I’m shaking with Arctic-cold saltwater as I hurriedly climb back aboard our boat, Moonstone. It’s moored in the clear blue-green water of Avalon Harbor-brrr!
When my husband raved about how warm the water was, I should have remembered that his idea of “warm” is about 20 degrees colder than mine!
Despite the cold water dip, I count this boat trip to Catalina Island as one of my favorite floating trips. Catalina is approximately 24 miles from Los Angeles – and only one hour by ferry. Catalina offers an escape from the daily grind of city life. he journey there shakes-up of my routine – no traffic and no hustle and bustle. I leave the laptop at home and turn off my phone, freeing myself to enjoy my surroundings.
Stepping onto the boat, I listen to the sound of the clear blue-green water lapping the shore as I watch the trail of bright orange Garibaldi fish swimming below our boat. Or spotting the head of a curious seal popping up for a look is another reason to escape to Whites Cove.
Whites Cove is the perfect spot to enjoy swimming, snorkeling and diving along the rocky shoreline – or to cast a fishing line, watch the sunset and fall asleep at the end of a blissful day.
Further north, Two Harbors-Catalina Harbor and Isthmus Cove-are separated only by a half-mile wide isthmus but both provide opportunities for lounging in a luxe beachside cabana or scuba diving, camping and hiking .
The half-mile trail to Isthmus Cove is my personal favorite. The windward side of the island is less crowded making it a haven for local wildlife like the famous bison herd!
Fourteen bison were brought to the island in 1924 for a movie called, The Vanishing America.
While the movie went over budget,the bison stayed behind and flourished.
Many bison have been transferred back to their original habitat to help keep the island population in check and protect the vegetation but I remember the massive beasts eyeing us on either side of the trail during one of our hikes.
The remaining windward side of Catalina is more remote with small coves perfect for fishing and exploring by boat, and a variety of camps and trails for exploring on foot. The longest hike is the 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina Trail. It begins in Avalon and leads through the steep hills and valleys with breathtaking views of the 42,000-acre nature preserve of the Catalina Island Conservancy.
While Two Harbors is the main hub of the West end of Catalina, the city of Avalon is the main attraction of the East end.
Frequent ferries make it a perfect day trip, not to mention the beautiful harbor views of the historic Avalon Casino, the city and the Pacific Ocean. Avalon is only 3% of the entire island with a regular population of about 3,500, but it remains the most visited area.
Golf carts and walking are the preferred mode of transports to enjoy the shops, galleries, restaurants and various accommodations. The Mt. Ada Bed and Breakfast is the most majestic; it’s formerly the Wrigley Mansion (aka the chewing gum empire) and is perched on the hillside above the town with commanding views of the harbor.
William Wrigley Jr. bought shares of stock in the Santa Catalina Island Company and bought out other investors to became the sole owner in 1919. To lure more tourists to the island, Wrigley spent millions adding attractions and infrastructure and the Catalina Country Club to house his Chicago Cubs baseball team spring training.
To commemorate his 10-year ownership of Catalina Island, Wrigley rebuilt the Casino Ballroom, a circular Art Deco building that still defines the harbor today.
My husband’s grandmother recounted sweet memories of ferry rides with girlfriends every Friday to go dancing at the Casino, and the sudden appearance of our smitten grandfather at the ferry gate to trail her around the dance floor!
In 1972, Wrigley deeded the Catalina Land Trust to the Catalina Island Conservancy which protects approximately 90% of the island’s resources. Suzy Gardner, the Chief Development Officer of CIC says “Catalina Island Conservancy is unique from other conservancy groups in that we promote a balance of conservancy, education and recreation.”
This is the oldest and largest land trust in California, with over 60 species of plants, animals and insects native to the island. Their success in preserving the habitat for both plant and wildlife species is impressive.
On a recent hard hat tour of the beautiful Trailhead building (opening this fall for Catalina visitors), I was impressed by the scope of their mission manifest in the creative education and volunteer programs that promote the island’s many recreational attractions.
Catalina is as treasured today as it was 100 years ago. As Wrigley predicted, the island’s close proximity to populous Southern California makes it accessible to many. It’s varied shoreline, hiking and biking trails, and historic Avalon make it a destination that’s worth the trip – offering something new with each visit while maintaining its natural beauty and resources. And, with the diligent efforts of the Catalina Island Conservancy, it will remain a treasure for generations to come.