, and a campground. There is also a snack bar, one restaurant and a general store.
The town sits on a narrow strip of land separating Isthmus Cove and Cat Harbor on different sides. The name “Two Harbors” was derived from being in-between these two harbors. The village is just a 10 minute walk once you’re on dry land. There you’ll find boaters approaching from the backside of the island as well.
Cat Harbor is known for being an all-weather harbor due to its wind protection from almost all sides. This gives it a consistent and pleasant breeze. This part of the island provides outdoor lovers with the perfect host for activities.
The Dive and Recreation Center provides all the necessary things needed for mountain biking, camping, fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking. If you prefer a nice place to relax in the warm sun with a cool ocean breeze, the Harbor Sands is a great option. It features several “palapas” which are traditional Mexican shelters have palm leaves and branches as roofs. There, you can enjoy Harbor Reef Restaurant which can serve you food and drinks right at the beach.
Two Harbors was a station for members of the Union army during the Civil War with their barracks still standing to date. Many Hollywood movies were filmed on it so that it is now often referred to as the “Isthmus Movie Colony”.
Currently, the Catalina Island Conservancy monitors and maintains about 150 American bison that wander in the outlying areas of the harbor. They were originally brought in for the filming of “The Vanishing American”, a movie based on Zane Grey’s novel. However, the herd was left to fend for themselves after filming since the crew couldn’t round them up after the production.
Catalina Island is very weather friendly. It has an extremely mild climate which boasts warm temperatures most of the years. According to the National Weather Service, the average temperature of the island in January is a maximum of 58.4 °F and a minimum of 47.6 °F. The average high in the heat of the summer in July is 78.1 °F with an average low of 60.0 °F.
It only rains a few days a year with virtually none occurring in the summer months from May through September. Annual precipitation averages less than 12 inches per year, a feature which compliments the Mediterranean climate. Visitors don’t need to worry about the weather too much because the are rarely caught in the rain.
Catalina Island did not originally have a lot of land animals because it was never connected to the mainland. This means that for any plant or animal which arrived on the island, they must have found their way across miles of ocean. Despite this, Catalina is home to at least fifty endemic species; these species occur naturally on the island and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The limited distribution of these creatures makes them endangered and at risk of becoming extinct.
Some of the most common plants on the island are coastal sage scrub, island oak-ironwood, grassland, and chaparral scrub. The most introduced species on the island is the Eucalyptus tree. Today, up to 400 species of native plants grow on the island.
World Famous Bison
Early in the 20th century, bison were brought to the island by film-makers who originally shot footage and then set them free afterward. Authorities on the island closely control the general population of these animals. Since they can be dangerous, any bison tours of the herds are done with professional guides and transportation.
The tours go through some rugged interior terrain, but also include areas with other featured wildlife. These include the viewing of very exotic and rare birds which are part of the island’s mystique.
Catalina Island is also a habitat to five native land mammals. These are the island fox, California ground squirrel, the Slevin’s mouse (Catalina deer mouse), the ornate shrew and the western harvest mouse. And, the Catalina Island Conservancy boasts of 37 resident species of birds on the island.
Over a million people on average travel to Catalina Island every year. The official Catalina Island Visitor’s Center is located at the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon. It is managed by the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau. They provide guests with an in-depth visitor’s guide and can answer any questions. If you are looking for tours and activities, one of the most popular tour companies is Tour Catalina located in Avalon.
Tourist attractions include a wide variety of activities including glass bottom boat tours of the reefs and shipwrecks of the area. There is scuba diving and snorkeling in the clear water and renting the electric bikes to see the city. Tourist can visit the tranquil Lover’s cove which walking distance from Avalon. There are also several casinos including the very popular Catalina Casino. Add to this seeing the area’s flying fish and you still have just scratched the surface of things to do.
Jeep and Bus Eco Tours involve an interior experience of the island where a guide will drive you into the most remote places of the island that many people have not seen. The Catalina Island Conservancy manages these conservation areas. You’ll gain an in-depth educational experience learning fascinating history about the island.
Some tourists find time to go surfing and there are two beaches that offer good waves perfect for this – Shark Harbor and Ben Weston Beach. Other visitors with kids enjoy Emerald Bay on the north end of the island which offers summer camps for Boy Scouts and children.
Of course, the city of Avalon has a number of options for beaches. South Beach, Middle Beach and Step Beach are found there. South Beach is a small area and known for its surges whenever the tide comes in. Step Beach is just north of the Green Pleasure Pier and is even smaller. Finally, Descanso beach is a private facility open to the public. It is located just past the Catalina Casino.
Catalina Island also has a museum called the Catalina Island Museum. This museum started functioning in its standalone building in 2016 and is an attraction for tourists. It preserves the island’s cultural heritage having collected over 100,000 items. These include artifacts from over 8,000 years of Native American history. It also houses over 10,000 photographs and images as well as a large collection of pottery, ship models and tiles made in Catalina.
How to Get to Catalina Island
The main transportation service to Catalina Island is by ferry. These vessels launch from San Pedro and Long Beach in Los Angeles County and Dana Point in Orange County. It takes approximately one hour to complete this trip and is the most popular way to get to Catalina Island. The Catalina Express offers year-round service with up to 30 departures daily.
There are also helicopter services available from San Pedro, Long Beach, Orange County, and Burbank. These services land at Pebbly Beach heliport near Avalon which is just a short taxi ride away. IEX Helicopters offers a variety of services and tours.
This is a great way to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the panoramic beauty of the island with a much quicker trip from the mainland. Also, you can even add in a helicopter tour of the remotest parts of Catalina Island as part of the journey. This makes for a fascinating start to anyone’s vacation!
Visitors can always take a Catalina Island cruise. Several cruise lines have been active in the area since the 1990s and offer a more laid-back approach for travel. Some of these are Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises with Carnival making the most number of calls to Catalina weekly.
Catalina Island also hosts an Airport – Catalina Airport with its FAA identifier as AVX. It was founded and built in 1946 by Dick Probert with his partner Jean Chisolm. This airport is referred to as “Airport in the Sky”. The Avalon Air Transport came into being shortly thereafter in 1953 and operated a single Grumman G-21 Goose. The airport is located 7 miles northwest of Avalon. It boasts of a 3,250-foot-long runway sitting on a mountain top 1,602 feet above sea level.
Getting Around on Catalina Island
Unlike most every other community or city in the Unites States, the use of vehicles is restricted. There’s a limit to the number of cars registered to use on the island. A greater number of the residents make use of golf carts. Also, visitors can use a taxi, bicycle or golf cart from the rental agencies on the island.
Around town, golf carts flood the streets as the preferred method of transportation. As a result, the environment is much cleaner and there is a much quieter atmosphere. No loud engines here to disrupt the serenity of the island.
Also popular are electric bicycles. These environmentally-friendly vehicles provide just the right solution for navigating the streets and other area of Catalina Island. Visitors can rent these at one of the many bike rental establishments on the island such as Catalina Bikes.
There are several agencies readily available to respond to any emergency on Catalina Island. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is stationed in Avalon to serve the island. There’s also the Los Angeles County Fire Department. There are two fire stations on the island; one is just outside Avalon and the other in the remote part of Two Harbors.
Additionally, you can find paramedic and lifeguard services provided by the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Lifeguard Division. This division is also referred to as “Baywatch”. There’s also a medical center located in Avalon that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Catalina Island is a great place for relaxation with fine places to stay and receive great hospitality services. Getting to the island is part of the fun and sets the stage for anyone’s visit. Once you have arrived, there is no shortage of recreation with a lot of things to do. Its unique location allows for the preservation of the native island splendor while allowing for an amazing adventure.
Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and wide variety of activities and take a step back in time. Memorable moments are in store for you in this island paradise where every day is an adventure. Top it all off with an evening of relaxation or on the town. No matter which way you look at it, Catalina Island is a beautiful place to be.
Travel planning is important so that you can get the most out of your visit. There is so much to do and see that being organized from the start pays off. Explore all the options and things to do before you embark on our trip. It’s easy to put together a wonderful vacation package custom-tailored to everyone’s interests. So make out time to visit Catalina and you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor!