There are only three places in the world with a temperate Mediterranean climate: The Mediterranean, the Chilean coast around Santiago, and southern California.  Catalina Island sees millions of tourists annually enjoying the weather and attractions.

Avalon is only one square mile in size but there is plenty to see and do in the town and on the island. The island was once a smuggler’s haven long before the chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley, Jr., purchased the entire island in 1919 for $2 million from the Banning Brothers. Numerous films were shot on the island, from silent movies to present day blockbusters.  Image walking down Crescent Street and meeting Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chaplin, John Wayne, Bing Crosby, or even the portly Winston Churchill.




Hotel Villa Portofino Sun Deck.

After Front Desk Manager Candace checked me into the Hotel Villa Portofino, I relaxed in the garden patio for the shade; the hotel reminded me of a lazy seaside  Mediterranean cottage hotel that offers great amenities and a wonderful location in Avalon. The European style seaside resort is comfortable, clean, and relaxed, especially on the top sun deck with a couple of cabanas and a great view of the harbor.

The AAA, Three Diamond hotel is located on Crescent Avenue which is the street running along the harbor. There are 34 rooms and suites in the bungalow hotel and I believe the tiles in the bathroom actually were produced by the Catalina Tile Company, once owned by the Wrigley family, who still live on the island.

The Hotel Villa Portofino offers a range of room types from courtyard to deluxe ocean view suites. The ocean facing rooms offer balconies and some of the suites are romantically furnished with fireplaces and marble baths and a wet bar with refrigerator and steeping tub. The suites are certainly reminiscent of the Italian Riviera with labels such as the Capri Suite, The Sorrento Suite, and the Positano Suite.




The Villa de Este Suite.

All rooms are equipped with air conditioning and heat, telephone, color cable TV with two movie channels, coffee maker, hairdryers, irons and ironing boards.


Hotel Villa Portofino
888/510-0555
310/510-0555
P.O. Box 127
Avalon, CA 90704
www.hotelvillaportofino.com

The Hotel Villa Portofino offers a "Sweet Deal Package" for couples that starts at $337.00 per couple for one night that includes a cruise over to the island with Catalina Express, island taxi transfers, two island tours that include the City Passport Bus Tour and the Glass Bottom Boat Tour; plus you get a continental breakfast for two. Upon check in guests are treated to chocolates, champagne, and a rose.  This is a year around package, but other packages are also available online at www.hotelvillaportofino.com  Check their site for seasonal rates, midweek specials and packages. Rates are based on double occupancy.  Weekend and holiday rates are higher. Check in is at about 2 p.m. and check out is 11 a.m. There is a 12% city tax tacked on to all rates. Click here for a Villa Portofino video tour.


The Ristorante Villa Portofino



The Ristorante Villa Portofino gets plenty of raves from all the patrons, and the Italian restaurant is right next door to the Hotel Villa Portofino, but it is a separate company.  The Ristorante has romantic ambiance for late night dining. For reservations call 310/510-2009. 

The annual Catalina Wine Festival is in September, sponsored by the Catalina Island Women’s Forum, with a silent auction raising money for good causes. For reservations call 310/510-1520.


I stopped by the Avalon Tuna Club, the oldest fishing club in the U.S., dating back to 1898, housed in one of the oldest structures in Avalon, open to the public (great angling museum) and for members for group private functions. www.tunaclub.com The Catalina Yacht Club also shares the facilities. The world famous author and still to this day world record holder for big game fish, Zane Grey, once lived on the island and the Zane Grey Invitational Marlin Tournament is held in September, with $60,000 in first place prize money.  For details call 714/258-0445. Also in September is the Catalina Classic Marlin Tournament with a $50,000 first prize. For details call 714/258-0445. The Annual Tin Cup tournament is also in September, an off shore fundraiser for youths.  Call 310/510-1471. In August is the Annual Church Mouse Marlin Invitational with over $500,000 given away as prizes over the years. For details call 310/820-4434.

There is no better way to discover the island marine life than a two hour kayaking trip from Descanso Beach Ocean Sports. Micah and the gang will hook you up with a two person kayak for a leisurely paddle.  They have many extensive packages for longer trips that includes primitive beach camping. The company is open year around so call them at 310/510-1226 or log on to their website at www.kayakcatalinaisland.com  My paddling partner was a German high school exchange student named Becky who was on a Carnival cruise boat anchored just off shore.  Avalon is a regular stop on their 4-day Baja, Mexico cruise.


Santa Catalina Island Company’s Discovery Tours has an office on Crescent Street that you can not miss when getting off the Green Pleasure Pier, or call for reservations at 800/414-2754 or log on to www.visitcatalinaisland.com   You can even book movie theater tickets through them for screenings at the Casino.

Here are a few of their tours:



The Undersea Tour — (above) I certainly enjoyed the semi submersible tour on the Starlight but you can also voyage on the Emerald for a below water peek at the amber forest (Kelp beds), the orange Garibaldi fish (California 's state fish), Sheephead,  and other marine life.

The Glass Bottom Boat Tour offers day and evening tours around Avalon Bay, with tours departing from the historic Green Pleasure Pier; the Avalon Chamber of Commerce has a booth on the pier with brochures of all the area tours.

The Skyline Drive Tour — takes passengers ten miles into Catalina’s interior for photo opportunities.


The Casino Tour (above) is a great way to see the world famous Casino ballroom where the big bands played in the 1930s and ‘40s, such as Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and Harry James.  The Art Deco building has the largest circular ballroom in the world that has been restored to its original splendor. The Avalon Theater opened in the Casino in May 29, 1929, showing silent movies. Today first run flicks are shown in the 1,184 seat theater, and the Page organ still works. For events at the Casino, such as the JazzTrax October weekend jazz festival, call 310/510-7400; or for just JazzTrax call 866/JazzTrax or log on at www.jazztrax.com

The Catalina Island Museum is also housed in the Casino displaying archaeological artifacts, historic photographs, fishing tackle, and Catalina pottery. The Casino also has its own gym.

Avalon Scenic Tour is a great way to see the town of Avalon and explore the beachfront and hillsides while learning the history of the community, with stops at the Wrigley Botanical Gardens.


The Cape Canyon Tour (above) was my favorite Catalina Island tour, and it runs about four hours with a pit stop at Catalina’s Airport In The Sky for a lunch break (not included in the price of the tour).  We saw the backside of Catalina Island on a 12 passenger open air Umimog, a customized Mercedes Benz troop carrier with comfortable bench seats, complimentary water, and wool blankets. Customized Jeep Eco Tours are also available.

The Cape Canyon Tour roams around remote areas of the island along dirt roads to places like Middle Ranch, with a Bald Eagle Habitat stop.  Fred, our Umimog driver, was a wealth of information about the Indian culture, herbal plants, and present day history.


Santa Catalina
Island Company
310/510-2000
P.O. Box 737
Avalon, CA 90704
www.scico.com

The island is 88% preserved for future generations to enjoy the isolated coves, broad valleys, and pristine beaches, and two thousand foot peaks and palisades.  Many native plants are found no where else.  The feral goats and pigs have been removed, but we did see mule deer, ravens, and even a rare Beechey Ground Squirrel.  The island is privately owned and managed by the Santa Catalina Island Company, a non profit conservation organization that is progressively planting natural plants back into the wild.  You need a permit to hike (free) and a permit to camp (a small fee) within the Preserve.

The Moonlight Drive Tour is abpard an open air tram that plays nostalgic music as the tour winds through Avalon and along the beachfront.


The Sundown Isthmus Cruise — (above) is usually only in the summer season. Cruise down the coastline to Two Harbors and explore the town on foot.  The cruise includes a Sundowner Dinner.

The Seal Rocks Cruise — is aboard the Blanche W, with a visit to the sea lions that call Catalina Island home in the summer.

The Hummer to Paradise Package — is actually in Two Harbors that includes accommodations.  Two Harbors has themed weekends and parties  throughout the summer.


Catalina Island Country Club Restaurant

One of the best dining venues in Avalon, and certainly the most romantic, is the Catalina Country Club at the Golf Course, once the site of the Chicago Cub’s spring training camp.  The Country Club Restaurant is where you can dine on delicacies such as Wild Boar or Wild Salmon, plus great vintages of wine.  The restaurant is in the former Club House for the Chicago Cubs. The casual Club House is for informal dining for lunch or dinner, and the patio is especially delightful. The nine hole golf course has been recently upgraded with two sets of tees for 18 hole play. The golf course was built in 1892 and it is the oldest golf course in southern California, set in Avalon Canyon.

For golf reservations call: 310/510-0530; for dining reservations call: 310/510-7404.




Catalina Express
800/481-3470
310/519-1212
Berth 95,
San Pedro CA 90731
www.catalinaexpress.com

Over the last 25 years (1981-2006) Catalina Express has ferried over 15 million passengers to and from Catalina, with a fleet of eight high-speed boats taking about an hour for the 22 mile voyage on 30 scheduled departures daily from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point.

Parking at the San Pedro pier and Long Beach Landing is $12 daily, and $7 daily at Dana Point . The Commodore Lounge is available at the Catalina Terminal in downtown Long Beach for $10 in addition to the normal fare.  Lounge passengers enjoy priority boarding, comfortable seating and a complimentary beverage with packaged snack.  The Captain’s Lounge upgrade is $40 each way, for up to eight passengers and is for private bookings, located on the top deck behind the captain’s wheelhouse, and the package comes with complimentary champagne. Log on to win prizes and check events during Catalina Express' yearlong celebration.

By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.




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