A mere 22 miles off the coast of southern California is an island paradise surrounded by crystal clear water. Santa Catalina Island is a destination that offers the charm of a Mediterranean village and the laid back appeal of a 1950’s beach town.
Travel from the mainland is fast, easy and convenient by boat, plane or helicopter. For a fun experience, sail onboard The Catalina Express. The high riding speed boat leaves daily from four ports; Dana Point, Long Beach Downtown Catalina Landing, Long Beach at the Queen Mary and San Pedro, berth 95 and takes about one hour. Sit inside or to feel the ocean breezes, enjoy the outside upper deck. As the breathtaking sight of Catalina Island comes into view so does its only city: Avalon. Nestled into the hillside and although only one square mile Avalon offers plenty to see and do.
Escape to Catalina Island
Arriving at the boat terminal, known as Cabrillo Mole, take time to enjoy the view of Catalina’s crescent shaped shoreline, its sandy main beach and quaint boardwalk of shops and restaurants. It is here your island adventure begins with a scenic city tour. Both the Catalina Adventure tour Co. and the Discovery tour Co. offer a 50-minute tour beginning on the islands only coastal road and winding into the hills passing Mount Ada at 400 feet. Here you will see various city landmarks including the Avalon Casino, the original Wrigley estate, Avalon Canyon, the Catalina golf course and many historic houses in the Avalon hills.
After the tour, head to the Green Pier, (yes, it is an actual pier) located in the middle of town . Stop at the visitor’s center to ask any “Catalina” questions or pick up brochures. For lunch head just a few steps to Eric’s On the Pier. This casual, sit outside burger place dates back to 1929, and is one of the most popular places in town. It is also the perfect spot for people watching while enjoying lunch with choices ranging from a buffalo burger and clam chowder to fish and chips and tacos.
Afterwards, head directly across the street to Crescent Avenue, where there is plenty of shopping. The street is filled from one end to the other with specialty shops, boutiques and galleries offering everything from clothing and jewelry to gift items and fine art. The Metropole Market Place offers a charming French Quarter atmosphere filled with specialty stores and eateries.
To view Catalina art at its best visit the Ruth Mayer Gallery. Her artwork encompasses international as well as local scenes. A fun stop is Leo’s Catalina Drugstore. Don’t let the name throw you, because once inside this friendly corner drugstore you will find everything from beach items, toys, gifts, souvenirs to health supplies.
No trip to Catalina is complete without trying some of the Islands delicious saltwater taffy. Watch it being made right in the store front window at Lloyd’s of Avalon.
After browsing and shopping, enjoy a short walk to the historic Casino Building where the Catalina Island Museum is located on the ground floor. Take your time to learn about Catalina’s unique cultural heritage through the many exhibits that include the time of Spanish explorers, the steamship era, and big band era. Other interesting information includes the Wrigley influence, as in William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate. Wrigley bought the island in 1919 and then brought his baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, here for spring training for 30 years. Many famous personalities have enjoyed Catalina, such as Marilyn Monroe who once called it home.
As the dinner hour approaches, head five minutes from the center of town to the Catalina Country Club. Perched above the city is a fine dining experience you won’t soon forget. From the lovely patio and courtyard, to the mission- style dining room, with its arched windows, large chandeliers and grand fireplace, the ambiance is of refined elegance. The executive chef, Kathleen Vojkovich-Bombard has worked her magic with a fine selection of choices on her extended menu. The shaved vegetable salad, lobster bisque, caramelized diver scallops and the Niman Ranch French pork chops are just a few of the many worthy selections. The extensive wine list compliments the menu and the most discerning wine palates.
As the end of a wonderful day draws near on Catalina Island, take a short walk through town to the luxurious boutique Avalon Hotel. Before retiring to your room, head to the roof-top deck for one more glance of paradise and the night sky. Whether your stay is one perfect day, a romantic getaway weekend or a relaxing week vacation you are sure to have a great island experience.
What and Where:
Catalina Express (310-519-1212 or reservations 800-464-4228)
Cabrillo Mole (east end of Avalon harbor)
Catalina Adventure Tours (tickets at Green Pier or Cabrillo Mole;
Discovery Tours (Green Pier; 310-510-TOUR)
Green Pier (Catalina Ave. and Crescent Ave.; 310-510-1520)
Visitors Center (#1 Green Pleasure Pier; 310-510-1520)
Eric’s On the Pier (Catalina St. on Green Pier; 310-510-0894)
Metropole Marketplace (205 Crescent Ave.)
Ruth Mayer Gallery (116 Sumner Ave.; 310-510-8318)
Leo’s Catalina Drugstore (401 Crescent Ave.; 310-510-0189)
Lloyd’s of Avalon (corner of Crescent Ave. and Front Street; 310-510-7266)
Catalina Island Museum (one casino way; 310-510-2414)
Catalina Country Club (101 Country Club Dr.; 310-510-7404)
Avalon Hotel (124 Whittley; 310-510-7070)
Penny Williams is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer and photographer living in Palm Springs. She has traveled to many cities and countries photographing people, places and things. Her favorite photos are the casual photos of children and landscapes. Her love of writing includes children’s stories as well as travel pieces.