Santa Catalina Island is one of the eight islands that comprise the Channel Islands of California. The island is merely 22 miles long and 8 miles across and is the only island in the chain with a substantial permanent population.
Popular with tourists, Catalina has also been an active port of call for many cruise lines since the 1990s. Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, and Carnival Cruise Lines have made Avalon a regular stop over for their Baja cruises.
Avalon or Avalon Bay is the southernmost city in Los Angeles County. Ninety percent of the island’s residents live in Avalon with the remainder scattered between Two Harbors, Rancho Escondido and Middle Ranch.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several developers tried to turn Avalon into a resort destination but most went bankrupt before realizing their dream. William Wrigley Jr., of the chewing gum fame, gained control of Avalon in 1919 and played a significant role in the city’s development including the construction of the landmark Catalina Casino in 1929.
Wrigley had traveled to Catalina with his wife, Ada, and son, Philip and reportedly fell in love with the island whereby he bought out nearly every shareholder of the Santa Catalina Island Company. Upon gaining control of the island, Wrigley invested millions for needed infrastructure and developing attractions. He also sought to publicize the island through various events and exhibitions.
Beginning in 1921, the Chicago Cubs, owned by Wrigley, used the island for spring training and continued to utilize the island in this manner until 1951. In another effort to draw attention to the island, Wrigley established the Wrigley Ocean Marathon on January 15, 1927, offering a reward to the first person to swim across the channel from the mainland. Following his death in 1932, control of the Santa Catalina Island Company passed down to his son, Philip K. Wrigley, who continued his father’s work improving the infrastructure of the island.
Wrigley’s body was interred in a custom-designed sarcophagus located in the tower of the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens on Santa Catalina. However, due to wartime security concerns during World War II, his remains were moved off of the island. Visitors can still see his memorial marker at the tower site.
Today, Avalon remains a tourist attraction with most of its waterfront businesses geared toward the tourist trade. Passenger ferries departing from Newport Beach, Dana Point, Long Beach, San Pedro, and Marina del Rey transport close to 1 million visitors to the island annually. Helicopter service is also available from Long Beach or San Pedro.
Once there, visitors can partake in countless activities; everything from glass bottom boats offering tours of the reefs and shipwrecks in the area, to scuba diving and snorkeling. Parasailing is also very popular and for those less inclined toward water sports, bus tours of the interior of the island are available. There are so many interesting shops, bars and restaurants in Avalon, many tourists simply prefer to just stroll up and down the streets. One place I would highly recommend is Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionery. Established in 1934, the shop is world renowned for its salt water taffy. They also offer handmade caramel apples, peanut brittle, creamy fudge and scrumptious chocolates.
Afterwards, take a leisurely walk down to some of the marvelous historic buildings on the island such as the blue and white building of the Catalina Island Yacht Club located on 30 Casino Way. Formed by the Banning Brothers, then owners of Santa Catalina Island, in 1893 it is one of the oldest private clubs on the West Coast. The original yacht club was nothing more than pilings placed there in 1903 but was quite active until the great fire of Avalon in 1915. Then in 1924, Art Sanger and James Jump found thirty yachtsmen willing to pay the $100 initiation fee and dues, plus $400 on a promissory note, so the Catalina Island Yacht Club could build a club facility.
Eighteen of the original members of the Catalina Island Yacht Club were members of the Tuna Club. A sport fishing club founded in 1898 by Charles Frederick Holder, the club’s early members included Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Hal Roach, Cecil B. DeMille, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, George S. Patton and Winston Churchill. The clubhouse is located at 100 St. Catherine and is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and on the California Historical Landmarks list.
Two Harbors, originally referred to as the “Isthmus of Catalina Island” is located 18 miles from Avalon. This resort village has one restaurant (Harbor Reef Restaurant), one hotel (The Banning House Lodge) and one general store. The city has 150 permanent residents year-round and the young children attend a one-room schoolhouse. (Older children attend the middle school and high school at Avalon.)
The Two Harbors Campground & Camping Cabins are located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean a quarter-mile outside the village of Two Harbors. The campground features 42 regular tent camping sites and three group-camping areas and is popular with scouting groups and those seeking an outdoor adventure .
Live webcam from Pavilion Hotel: http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/avalon/webcam.php