Rediscovering Catalina

It’s been way too long since I set foot on the peaceful island of Santa Catalina.
After Labor Day weekend, places such as Catalina become a perfect escape for grown-ups. There is so much to do there my head is spinning with ideas.

Believe it or not, Catalina dates back hundreds of years when it was inhabited by Native Americans, and, later, in 1542, when European settlers arrived. In more recent years, Catalina Island was owned by William Wrigley, Jr. of Wrigley chewing gum fame. He developed Avalon as a resort island destination and brought the Chicago Cubs baseball team, which he owned, to the Island for spring training from 1921-1951 (with the exception of a few years during WWII). The Island also served as a location for many Hollywood movies. One 1920s movie brought 14 bison to the island and left them, with the consequence that today there is a herd of about 150 bison roaming the interior. In the 1970s, Wrigley deeded 88% of the Island to the Catalina Island Conservancy, so it would remain undeveloped and natural and, in 2013, the City of Avalon proudly celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Getting There: If you have a boat, you can just cruise over, but, for me, there are two viable options–by sea or air. I used to arrive by sea plane; however, they stopped offering that service years ago. By sea, you can get to Catalina by ferry from four mainland ports in Southern California–San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach or Dana Point–and the ride is only about an hour by boat. Option two is via helicopter from Long Beach, San Pedro, Burbank Airport and John Wayne Airport/SNA. That only takes about 15 minutes, but is far more expensive. Once on land, you can rent a bike, golf cart, jeep, Segway, or just walk, since the downtown area is right next to the dock.

In The Water: I was so pleased to learn that the Glass Bottom Boat Voyage is still in existence. I used to love this 40-minute exploration under the sea. There is a new addition, which is the Undersea Expedition in a semi-submersible vessel that cruises along about five feet under the surface. There are also boat and kayak rentals, fishing, snorkeling and scuba. The crystal clear water makes it a perfect place to explore the marine life and coral.

In The Air: A relatively new addition to the landscape is a Zip Line Eco Tour with lines that are about 300 feet above the Descanso Canyon floor and speed along at up to 30 miles an hour. There are two new activities–the Aerial Adventure featuring swings and suspension bridges, and a Drop Tower for a 50 foot free fall. Count me out on those last two!

On the Ground: There is a great selection of tours to get you into the “back country” to see some of the bison and spectacular wildlife that this beautiful island has to offer. They even have a mini-golf course there with information on the history of the island at each hole.

The 50th Annual Catalina Festival of the Arts will be held September 15-17, and the Catalina Film Festival will be held September 27 to October 1. I think Mr. Wrigley would be quite proud of how his Island has grown, and I can’t wait to rekindle my fond memories of summers spent nibbling on ice cream on the Catalina Island boardwalk.