Mention to any Californian that you’re heading over to , and the inevitable response is always something like, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted to go to Catalina!” If you’ve never been to Catalina, or it’s been ages since your last visit, there’s no time like the present. With so much to see and do on this idyllic island, make it a true getaway with two days set aside for exploring, dining, and kicking back on the beach.
Catalina, aka Santa Catalina Island, is one of eight Channel Islands scattered along the Pacific shore from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. About 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, the island was first developed as a vacation resort in 1887 by real estate developer George Shatto. In 1919, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley bought a controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company, becoming the sole owner of the entire island. He set out to turn Catalina into one of the most enchanting vacation spots imaginable. Over 100 years later, Wrigley’s impact can still be felt throughout the island.
Featured Photo: Bob Lee
Getting to Catalina involves hopping aboard a ferry or helicopter from either the port of Dana Point, San Pedro, Long Beach or Newport Beach. An extra thrill comes on a ride when dolphins can often be seen swimming in the ferry’s wake.
Ferries arrive in Avalon, Catalina’s “downtown,” which lies at the foot of the island’s terraced hills — visitors departing from San Pedro also have the option of arriving at Two Harbors. Step off the boat to be greeted by kiosks offering a variety of tours and activities from parasailing and off-road adventures, to glass bottom boat tours and electric bike expeditions.
First things first, checking into the . Getting to the hotel’s entrance involves walking through Marketplace Metropole, a series of shops, restaurants, and boutiques in a French Quarter-like setting with cobblestone walkways.
What to book at the Hotel Metropole? Go for the 1,800-square foot Beach House, a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom space with a full kitchen, living room, and a deck with ocean views.
Once settled, exploring the island is in order. An ideal way to get an overview of Catalina is by taking in a bird’s-eye view. An easy way to accomplish this is via the two-hour that traverses above the island’s interior.
Having worked up an appetite, a great option for dinner is , where a table on the open-air terrace offers sublime harbor views. As for the menu, care for the delicately marbled ribeye steaks, fresh swordfish, and Grandma’s Special Triple Layer Chocolate Cake? Yes, yes, and yes.
Breakfast fans should start the day at ’ Waffles? Those and so much more are featured on the menu.. Craving a Blueberry Stack or Chicken n
The perfect adventure follow-up: the three-hour . Embark on this tour and one soon discovers there’s so much more beyond Catalina than Avalon.
A bit of history learned along the way…
In 1975, Philip Wrigley deeded his share in the Santa Catalina Island Company — which he had inherited from his father — to the newly formed . Created to protect the island’s natural habitat, the Conservancy today has stewardship of 88% of the island, protecting its pristine beaches along with more than 60 plant, animal, and insect species that are found nowhere else on the planet.
One of the more unusual animals to be found on the Catalina is the buffalo. Yes, be on the lookout for these magnificent creatures while winding through the interior of the island. Fourteen buffalo were brought over in 1923 as background scenery for the movie The Vanishing American. These “movie extras” wandered off, with wranglers scouring the rugged terrain in vain trying to track them down. Wrigley decided the buffalo made for a fine tourist attraction.
Over the years the buffalo multiplied, with more than 150 calling Catalina home today. On the Eco Tour, keep an eye out to spot the shaggy buffalo rolling in the dirt, shuffling along the roads, and enjoying the sunshine.
As the vehicle travels into the hills, guests learn stories about the island’s geology, flora, and fauna. Some interesting facts that may emerge — Catalina has both “island gigantism,” a biological phenomenon that causes small animals isolated on an island to evolve into larger versions of their mainland cousins (i.e. huge Catalina ground squirrel), or “dwarfism,” where larger animals get smaller (i.e. diminutive Catalina Island Fox). Also on tap during the drive: magnificent views of secluded bays and deep gorges.
As the Catalina Island Conservancy Jeep Eco Tour concludes, it’s time to catch the ferry home. With still so much to see and do on the island–Catalina Island Museum, Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens, Catalina Casino, Descanso Beach Club just scratch the surface — a return visit is definitely in order.