Catalina Island is a great year-round destination that offers lots of outdoor activities both and land and in the sea. Part of the Channel Island chain, the 22 mile long by 8 mile wide Catalina Island is the most inhabited and developed of all the islands with two towns and year round population of four thousand. Avalon is the largest and has the most goods and services. Two Harbors is the second and actually considered a unincorporated part of the island. This is possible due to Catalina’s close proximity to the coast of California- just 22 miles off the shore from L.A. and Orange Counties.
A long time destination to sailers you can reach the island by boat, plane, helicopter and even seaplane. There are several ferry services that leave from San Pedro, Dana Point and Newport Beach through the day. The Catalina Flyer out of Newport Harbor takes about one hour and is $70 round trip.
Catalina has about a dozen hotels most of which are in the main town of Avalon and others in Two Harbors situated on the Isthmus of the Island. Hotels range from luxury spas to a Holiday Inn.
There is also ample campgrounds and cabins available some right on the beach. For the adventurists there are some campgrounds on the west side of the island that are only approachable by sea or overland hike. For these you can arrange to be dropped off or go by kayak. If you wake up to a loud snuffling outside your tent- don’t be alarmed. It might be one of the 150 Bison that inhabit the island. In the 1930’s about a dozen Bison made the trip over to be “extras” in a cowboy movie. The filming had financial troubles and the small heard were left behind.
Catalina offers plenty to do or you can relax by the sea. For the active set the island offers plenty to do on land and in the ocean.
On land you can hike, mountain bike or explore the island by golf cart. The airport on top of the island offers great views and dinning.
In the ocean there is terrific snorkeling and diving right off shore. Water clarity can be 60 feet or more due to the Island’s isolated location. There are huge kelp forests that attracted dozens of species of fish.
If being above the ocean is your thing there are kayak and boats available for rent or you can take a guided charter. There is also the famous glass bottom boat rides. On any given day you might be lucky enough to sea flying fish skipping across the surface from wave to wave or dolphins zig zagging across your bow.
From 1951 to 1958 the Island was host to the Catalina Grand Prix. For two days the best motorcycle racers and top amateur off road riders would race a 100 miles/ 10 mile course from the town of Avalon through the coastal hills and back again. It wasn’t unusual to see movie stars such as Steve McQueen, Keenan Wyn and Lee Marvin in attendance and in Wynn’s case racing. In 1955 McQueen’s good friend and stunt double in the film”Great Escape” Bud Ekins took the number one trophy. In that era the British bikes reigned supreme with Triumphs and BSA being the top bikes. BSA even added a model called the Catalina Scrambler to their lineup.
The races eventually ended when crowds got too large and rowdy for the small town. There are now legends about Lee Marvin’s prodigious carousing that may or may not have lead to an attempted “mutiny” on one of the returning ships and could have been the last nail in the coffin for the races.
Also started in the 50’s the Catalina Classic is a marathon 32 mile paddle board race from the Isthmus to Manhattan Beach. Paddlers of the race must battle the sea no matter the conditions and winners are a who’s who of surfing legends and watermen.
More Recently there is the Catalina Wine Mixer inspired by the movie Step Brothers. It is a three day wine tasting, food and music event. Extra points if you wear your best Yoda T-shirt and make everyone call you “Dragon” !
Whether you are traveling through California or are a native, you really should take the time to visit the island, you won’t be disappointed.