Located just twenty-odd miles off the coast from Long Beach in Los Angeles, California, Santa Catalina Island has long been a popular vacation spot for Angelinos and folks from all around the world. Previously under Spanish and Mexican control, it wasn’t until William Wrigley purchased much of the land in the early twentieth century that it became destined for tourism. Today, much of the interior remains undeveloped and uninhabited, offering wilderness just outside the main city of Avalon. Here is a list of ten things to do in Santa Catalina Island.
10. Catalina Ghost Tours
Formed due to the popular allegations of ghost sightings around Avalon, these ghost tours offer an opportunity to hunt down the paranormal buggers yourself. The nighttime exploration of Avalon will wind through the historic city, stopping at all of the famously haunted sights, lasting about an hour. Whether or not ghosts are something you subscribe to, the tour is at the very least a unique way to experience the beautiful city, and with tickets being $20 for adults and $15 for kids, being a little spooked might just be worth it.
9. Silver Canyon Pottery
One of the distinctive aspects of Avalon is the clay and tile décor of much of its downtown. Using clay from the local ground, pottery was fashioned in Catalina for much of the 1920s and 30s to be sold as souvenirs, providing employment for many of the residents. The characteristic tiles have since been restored downtown, and the majority of the replacement pieces are sourced from Silver Canyon Pottery. The pottery offers hands-on tile making and instruction, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in an important part of Catalina’s history.
8. Catalina Casino
Planted right behind the Descanso Beach, the Catalina Casino’s name can be a little misleading. The ‘Casino’ is derived from an Italian word the more closely translates to ‘gathering place,’ and there is no actual gambling on the premises. Instead, it is home to a massive and dazzling theatre designed in the 1930s that can house over 1,000 attendees. Also housed in the large casino are the world’s largest circular ballroom and a museum, showcasing artifacts including pottery and photographs from the many historical inhabitants. Overall, it is the most recognizable of the tourist attractions in Santa Catalina Island.
7. Flying Fish Tour
Flying fish are quite the interesting species. They have evolved long, broad fins and can make a large leap out of the water, gliding for an impressive distance before submerging again. The fish live in schools and ‘fly’ in order to escape predators. In the waters of Southern California, flying fish are most active during the summer season, from May to September and most active at night. There are a few excursions that will take visitors out on the ocean with a searchlight to observe these curious creatures. Be careful, it’s always possible that one might land on the deck!
6. Afishinados Tours
Afishinados Tours offers a variety of boating experiences for patrons, and has the most versatile offerings for boating. Group tours include wildlife tours, dinner cruises, a moon and star cruise (offered only during a full moon), and a Happy Hours Coastal Cruise, where ‘doing nothing is the goal.’ Additionally, Afishinados offers fishing charters (fishing license included), with four distinctive boats and plenty of expertise available. Finally, they also offer a lobster catching charter, which operates from the cool months of October through March.
5. Wrigley Botanical Gardens
William Wrigley, Jr., founder of the Wrigley chewing gum company, had purchased much of the island of Catalina during the 20th century. With some support from his wife, Wrigley established the botanical gardens in the 1930s, with a large expansion and revision in the 1960s. Upon Wrigley’s death, a large memorial was built inside the botanical gardens. Focusing mainly on local plants that grow nowhere else in the world, the garden is a half an hour hike from downtown Avalon. Open daily from 8 to 5, admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children.
4. Catalina Island Conservancy
Although the city of Avalon might have you thinking differently, the vast majority of Santa Catalina Island is actually free of development and protected by the conservancy. One of the best ways to explore the inner island is by booking an Eco-Jeep tour. With a knowledgeable and friendly guide at the helm, the tour will take through dirt roads that criss cross the rugged interior, where you chance to see some of the natural wildlife including bison and foxes. The tour will also afford you some of the most breath-taking views available.
3. Taste of Catalina Food Tours
Established in 2012 by a local, award-winning coffee shop owner, this family-and-friends-owned company offers food tours around Avalon led by qualified locals who know the food scene of Avalon inside out. Supplemented with bits of culture and history of the area, the two available tours are a three hour Avalon Tasting and Cultural Walking session which will visit 6 distinctive restaurants each with its own sampling, and a shorter, 90 minute Happy Hour tour, wherein local bars are the focus. Tickets are $89 for adults, and $69 for teens.
2. Descanso Beach Club
While there is nothing particularly special about Descanso Beach (all of the beaches here are fairly gorgeous), there is an abundance of additional activities that make it a great stop for both couples looking for a romantic evening or family fun. It might be a bit more crowded than the other beaches, but Descanso has a bar and restaurant that offers towel-side service, a climbing wall, a zip line Eco Tour, massages, and more. With happy hour specials and DJs and live music on the weekends, Descanso Beach Club is a one-stop vacation shop.
1. Catalina Snorkel and SCUBA
The waters surrounding the island are notoriously full of fantastic diving spots, offering a phenomenal array of tropical fish, coral reefs, and fascinating plant life. In fact, Casino Point offers entrance into Avalon Underwater Park, a world-renowned non-profit park offering stairs into the bay. Around the park, you can see two shipwrecks and plenty more. If snorkeling tours aren’t enough, Catalina Snorkel and SCUBA can provide you with the necessary training and certification needed to safely SCUBA in any waters.
With consistently a consistently temperate climate, beautiful beaches, and some of the best snorkeling in the United States, Santa Catalina Island has more than enough to offer everyone. A welcome respite from the traffic and parking headaches of Los Angeles, this treasured cove has two small, populated areas and a vast stretch of rugged mountains ready to be discovered. Even though the developed areas are limited, you won’t run out of places to visit on Santa Catalina Island.