Island living on Santa Catalina.

Catalina’s first rule of thumb: “Don’t upset anyone that you know or see on the island because you will run into them at least four times before dinner”.  I remember the town of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island being small, but this small?  I guess we would have to see how things would pan out on this three day excursion.

Santa Catalina Island, or more commonly called, Catalina is located about 26 miles off the Southern California Coast.  It is a rocky island with over 400 species of flora, which makes it a great place for outdoor activity such as hiking and camping.  It is also highly regarded as one of the world’s top spots for scuba and snorkeling.

Wash ashore at the Beach House.

Mark, owner of the Catalina Beach House Hotel and Hermosa Hotel, picked me up at the small port in Avalon after I disembarked from the one hour Catalina Express jaunt from Dana Point, California. The Catalina Express is the most common choice for transportation to and from the town of Avalon.  Daily departures leave from several points off of the Southern California coast.  Tickets are around $65 round trip. 

The Catalina Express also offers a variety of package options which can be forgiving to the wallet.  The Catalina Express is convenient and has open seating both inside the vessel and out on the deck.  The schools of dolphins racing alongside the boat made the ferry ride itself an oceanic adventure.

Mark has one of the quintessential forms of transportation in Avalon — a golf cart.  His is flocked with blue and purple flames over a silver body and must be the coolest in town.  Golf carts are a way of life in Avalon; the waiting list to own a car on the island is around 15 years or so.  I was informed by the locals of the many different stipulations for personal auto travel on the island, such as two cars must leave Avalon to be able to have one new car come in; a Mini Cooper doesn’t count as a vehicle but a small porter truck is permissible.  I must give the disclaimer, none of these I know to be fact as the answers I received from the locals varied.

Mark drove me on a quick drive to Marilla Street and up to the Catalina Beach House.  That name is a perfect fit; that is exactly what it looks like from the front — a beach house!  The threshold of the property was originally a houseboat that was brought onto the land.  Although the Catalina Beach House has been remodeled there are still existing walls and the front facade of the original houseboat.  We met Mindy, Mark’s daughter, who also lives on Avalon (at the Hermosa Hotel); she quickly checked us in to our room.

Clean and comfy.

My accommodation at the Catalina Beach House was a simple one room kitchenette with two beds and an ensuite bath equipped with Jacuzzi tub.  The deck outside wrapped around and was furnished with a lounge chair and other patio goods, perfect to enjoy the beautiful view of the Avalon Harbor.  From the east facing window there was a great view of the boats floating atop the ever blue water.

The Catalina Beach house is a 25-room establishment that caters to everyone from the divers that come to check out the sea life below the surface to the seasonal summer workers that come in to work at the only Vons Grocery Store on the island.  It is also in easy walking distance of everything in Avalon — well I guess, what isn’t?

Sail over for Catalina Island living.

Avalon is a charming sea town, almost Mediterranean like.  It is easy to stroll or bike ride around town.  If your feet are tired from all that walking, you can rent a golf cart of your own for $40/hour.  Yes, you read that right $40 an hour!

There are many restaurants, bars and shops to suit your fancy on the main and side streets.  I sampled quite a few.  Delicious enchiladas with green sauce and an excellent Chili Relleno were found at the Landing.  Oysters on the half shell along with refreshing libations at Luau Larry’s.  A decent steak and lobster dinner with a panoramic view of the harbor at Steve’s Steakhouse.  Cold beer and cocktails with the locals at JL’s and the Marlin Club.  Amazingly after all of that food and drinks, I was still in bed by 10 p.m.  Things wind down pretty quickly on Santa Catalina Island.

Waking up to the sun piercing its way through the blinds, I was ready to explore what the Avalonian’s call the "Interior" of the island.  I climbed into a tour van with two other travelers that were on their way to Two Harbors, another town on the other side of the island; we went up a steep, windy, tree-lined road (to keep us from falling off the cliff) to the top of the island.  The views were amazing.  It was easy to spot Santa Monica and Long Beach off the mainland California coast.  At the top of the Interior, there was a point where the Pacific was in view on both sides of the island.  In the distance, I could see something uncommon — bison.  It is said that this heard of American Bison was brought to the island in the 1920s and that they perhaps have some genetics of American cattle in them.

Fly in for a Buffalo Burger.

Farther into the Interior, we reached the Airport In The Sky, or as our van driver called it, “A very unique airport”.   The airport has been here since 1946.  The landing strip is for the small planes that land and take off throughout the day.  The hiking trails surrounding the airport are lined with indigenous flora and fauna and are a great way to explore.  Once you have worked up a hunger, the airport café is where you can grab a quick lunch.  After a quick 30 minutes ride back down the steep windy road, I was back in the center of Avalon and off to walk to the Casino.

The famous Casino.

This architectural masterpiece is stunning.  Built in 1929, by William Wrigley Jr., who had purchased much of the island in 1919, the Casino is about 12 stories tall and is perfectly circular.  It’s art deco inspired columns and grand entrance give way to a theater whose acoustics are so outstanding that a performer can speak in a normal voice on the stage without a microphone and be heard precisely by any attendees.  Also to note, this is not your usual definition of a casino as it is taken more from the Italian meaning of a social gathering place, which was really Wrigley’s intention for this entrancing and gorgeous building.  The Casino is a great place to take an afternoon stroll as well as a historical tour of the building.

Catalina Beach House Hotel
Local 310-510-1078
(800) 97-HOTEL (974-6835)

On my final evening in Avalon, I found myself back at the local watering hole — JL’s.  It was time for some cold drinks after the long day.  I was carrying on and trading stories with the locals that I have passed on the quaint streets of Avalon at least four times before dinner.   

Then it was time to lay my head back down at the Catalina Beach House for one more night of easy island living.

Photos courtesy of the Catalina Beach House Hotel and the Catalina Chamber of Commerce.

— Feature by Michelle Schoser, San Diego Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.

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