Destinations Magazine

Breathing in the Beauty of Santa Catalina Island

By Davedtc @davedtc
The Casino in Avalon

The landmark Casino building in Avalon

Getting Here
Catalina Express has transported millions of people between the mainland and Avalon or Two Harbors in their 30+ years of being in business. They leave from three locations: under the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, from along the waterfront near the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and from the harbor at Dana Point in Orange County. The trip is a little over an hour each way. The closest of these three ports to LAX is San Pedro. If traffic is moving – expect the drive to San Pedro to take 35 minutes from the airport. Up to an hour if traffic is bad.

Birthday special! You may find an unusual number of people celebrating their birthday on the Island. Catalina Express is the reason for this unique phenomenon! This promotion of riding free on your birthday was originally created to commemorate the city of Avalon’s 100th anniversary but has been extended through April 30, 2014.

To purchase tickets and for more information about their services and scheduling visit: www.catalinaexpress.com
 

Important Notes
While on the island we learned the following:

- Santa Catalina Island is a part of Los Angeles County

- 14 bison left on the island in 1924 by a film company now number around 150 animals and they freely roam much of the natural part of the island

- The island is 22 miles long and the narrowest part of the island is just a little over 1/4 mile across (the isthmus)

- The Chicago Cubs baseball team trained on Catalina Island from 1921 to 1951

- About 4000 people live on the island, approximately 3,700 in Avalon around 200 in Two Harbors and the remainder scattered about

- The iconic “casino” building has never been a Casino – rather it is a historic movie theater with a large ballroom

- There is one commercially producing vineyard on the island (Santa Catalina Island Vineyard)

- There is a waiting list to have vehicles on the island (currently limited to 300)

- Many of the residents get around Avalon on golf carts

- An alcoholic drink developed on the island is called “Buffalo Milk” (no it doesn’t contain actual milk from the local Bison!)

- The highest point on the island is Mt. Orizaba at 2,097 feet

- Over 200 people have successfully swam the San Pedro Channel – between mainland California and Catalina Island

Cactus Flowers
Cactus Flowers
Hiking the interior
Hiking the interior
Beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean
Beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean
Hiking towards Two Harbors
Hiking towards Two Harbors


Stay
While Avalon is easily walkable – it is hard to beat the location of the Pavilion Hotel. It is located on Crescent Ave directly across from the Avalon Harbor and mere minutes walking from where the Catalina Express docks. Aside from this perfect location – many excellent services add up to create an enjoyable stay. A representative meets you at the dock to carry your bags. iPads are available for use on the property. Every afternoon a complimentary wine and cheese pairing is offered for guests. During a stay here, you don’t want to be anywhere else – after a glass or two of wine, you *really* don’t want to be anywhere else. From the patio, enjoy views of the picture perfect made for a “post card” harbor just beyond the white fence at the entrance to the hotel.

There is no pool on the property but the large garden courtyard helps make up for this. It is the perfect place to sunbathe and relax among a natural setting. When you warm up here in the sun – you are merely a minute walk from the harbor and its refreshingly cool and clear waters. To book a stay at this property visit: www.visitcatalinaisland.com/avalon/hote_pavilionHotel.php
 

Do
Many people visit Catalina as a day trip and limited by time, they remain in Avalon. However a multi-day trip allows one the luxury of time to explore other parts of the island and participate in a number of both land and sea based activities. The smartest decision, Philip Wrigley ever made (the son of the chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley) was to establish the Catalina Island Conservancy in 1972 and then donate much of the island to this organization. As a result, most of the island remains in its natural state. If it weren’t for Mr. Wrigley’s foresight, based on its proximity to populous Los Angeles – it is certainly conceivable this island would have been turned into a luxury haven, with condos and other homes lining its steep hillsides.

Diving/Snorkeling – the Casino Point Dive Park is located directly in front of the casino. This is a protected marine sanctuary. There is good visibility here and often a variety of fish – both colorful, large and small. The “Catalina tradition” is to bring some frozen peas with you – the fish love eating these and soon large numbers will gather around you under water. Lovers Cove – just around from where the Catalina Express boats dock has excellent snorkeling – based on being located outside of the main harbor. The other side of the island – a reef between “bird island” and Catalina near Two Harbors is also a popular dive spot.

Two Harbors bay
Two Harbors bay
Buffalo Milk at Harbor Reef, Two Harbors
Buffalo Milk at Harbor Reef, Two Harbors
View from Helicopter
View from Helicopter
View of Avalon from Helicopter
View of Avalon from Helicopter

Dessert at Avalon Grille
Dessert at Avalon Grille
The famous Casino at night
The famous Casino at night
Avalon Harbor
Avalon Harbor
The Casino in Avalon
The Casino in Avalon


Helicopter – for over 30 years, Island Express has been touring people around the island as well as bringing people over from San Pedro, Long Beach and now from Santa Ana. Catalina can certainly be experienced from the ground as well as from the ocean – but what better way to see the island and its rugged beauty from the air – or quickly get to “remote” parts of the island. They offer set packages including a 30 minute scenic tour of the island as well as custom flight options. The main heli port on the island is in Pebbly Beach, minutes from Avalon. The helicopters land on a select number of locations on the island – for hiking as well as near Two Harbors.

A highly recommended tour that includes both stunning views from the air and the remoteness of the interior of the island is to take a helicopter to Empire Landing – then hike 5.5 miles across the interior of the island to Two Harbors. Once you arrive in town, enjoy a Buffalo Milk drink at Harbor Reef Restaurant or a swim or just spend some time beach-side under a palm tree with a good book. Then let the helicopter whisk you back to Avalon above much of the beautiful coastline on the backside of the island.

Visit: www.islandexpress.com

Hiking – the 37 mile Trans Catalina Trail covers the entire length of the island – it is fairly new having opened in 2009. Most people take the hike slowly – 4-5 days – all camping must be in established campgrounds. You will see bison, deer and possibly bald eagles. You may even see the small and cute endemic Santa Catalina island fox (about the size of a cat).

Miniature Golf – this course has been here for nearly 40 years – it was the initial activity I participated in when visiting the island for the first time 15 years ago. This course doesn’t get tiring – it is fun for young and old alike. It is a challenging 18-hole course with holes ranging from par 1 through par 6. Some holes are even multi level. The course is planted with native vegetation – and signs are included with more information about these plants as well as each hole. Par is 51 and the course record is 41. A chart indicates the quality of your final score – a score of 100+ earns you a salty statement: “tennis anyone?!”

Two Harbors – while Avalon seems so small and remote compared to the millions of people that live 22 miles across the ocean on the mainland – Two Harbors seems even “miles” away and time removed from Avalon. Most people on the island live in Avalon – and most visitors never leave its cozy and picturesque confines. If Avalon seems busy – Two Harbors seems more like a small village. You come here to relax – most people arrive by boat. The primary restaurant, Harbor Reef has a deck and an outdoor bar. The alcoholic drink of the island, “Buffalo Milk” was created here and this is a perfect place to enjoy its “influential” magic.

This is the narrowest part of the island. Less than 1/2 mile of fairly flat land separates the two picturesque bays. Camping is available near town. The historic Banning House Bed and Breakfast offers 12 individually decorated rooms.

Zip Lining – in 2010 the Catalina Zipline Eco Tour opened. This is a series of 5 zip lines located in the hills behind the Casino. The longest line runs over 1,000 feet and affords one excellent views of the island as you quickly whiz 400 feet above a canyon. Depending on your weight, you can reach speeds of up to 45 mph on another line. This two hour tour incorporates education – the guides are knowledgeable about the local biodiversity. They are also light hearted, at times comedic and truly enjoy their job. Don’t scream too loudly or you might scare the folks below!

If zip lining during the daylight isn’t quite adventurous enough for you, consider taking advantage of their night time zip lining. Reservations are strongly recommended. Visit: www.visitcatalinaisland.com/avalon/tour_zipline.php
 

Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro
Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro
Zip Lining
Zip Lining
Island Express Helicopter
Island Express Helicopter
The Pavilion Hotel Courtyard
The Pavilion Hotel Courtyard


Eat/Drink
The Avalon Grille is located in the central part of Avalon overlooking the harbor. Both indoor and semi indoor seating are available. A large bar sits in the center of the restaurant and adds a “hip” aspect to the scene here. Excellent wine list – both old and new world. The Grille capitalizes on the fact that you are on an island – with a number of their dinner items from the sea including the delicious, tender and perfectly prepared scallops. Seasonal seafood is also available. Finish up with a variety of tasty desserts including the seasonal fruits and ice cream.

The Grille has a unique system for providing their guests with water that a number of well known restaurants around the world have started using including the French Laundry in the Napa Valley. A Nordaq water filter on site allows the Grille to filter and carbonate tap water. The result is a lively fresh tasting water that eliminates plastic waste from normal bottled water – the Nordaq water is served in elegant re-useable glass bottles. To make reservations, visit: www.visitcatalinaisland.com/avalon/dini_avalonGrille.php

Mr. Nings Chinese Garden is located at 127 Sumner St – this is one of Avalon’s affordable old standbys. This family owned restaurant has been here for 25+ years. They specialize in tasty, reasonably priced food. Good choices are the Hot and Sour Soup and the Kung Pao Chicken. Very friendly staff, good food for the price.
 

More Information
www.catalinachamber.com – Catalina Chamber of Commerce

www.catalinaconservancy.org – Catalina Island Conservancy

www.thecatalinaislander.com – the Catalina Islander Newspaper

www.visitcatalinaisland.com – Santa Catalina Island Company

www.visittwoharbors.com – Two Harbors

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Island Express Helicopter

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