As we left behind the din of the freeway, the smog and the industrial urban
ugliness of Los Angeles and took the ferry to Santa Catalina Island, I was
surprised by how close this desert paradise is to the city. After a delightful
one-hour and 15-minute ride aboard the Santa Catalina Island Express we
arrived at Avalon, the only town on the 76-square-mile island. The tiny
village was named by Anna Wrigley (of the illustrious Wrigley family, known
for the eponymous chewing gum) who took the name from a line in a Tennyson
What makes Santa Catalina one of the most impressive of the Channel Islands
chain is that in 1972, Bill Wrigley, Jr., the grandson of William Wrigley,
Jr. (1861-1932), who built the town of Avalon, turned 86 percent of the
land into a nature conservancy. The family played a prominent role in the
history and development of the land as they brought public utilities, steamships,
a hotel, the Casino and extensive plantings and trees here. They also built
a spectacular residence, which is now a delightful inn. A moratorium on
cars makes golf carts, bikes and walking the modes of transportation.
You won't run out of things to do on Catalina, especially if you're a
nature lover. You can hike among the endemic trees and shrubs like Catalina
mahoganies, ironwoods and yerba santas and you might come upon some of the
diverse wildlife, possibly ravens and boars. Catalina Stables offers trail
rides, or you can rent bikes to explore the waterfront. You can play golf
at the beautifully kept nine-hole Catalina Island Golf Course.
|Avalon Casino and Harbor, Santa Catalina Island
We took the Undersea Tour arranged by Santa Catalina Island Company Tours
and offering a fascinating view of beneath-the-water marine life in a semi-submerged
boat. While passing the coral reefs, we spotted such fish as topsmelt, garibaldi
and halfmoons weaving through the giant kelp. We had also hoped to take
the Skyline Drive, which goes along the ridges of Catalina's hills and advertises
"spectacular scenery, deep canyons, quiet coves, blue ocean, buffalo
and a visit to the exhibits of the nature center in the Airport-in-the-Sky."
Unfortunately, our bus overheated, cutting short the tour, but it seems
like a worthwhile trip if there are no mishaps.
We enjoyed a morning stroll around the Wrigley Memorial Garden where
we wandered among succulents, cacti and native rare flowers like St. Catherine's
lace and bedstraw, and a climb to the top of the memorial, built in 1933-34
in elegant Art Deco style and overlooking imposing Avalon Bay. Erected in
the same era, 1929, the Casino, meaning gathering place in Italian, is a
rotund, impressive building on a jetty. Its ballroom is also Art Deco with
lovely mosaics, and it now houses a movie theater with 1,000 seats.
Summer tours include a sunset cruise to the Isthmus, reputed to be the
most beautiful part of the island, and a nighttime boat trip to watch the
flying fish. Descanso Beach Ocean Sports offers guided full- and half-day
kayak and snorkeling expeditions, as well as several different evening excursions
replete with dinner and star-gazing. Other seasonal sports are parasailing
and excellent fishing.
Catalina is a good choice for a long weekend because of its accessibility
to much of Southern California and because it is a destination for both
relaxing and participating in outdoor activities.
Catalina Stables, 600 Avalon Canyon Road. Tel. 310-510-0478.
Catalina Island Golf Course. Tel. 310-510-0530.
Santa Catalina Island Company Tours, P O Box 737. Tel. 310-510-TOUR.
Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden, 125 Claressa Avenue. Tel. 310-510-2595.
Open daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Avalon Theater, the Casino. Tel. 310-510-0179.
Descanso Beach Ocean Sports, P O Box 386. Tel. 310-510-1226.
The Inn on Mt. Ada, a Victorian mansion 350 feet above the town on the
sunniest spot on the cliff, was built by William Wrigley, Jr. for his wife,
Ada. With just six rooms and good service, it has for the past 13 years
been the island's most sought-after accommodation.
The Hotel Metropole, the oldest hotel in Avalon, features Victorian decor
and modern amenities and is next to the Metropole Marketplace. Many rooms
have an ocean view and a Jacuzzi, fireplace and private balcony.
Villa Portofino is optimally located on Crescent Avenue near all the
restaurants and shops. The minimally-priced rooms with queen-sized beds
are tiny and lacking in both views and natural light. However, the hotel
is clean and the staff is helpful. Restaurante Villa Portofino is one of
the island's best dining spots.
Hamilton Cove is an enclave of private condos that was built in the 1980s.
Most are owned by celebrities from Los Angeles and range in price from $250,000
to $1 million, but they can also be rented for a night or for an extended
The Inn on Mt. Ada, P O Box 2560, Avalon, CA 90704. Tel. 310-510-2030. Rates
start at $340 for two persons including full board, cocktails, wine, champagne
and the use of a golf cart. www.catalina.com/mtada
The Hotel Metropole, P O Box 1900, Avalon, CA 90704. Tel. 800-300-8528 (in
California), 800-541-8528, (nationwide), 310-510-1884. Rates start at $115 including
continental breakfast. www.hotel-metropole.com
Hotel Villa Portofino, 111 Crescent Avenue, P O Box 127, Avalon, CA 90704.
Tel. 800-34-OCEAN, 310-510-0555. Rates start at $55. Hamilton Cove Real Estate,
125 Metropole. Tel. 310-510-0190, 510-0090. www.hotelvillaportofino.com
The Catalina Express departs from Long Beach and San Pedro
to Avalon throughout the day. Schedules vary with the season. Reservations are
recommended. Tel. 800-429-4601, 800-618-5533, 310-519-1212. www.catalinaexpress.com