Catalina Island may be only twenty-two miles away from mainland Los Angeles, but you'll feel as if you've entered another world as soon as you step ashore. Whether you fancy a stroll through Avalon, Catalina's main city, or a more adventurous hike through Catalina's Isthmus at Two Harbors, the island offers a breadth of diverse activities.
The island is only twenty-one miles long and eight miles wide. Unlike anywhere else in California, automobiles are looked upon with disdain. As a matter of fact, there are restrictions for the amount of vehicles allowed on the island at any one time.
For at least seven thousand years, Catalina has been inhabited. The original residents of what was then known as the island of Pimu were the Pimungan Indians. Because the island's climate was not conducive to plant life diversity, the Pimungans set up a vast trading network with tribes on the mainland. After the Spanish colonization of Catalina, the Pimungans began to disappear due to disease and disruption of trade.
Catalina enjoyed a brief time as a booming mining town when silver was discovered in the mid-19th century. Squatters and miners from all over the country made their way here, and their names are forever etched in the island's history as geographical points (Ben Weston Beach, Johnson's Landing, and so on).
The feel of the island could not be more different than its neighbor twenty-two miles away. Catalina's mountain views are reminiscent of the panoramic views of Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. The quaint, village-type atmosphere is seemingly worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
Catalina offers a wide variety of activities in a small amount of space, the perfect place to take a day trip. Bird watching, snorkeling, all manner of water sports, and fine dining are just some of your myriad options on the island of Catalina. The bike trails afford beautiful vistas, if you're willing to sweat a little on the uphill climb. Crime is not even an issue here, so feel free to walk anywhere you please.
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock in the Port of Avalon, on the southeast side of the island. From here, you will be within walking distance of most of the tourist attractions in Avalon, Catalina's main city.
The best way to get around Catalina is by walking. Most attractions in Avalon are easily accessible on foot. Taxis are available though, if you are so inclined. Call The Catalina Cab Company (310/510-0025) and one of their minivans will pick you up in a matter of minutes. Golf carts are a common form of transportation around Catalina. For $40 an hour at Catalina Auto and Bike Rentals (310/510-0111), you can rent a six-person golf cart. Bicycles are another common mode of transportation, particularly around Avalon. For only $5 an hour, Brown's Bikes (310/510-0986) will have you on your two-wheeled way.
For a good overview of everything there is to do in Catalina, stop by the Visitor's Bureau (310/510-1520) for some maps and tourist brochures.
Guided tours will allow you to enjoy everything there is to see around Catalina beyond Avalon. Catalina Adventure Tours (310/510-2888, www.catalinaadventuretours.com) offers many different kinds of tours, both by land and by sea.
Island Express Helicopters (310/510-2525, www.islandexpress.com) offers aerial tours of the island. You can choose from tours that cover just the city and harbor area to tours that cover the entire island.
As part of the Catalina Island Conservancy, the interior of the island is protected from any future development. This virginal terrain is home to bald eagles, buffalo, and animal species that only exist here in Catalina. The Conservancy covers an expanse of territory, and one of the best ways to see it all is by taking a Jeep Eco-Tour (310/510-2595 ext. 0).
The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens (310/510-2288) is a 1.5-mile walk up Avalon Canyon Road. It costs only $1 for admission, and you'll be able to see beautifully preserved gardens, including six plants that can only grow on Catalina Island.
See seven thousand years of history come alive at The Catalina Island Museum (310/510-2414). Examine ancient Native American artifacts and documents preserved from the 19th century.
Bird watching is a popular pastime on Catalina Island. A small community of bald eagles has made Catalina home and is beginning to thrive thanks to the work of environmental activists striving to rid the island of residual DDT.
Kayaking, especially around Two Harbors at the isthmus of Catalina, affords wonderful opportunities to see parts of the island only accessible by watercraft. Kayak rentals are available at hourly, half-day, and full day intervals, from Two Harbors Dive and Recreation Center (310/510-4272).
For the scuba diving and snorkeling enthusiast, Catalina has a bunch of companies who will take care of all of your underwater needs. Try Catalina Scuba Luv (126 Catalina Ave., 800/262-DIVE, www.scubaluv.com), which offers everything from gear to training to boat charters.
In Two Harbors, you will need a license if you want to go fishing. The Two Harbors General Store will sell you saltwater fishing licenses, along with bait and other fishing equipment.
There are two shopping centers in Catalina. El Encanto Marketplace, at the corner of Crescent and Marilla, has a small collection of shops, along with The Landing restaurant, a popular Avalon spot. The Metropole Marketplace, at Crescent and Metropole, is a little bit larger, with over thirty shops and restaurants.
The Casino Art Gallery (310/510-0808, www.casinoartgallery.com) features the work of local artists, and some diamonds can be found in the rough here. Thomas Kinkade fans will find his work featured at the Catalina Island Gallery (203 Crescent Ave., 310/510-2050).
For affordable woman's wear, Catalina Casuals, etc. (114 Catalina Ave., 310/510-0688) fits the bill. Relaxed island casual wear for under $30. Men will want to visit Buoys and Gulls (417 Crescent Ave., 310/510-0416) for nice men's casual wear.
Dining & Nightlife
The Blue Parrot (205 Cresent Ave., 310/510-2465) offers fresh seafood from Catalina's waters, with a beautiful view of Avalon Bay. The adjoining Coconut Bar offers live jazz. The Landing (El Encanto Market Place, 310/510-1474) also overlooks Avalon Bay and offers a wide selection of microbrews, including their very own Catalina Gold and Catalina Red. The cuisine runs the gamut, with Mexican food, pizza, and seafood among the menu items. Ristorante Villa Portofino (101 Crescent Avenue, 310/510-2009) has delectable Italian cuisine. Reservations are recommended, as this is one of the more popular restaurants on the island.
If you're looking for a laugh after dinner, check out the Catalina Comedy Club (310/510-0017). The stand-up comedians are good for a belly laugh or two! El Galleon (411 Crescent Ave., 310/510-1188) has great margaritas and drink specials, and if you're not too shy, the karaoke bar is calling you.