Avalon and the harbor & Casino on Catalina Island
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Greetings from Catalina Island

22 miles off the coast of California.

We took the boat Catalina Express out of Long Beach and had a ball!

We're staying at the historic Victorian Glenmore Plaza Hotel right near the water in the heart of Avalon.

We haven't decided yet which is our favorite restaurant, but maybe Steve's. More shopping this afternoon and down to the beach tomorrow.

Catalina Hotels

Map to all Avalon Hotels

Hotel Villa Portofino - map

Catalina Canyon Resort and Spa - map

Snug Harbor Inn - map

Glenmore Plaza Hotel - map

Catalina Island Seacrest Inn - map

Catalina Shops

C.C. Gallagher

Metropole Market Place

Catalina Gold Company

Catalina Dive Shop

Old Town Gallery

Catalina Restaurants

Steve's Steakhouse

Ristorante Villa Portofino

Casino Dock Café

The Landing

Things to do

Catalina Island Museum

Brown's Bikes

Fish Catalina

Catalina Kayak Adventures

Snorkeling Catalina

Catalina Express office in Long Beach CaliforniaAbout a million tourists visit the island every year; Catalina is serviced by ferries and the "Airport in the Sky."
Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, golfing, sightseeing tours, strolling through the quaint shops, the museum and art galleries, dining at seaside restaurants or just relaxing on the beach.
Getting there:

  • Catalina Express - Long Beach / San Pedro/Dana Point
    Travel in comfort and style on board the Catalina Express to beautiful Catalina Island and city of Avalon, a Mediterranean-like town just 22 miles off the coastline of Southern California and noted for its climate, ocean sports and friendly charm. From Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point you'll travel aboard the fastest fleet of state-of-the-art passenger vessels arriving in about an hour.
  • Catalina Passenger Service, Inc. - Catalina Flyer
    The Luxurious Catalina Flyer is the largest passenger-carrying catamaran on the West Coast and features a richly appointed interior, sweeping sun decks, full-service cocktail lounges, stately viewing windows and Ride Control for a smooth, comfortable crossing. So if you want comfort, service, a friendly crew, or just want to work on your tan, the Catalina Flyer is your choice.

Most of the island is controlled by the Catalina Island Conservancy, Catalina Island Casinoa private nonprofit organization. The mission of the Catalina Island Conservancy is to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation. Through its ongoing efforts, the Conservancy protects the magnificent natural and cultural heritage of Santa Catalina Island, stewarding approximately 42,000 acres (170 km²) of land (88 percent of the island), 50 miles (80 km) of rugged shoreline, an airport, and more than 200 miles of roads.

Hiking trail on Catalina IslandUnder an agreement with Los Angeles County, the Conservancy has granted an easement to allow day hiking and mountain biking, but visitors must first obtain a permit at the Conservancy's office (on which they declare the parts of the island they intend to visit). Hiking permits are free, whereas bicycle permits are available for a fee (as of 2006, $60 per person annual, $20 per person good for 2 consecutive days, helmets and mountain bikes with knobby tires required).

Gettin around in Avalon in golf cartsThe use of motor vehicles on the island is restricted; there is limit on the number of registered cars, which translates into a 10-year-long wait list to bring a car to the island. Most residents move around via golf cart. Tourists can hire a taxi from Catalina Transportation Services. Bicycles are also a popular mode of transportation. There are a number of bicycle and golf cart rental agencies on the island. Only the city of Avalon is open to the public without restrictions.

The only major road into the back country is Stage Road.

Glass bottom boatGlass bottom boats tour the reefs and shipwrecks of the area, and scuba diving and snorkeling are popular in the clear water. Lover's Cove, to the east of town, and Descanso Beach, to the west of the Casino, are popular places to dive. The area is famous for the schools of flyingfish and the bright orange Garibaldi which teem in local waters. Bus tours are given of the interior.

While tourists rarely have an opportunity to surf, two beaches on the "backside" of Catalina offer good waves: Shark Harbor and Ben Weston Beach.

Two Harbors is the second, and much smaller, resort village on the island. Located at the isthmus of the island, north of Avalon, it is the primary landing spot for those who wish to tour the western half of the island. It is accessible by boat from San Pedro and by bus or boat from Avalon.

Art Good, host of the Jazztrax Showcase of the Absolute Newest, holds the Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival there each year.

The LandingThe Catalina Island Museum, located in the historic Casino Building, is also an attraction as it is the keeper of the the island's cultural heritage with collections numbering over 100,000 items and including over 7,000 years of Native American history, over 10,000 photographs and images, a large collection of Catalina-made pottery and tile, ship models, and much more. The museum features dynamic exhibits on this history and also a unique gift store. Programs include walking tours of Avalon, classes for students, gallery docents, lectures, an annual silent film benefit and more.

Lovers CoveTwo Boy Scouts of America councils in Los Angeles County have camps north of Two Harbors: Camp Cherry Valley, operated by the San Gabriel Valley Council, located two coves north of Two Harbors at Cherry Cove; and Camp Emerald Bay, operated by the Western Los Angeles County Council, further up the coast.

The island contains a YMCA summer camp named Camp Fox, operated by YMCA of Glendale, which holds several summer coed youth camps, a summer girl's camp, as well as a Christian leadership conference in spring. There is also Campus by the Sea, a camp operated by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, located at Gallagher's Cove.

There is also a coeducational camp at Howland's Landing named Catalina Island Camps, which has been there since the 1920s. Catalina Island Camps is home to many camps including Camp del Corazone, a camp for kids and counselors with heart disease or defects.

Guided Discoveries also runs several camps on Catalina Island providing hands on opportunities to learn marine science and environmental studies to school groups and community groups during school year and sea camps during the summer.
In an effort to generate tourism towards Catalina, William Wrigley Jr. tried to convince Gertrude Ederle, who had just become famous as first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926, to swim from Catalina to the mainland which was roughly the same distance. Church in Avalon, Catalina IslandShe declined, so he launched the 1927 Wrigley Ocean Marathon: offering $25,000 to the first person to cross the channel, with $15,000 for the first finisher of "the fair sex." Out of a field of 102, only one man finished, Canadian swimmer George Young, finishing 15 hours and 44 minutes after the start. The two women who came the closest were awarded $2,500 each.[7]

In 1936, Ronald Reagan, as a young radio announcer for WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, traveled to Catalina to cover the Cubs during spring training. While there, he took a screen test and was offered an acting role.

After visiting Catalina Island, Jack Owens, the Cruising Crooner, a popular radio vocalist of Don McNeil's Breakfast Club, was inspired by the friendly greeting people used there, "Hi, Neighbor," and wrote the music and words in 1941 for a song of the same name, and it went on to be a top-selling pop tune that year.

In the early 1940s during World War II, Marilyn Monroe, as a young, married woman, briefly lived in Avalon with her first husband, James Dougherty, a lieutenant in the Merchant Marine, who was stationed on the island. Monroe often was a babysitter for neighborhood children.

Golf on Catalina IslandOn May 31, 1950, actor Gregory Harrison was born at Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. His father, Ed Harrison, operated a glass-bottom boat sightseeing service on the island. Harrison went on to star in many stage, screen and television productions, including Logan's Run, Trapper John, M.D., Centennial, and It's My Party. In 1980, Harrison and a partner founded an entertainment production company, the Catalina Production Group Ltd., named after his island birthplace.

In 1958, the Four Preps recorded the hit song "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)"; the song reached the #2 position on the U.S. popular music charts.

The 1966 romantic comedy film The Glass Bottom Boat, starring Doris Day and Rod Taylor, was filmed on Catalina Island.

The 1967 teen comedy film Catalina Caper, starring Tommy Kirk, was filmed on Catalina Island. This movie was later featured in episode 204 of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Metropole Market Place Avalon, Catalina IslandSeveral scenes from the 1974 film Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, were filmed on Catalina, including one showing the Casino.

Actress Natalie Wood drowned off the coast of Catalina in 1981 while on a boating trip with husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken.

Catalina Island is briefly mentioned in the 1987 movie Lethal Weapon as the place where Roger (Danny Glover) would like to fish with his new boat.

The 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit featured an oft-referenced vacation to Catalina Island as a subject in the failing relationship between Eddie Valiant and Dolores.

In 1982 Descendents released the album Milo Goes to College, featuring a song called "Catalina."

In 1989 actor Chad Allen is seen visiting Catalina Island in the promotional video The Real Chad Allen. Allen is seen visiting Avalon there and also snorkeling off the coast in the vicinity of a sunken ship.

Streets of AvalonIn 1998, actor Phil Hartman was fatally shot by his wife Brynn Hartman, who committed suicide several hours after the murder. The couple's ashes were scattered in Emerald Bay off the coast of Santa Catalina Island as specified in Hartman's will.

The final scenes of the 1998 film Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss takes place on Catalina Island. The film closes with a song titled Love Slave of Catalina.

In Dan Brown's popular novel Deception Point, published in 2001, there is a reference to sailing off the coast of Catalina.

In Sandra Byrd's Faithful Friends: The Hidden Diary Series (published in 2001), the main setting and location for all the books is Catalina Island.

In 2002, the TV show Endurance was filmed on the island.

In a season one episode of the Fox series Arrested Development entitled "Staff Infection," employees of the Bluth Company get lost on Catalina Island, and are found and transported by a sheep herder in his animal trailer.

In the fictional novel, A Darkness More Than Night, by Michael Connelly, Catalina Island is featured extensively.

The 2006 TV Comedy Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door, featuring Crystal Allen, Ken Marino and Patrick Duffy takes place in Catalina Island.

Bay of Seven MoonsPrior to the modern era the island was inhabited by people of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe, who also lived in the area of Los Angeles, had villages near present day San Pedro and Playa del Rey, and who regularly traveled back and forth to Catalina for trade. The Tongva called the island Pimu or Pimungna. The Gabrielino/Tongva are renowned for their mining, working and trade of soapstone which was found in great quantities and varieties on the Island. This material was in great demand and was traded along the California coast.

The first European to set foot on the island was Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, sailing for Spain. This happened on October 7, 1542. He claimed the island for Spain and christened it San Salvador. Another Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, rediscovered the island on the eve of Saint Catherine's day (November 24) in 1602. He renamed it Santa Catalina to honor the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Catalina Island busDuring the following 300 years, the island served as home or base of operation for many visitors, from Russian otter hunters to Spanish smugglers to Chinese pirates. Franciscan monks tried to build a mission there, but failed due to the lack of fresh water on the island. The native population was mostly wiped out by disease during 19th century. Catalina Island experienced a brief period of gold rush in 1860s, but no gold was found and only a little silver. In 1864, the federal government, fearing attempts to outfit privateers by Confederate sympathizers in the American Civil War, put an end to the mining by ordering everyone off the island. A small garrison of Union troops occupied the Catalina for about nine months. (Their barracks stood until the 1940s, when they were destroyed in a fire.)

Horses and riding on Catalina IslandBy the end of 19th century, the island was almost uninhabited except for a few cattle herders. At that time, its location just 20 miles from Los Angeles—the city that had reached the population of 50,000 in 1890 and was undergoing the period of enormous growth—was a major factor that contributed to the development of the island into a vacation destination.

The first owner to try to develop Avalon into a resort destination was George Shatto, a real estate speculator from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who purchased the Island for $200,000 at the height of the real estate boom in Southern California in 1887[2]. Shatto created the settlement that would become Avalon, and can be credited with building the town's first hotel, the original Hotel Metropole, and pier[2]. His sister-in-law Etta Whitney came up with the name Avalon, which was pulled as a reference from Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem "Idylls of the King," which was about the legend of King Arthur. Despite Shatto's efforts, in a few years he had to default on his loan and the island went back to the Lick estate.

Shoppin in Avalon on Catalina IslandThe sons of Phineas Banning bought the island in 1891 from the estate of James Lick and established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop it as a resort. They built a home at what is now Twin Harbors, and is now that village's hotel. Their efforts were set back on November 29, 1915 when a fire burned half of Avalon's buildings, including six hotels and several clubs. World War I also hampered tourism, and the Banning brothers were forced to sell the island.

Catalina Island and casinoWilliam Wrigley, Jr. bought controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company in 1919 and devoted himself to preserving and promoting it, investing millions in needed infrastructure and attractions. In 1921 he sold lots for building in the town of Avalon. The tourism industry was encouraged by the construction of a beautiful Art Deco dance hall, called the Casino, in 1929. The Casino was 140-feet high when it was built and was the tallest building in Los Angeles County at the time. Surrounded by sea on three sides, the circular Art Deco structure stands the equivalent of 12 stories tall. Avalon Theater, on the first level, shows first-run movies nightly, and the theater's original Page Organ still plays before the show. The circular domed ceiling has remarkable acoustics studied by experts from around the world. The upper level houses the world's largest circular ballroom with a 180 foot diameter dance floor. French doors encircle the room, and balcony views are spectacular. The text of a postcard postmarked August 1947 reads, "the gorgeous Catalina Island Casino is a two million dollar 'Palace of Pleasure' located midway between Hotel St. Catherine and the town of Avalon. It is the only building of its size in the world, erected on a full circular plan. A mammoth motion picture theater is on the ground floor and above the worlds largest circular ballroom." Wrigley put in circular ramps instead of stairs, an idea taken from his Chicago Cubs stadium. The ramps allowed the large numbers of people using the ballroom to quickly move to and from their destinations without accident or injury. The upstairs dance floor has a capacity of over 6,000 dancers, and sits above the glamorous Avalon Theater, which seats 1,150 and is the first ever designed specifically for sound movies. The upstairs dance floor is also used by the local high school basketball team making it one of the plushest and most expensive basketball courts ever. It is so well insulated that theater patrons cannot hear the band playing or the 6,000+ partying dancers on the floor above, yet the excellent acoustics are so good that a speaker on the theater stage can speak in a normal voice without a microphone and be heard clearly by everyone in the theater, including those in the back rows. While the theater shows movies almost exclusively, it has the capabilities to host theatrical productions as well. The Casino's name derives from a more traditional Italian definition of casino, meaning social gathering place; the building has never served as a gambling establishment and for many years did not even serve alcoholic beverages.

From 1927 through 1937 pottery and tile were made on the island, and these items are now considered collectibles. The Chicago Cubs, also owned by Wrigley, used the island for the team's spring training from ca. 1920-1950, absent the war years of 1942-45.

During World War II, the island was closed to tourists and used as a military training facility.[3]

Catalina's airport, the "Airport in the Sky" (AVX), was completed in 1946. The 3,250-foot (990-meter) runway sits on a mountaintop, 1,602 feet (488 m) above sea level. Up until the time of the airport's construction, the only air service to the island was provided by seaplanes.

Victorian house on Catalina IslandIn 1972, the Brown Berets, a group of Hispanic activists seized the island, citing the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty, a treaty between Mexico and USA by which Mexico sold more than half of its territory and arguing it does not specifically mention of the islands. The US had occupied them since 1852 and it had been speculated that Mexico could claim the islands and seek their return through litigation before the International Court of Justice. But a detailed analysis of its situation puts in doubt the likelihood of Mexico winning the case at the International Court of Justice.

Lige Guard boat - Catalina IslandIn 1975, Philip Wrigley deeded the Wrigley shares in the Santa Catalina Island Company to the Catalina Island Conservancy that he had helped create. The Conservancy now stewards 88 percent of the island. The mission of the Catalina Island Conservancy is to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation. So far, the successes include the opening of California's first permanent desalination plant in 1991.

Known shipwrecks in the waters off the island include the Diosa del Mar (33.462770° N 118.491925° W), which was sunk July 30, 1990 near Ship Rock.

Hotel Glenmore on Catalina IslandAccording to Sunset magazine, "Catalina...is a geographic anomaly. Unlike California's other seven Channel Islands, it didn't break away from the mainland, but was formed by the upward heave of tectonic plates." The island is very rich in quartz and silver, to the point that some beaches on the seaward side have silvery-grey sand.

Catalina is primarily composed of two distinct rock units, Catalina Schist from the Cretaceous and volcanic and intrusive igneous rocks from the Tertiary period.

About 400 species of native plants grow on the island[5]. Six species, subspecies or varieties are endemic and can be found only on Catalina Island. These plants are: Catalina manzanita (Arctostaphylos catalinae); Catalina mahogany (Cercocarpus traskiae); Catalina dudleya (Dudleya hassei); St. Catherine’s lace (Eriogonum giganteum var. giganteum); Santa Catalina bedstraw (Galium catalinense ssp. catalinense); and Santa Catalina Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. floribundus).

These plants may be seen at the Island's Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens.

The island is home to five endemic mammals, among them, the Catalina Island Fox and Beechey Ground Squirrel. The Island Fox is an endangered endemic species. In 1999 all but 100 out of 1,300 foxes on Catalina Island were wiped out due to a virulent strain of canine distemper. Following a successful recovery program which included captive breeding, distemper vaccinations and population monitoring, the Catalina fox community has been restored to more than 400 individuals—a number deemed by the Conservancy scientists to be a self-sufficient population.[6] However, mysterious, usually fatal ear tumors continue to plague the Catalina fox. Three Catalina Island Conservancy wildlife biologists continue to monitor the population through pit tagging, trapping and inspection.

A herd of American Bison roam, supposedly first imported in 1924 for the silent film version of Zane Grey's Western tale "The Vanishing American." Over the decades, the bison herd grew to as many as 600 individuals. Bison were routinely removed and sent to the mainland to auction. Recently however, another solution was implemented. The Conservancy initiated a scientific study that determined that a herd of between 150 and 200 would be good for the bison, and ecologically sound for the Island. In 2004, the Conservancy partnered with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Tongva (thought to be Catalina's original inhabitants some 4,000 years ago), and the Lakota tribe on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. A hundred bison were relocated "home" to the Great Plains. The Conservancy plans to pursue a similar plan when the bison population exceeds 200 individuals. Although the bison are not native to the Island, they comprise an important role in the cultural fabric of Catalina. Therefore the Conservancy has no plans to remove all the animals from the Island.

The Conservancy is also working to restore bald eagles to the Island.

Diving in the waters off Catalina IslandIn the waters surrounding the island, there are schools of fish like garibaldi, Yellowtail, Calico Bass, White seabass, Giant sea bass, Leopard sharks, blacksmiths, opaleyes and many more.

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