Santa Catalina Island, the island of romance

By Chanin Victor

Culver City Observer Special

If you’ve never been, it’s one of California’s gems, an unkept secret among A-listers, vacationers, and those who live for adventure and the outdoors. It is reminiscent of the Italian Riviera, with colorful dots of terraced houses and buildings along its rocky coastline. Her beauty and laid-back nature ooze charm. In a word, enchanting! When planning the perfect Catalina Island weekend adventure, here’s everything you need to know. Here’s a one-day itinerary and a multi-day itinerary to experience all the magic of this beautiful island off the coast of Southern California.

Santa Catalina Island, 22 miles across the Pacific Ocean (or 26 miles as the 1958 song Four Preps puts it), is often called “the island of romance.” With its palm trees, white sand beaches and clear blue waters, it is the perfect getaway for those looking to relax. Colloquially referred to as “Catalina,” the island has two main towns: the quaint, one-square-mile historic town of Avalon, and the two quieter ports near the isthmus, best accessed by boat. The latter is more of a camping area, but there are houses, a restaurant and a general store. Both have their unique appeal. About four thousand people live on the island, the majority in Avalon. Visitors are over a million each year, with peak season being March through November. Time spent at Catalina is an unforgettable experience any time of the year.

The best way to get to Catalina and exactly how to do it: the Catalina Express

Ideas for multi-day trips

Catalina offers a scenic respite from the bustle of the mainland. It’s relaxing and yet there is so much to do there. It is a picturesque island with palm trees and rocky shores, where visitors can experience a noticeable lack of chaos and the sense of urgency found on the mainland. It is also an island of adventure, where visitors can snorkel, dive and explore while surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.

An exact itinerary will depend on personal interests, the number of people in your party, and the weather. However, here is a list of some of my favourites, things to see and do.

The Casino

You are the only boat in the world, and suddenly you see Catalina as a patch of green surrounded by an ocean of blue in the distance. As you get closer the mountains start to define. So that’s it; the island’s most recognizable landmark comes into focus and you begin to make out the iconic building known as the Casino. In Italian, “casino” means “little house”, but the word also means a social club, where people can dance or listen to music.

Twelve stories high, the Casino is by no means a small house. William Wrigley Jr. had it built in 1929 with the dream of making it a social gathering place for Islanders. Hand-painted murals created by John Gabriel Beckman adorn the entrance and quirky walnut panels line the hallways. The lower half was one of the first movie theaters for “talkies”. The 50-foot domed ceiling has revolutionary acoustics that everyone can hear perfectly in the 1,184 seats.

The Casino offers two tour options for visitors, Discover the Casino and Behind the Scenes Casino. Everyone who visits should take one of these tours to hear the story of Catalina. My daughter loved my stories of how we spent Saturday nights watching semi-new movies in the theater and how her grandparents ring in the New Year by dancing in the ballroom above. She was curious and asked if we could visit it. We chose the shorter tour, as I have already spent countless hours inside this masterpiece. It was surreal to be inside the Casino after all these years, and it brought back so many memories.

Fun Fact: The Casino has paranormal activity, which I have heard of but luckily have never been confirmed first hand.

Descanso Beach and Canyon

Curious about marine life? Dive into all the ocean activities you can during your visit. Just beyond the casino, a beautiful cove and private beach known as Descanso Beach Club is the perfect spot for a relaxing day of sunbathing and swimming. Descanso Beach Ocean Sports https://kayakcatalinaisland.com/ offers daily activities and rental of masks, snorkels, wetsuits and equipment. Catalina is truly an island of adventure, where visitors can dive, snorkel, kayak, paddleboard, and explore the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Rent kayaks for a guided trip to Frog Rock on a cool morning, about a 30-minute paddle. This is a great opportunity to see local bald eagles, sea lions, Risso’s dolphins, Black Sea bass, harbor seals, ospreys, gray whales and Garibaldis, the fish of the State of California. A short paddle, lunch and a swim in the ocean are all worth the little salt water in your hair.

Fun fact: Catalina is the hottest place to snorkel off the California coast. I snorkeled in Catalina before using a wetsuit, and was still cold, but saw a baby shark. It’s the ocean.

Nestled in the Descanso Canyon behind the Descanso Beach Club, you’ll find TripAdvisor’s top-rated zipline eco-tour, the challenging Catalina Aerial Adventure and the 32-foot-tall Catalina Rock Climbing Wall, as well as the Seasonal Catalina Falconry Experience.

Pro tip: If you have vertigo, plan alternative activities just in case.

A dive on the island is well worth the experience and is a favorite destination for divers around the world. The water offers some of the best clarity and many consider it one of the healthiest marine environments in the world. The reefs offer excellent viewing opportunities, including healthy kelp beds and playful sea lions.

Inland excursions

Historic Casino never had a game

There are several tours https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/things-to-do/land-tours/ that will let you explore the heart of Catalina’s rugged interior, following the stagecoach route of the 1800s. Climb aboard an open-top, biofuel Hummer and venture to Middle Ranch, then to the beautiful windward side of the island to admire Catalina’s rugged and unspoiled Pacific coastline. Catalina Island is home to many species of wildlife. Not only will you have great photo opportunities of the landscape, but you might encounter bald eagles, mule deer, or even Catalina’s largest land predator; No kidding. That’s right, the Catalina Island fox is only found on Catalina and nowhere else in the world. An adult will weigh between 4 and 6 pounds, and these are probably the cutest things you’ve ever seen.

Catalina experiences you’ll remember for a lifetime

Remember Catalina Island when planning a trip with family, friends, or just a couple. It’s one of the unique Southern California experiences you can have with plenty to do. You will talk about your visit for years.

The best way to plan is to start with the Catalina Express. https://www.catalinaexpress.com/

You’ll find boat and hotel packages to book together, meaning all you have to do is start packing your bags.

All photos are by Chanin Victor, unless otherwise stated.

The trip to Catalina Island was organized by Catalina Express, but all opinions belong to the writer.

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