Wherever you stay on Catalina, make sure you explore the shore. Catalina Island offers water sports of all kinds, including; snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding, sport fishing, glass bottom boat and submarine tours, sailing, parasailing - and, of course, swimming! Cool off in the water or just chill out while observing some of Catalina’s famed marine life.
Inland Catalina has just as much to discover as the coast. Maintained by the Catalina Island Conservancy, 88% of the land on Catalina Island is a protected preserve with many natural wonders to discover. Stroll through the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Gardens, or lace up your hiking boots and take on one of more than 165 hiking trails crisscrossing the island. You’re bound to see some breathtaking ocean views and you might even meet one of Catalina Island’s famed bisons.
Beyond sea and sport, Catalina has activity and entertainment options for everyone, from large family gatherings, to the most intrepid of thrill-seekers. Although Avalon’s breathtaking Art Deco Casino no longer offers gambling, you can take a guided tour, or experience one of their annual events, like the elegant Catalina Conservancy Ball. Families can check out the Nature Center with several exhibits for children. Honeymooners might prefer to check out Lovers Cove, a short drive east of Avalon. Everyone can enjoy an ice cream cone at Scoops, Catalina’s premier Italian-style ice cream parlor, or enjoy a round of miniature golf.
For those looking for a little more excitement, Avalon offers a lively nightlife, with bars, karaoke and live music. True thrill seekers can try your luck at Avalon’s pirate-themed escape room, or take to the skies on the Catalina Island Eco Zipline.
For those who like to vacation off the beaten path, Two Harbors offers a more rustic experience. Bring your own tent or reserve one of Two Harbors’ Tent Cabins and wake up next to the Pacific Ocean. You can also find lodging at the Banner Hotel, Villa Santa Cruz or Villa Santa Rosa. There are dining options and a general store for supplies a short walk from the campgrounds. For those really looking to escape the daily grind, try hiking the 38.5 mile Trans-Catalina Trail.
Though it’s been known by many names and been home to many different inhabitants, the Island of Catalina has been delighting visitors for over 8,000 years. Plan your perfect getaway now.
The island was purchased by the Banning Brothers in 1891. After establishing The Santa Catalina Island Company, the Banning Brothers built on Shatto’s dream of transforming the island into a destination, including constructing more attractions and creating some of the first roads into the interior of the island. Unfortunately, their vision went up in flames in Catalina’s devastating fire of 1915. Several Catalina landmarks burned down in this fire, including the Hotel Metropole. Luckily, Catalina’s original hotel was rebuilt in the same location and remains a top-rated hotel on the island. Like Shatto, due to circumstances beyond their control, the Banning Brothers were forced to give up on their plans to develop Catalina.
Wrigley gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. purchased the majority of shares of the island in 1919. He finally was able to transform the island into the resort getaway that Shatto and the Banning Brothers envisioned. Wrigley built the famous Catalina Casino and the picturesque Mt. Ada - the mountaintop home Wrigley named after his wife Ada. If you want to live like a millionaire for a few days, Mt. Ada has been transformed into a luxurious 4-star hotel. Wrigley also saw the recreation and publicity potential of Catalina Island. Beginning in 1921, Wrigley began bringing his beloved Chicago Cubs to Catalina for Spring training.
Catalina also became a popular filming destination. Old classics like Treasure Island (1918) were filmed there, as well as more modern nail biters, including Jaws (1974) and Dawn of the Dead (2004). In 1924, fourteen American bison were brought to the island as part of the filming of Zane Grey’s The Vanishing American. While the crew eventually left, the bisons remained to become an integral part of the Catalia legend.
Although the Catalina Island Company retained ownership of several key attractions on the island, in 1975, the Wrigley family deeded over 42,000 acres of the Island to the Catalina Island Conservancy, dedicated to preserving the island for future generations. The Wrigley family left a lasting legacy of conservation, sustainability and responsible land stewardship.
The First Islanders
Catalina Island has been home to many inhabitants over the years, but the Tongva who lived here 8,000 years ago are the earliest known islanders. Catalina honors the Tongva connection to the island in many ways. You can read articles about Tongva life on the island through the Catalina Island Conservancy. The Catalina Museum for Art & History is currently hosting an exhibit dedicated to contemporary Tongva artists and their work.
The island’s famous Buffalo Milk cocktail was invented in the 1970’s by a bartender named Michael Hoffler at the Harbor Reef in Two Harbors when it was still called Doug’s.
The Catalina Island Company invented a signature drink to celebrate the post-Covid reopening of the island - the unquarantini!
A Star Resident
Marilyn Monroe lived on Catalina Island for one year when she was a young newlywed. Although the circumstances of Marilyn’s marriage were tragic, pictures from that time capture a vibrant young woman on the cusp of becoming a world-famous star.
Murder In Paradise?
The 1915 fire on Catalina Island was devastating, but an oral history cassette tape made in the 1970’s indicated that it may have been something even worse - attempted murder. When the tapes were made, the Windle Family was one of the most well-respected and longest-standing families living on Catalina Island. According to Windle family lore, during the heat of the fire, several prominent citizens had to rescue the mother-in-law of the owner of the Hotel Rose. Apparently, she had been padlocked in the attic of the hotel!
There were even more suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire. A smaller fire was set all the way across town, drawing away the firemen and many of the resources before the main fire broke out at the Hotel Rose. No one knows for certain if the Hotel Rose fire was set deliberately, but a woman padlocked in an attic sounds like something straight out of a gothic horror story.
The Big Kahuna
Winston Churchill landed a 188-pound marlin swordfish during a brief visit to Catalina Island in 1929. Many members of the Tuna Club were dismayed by this catch. Some of them had been trying to hook a big one for more than ten years.
While filming his movie Terror Island, famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini narrowly escaped drowning off the coast of Catalina. Houdini and his crew were using the Catalina Flyer to help shuttle equipment back and forth, when the boat encountered unusually turbulent seas. Houdini valiantly dove into the cold waters to try to assist the boat, but the sea proved too rough for him. Luckily, he was saved by Avalon deep sea divers Charles Toomoth and Tinch Moricich. Ultimately, the boat was rescued by a group of determined Catalina locals.
Did you know that there is a vineyard on Catalina? Rusack Winery grows both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on Catalina’s remote southwest facing hillside. Alas, there are no wine tastings at this time, but you can sign up for the Isla Wine Circle Club to order the wines online.
A Hole In One
Built in 1892, Catalina’s golf course is the oldest course in Southern California.
20-Something Miles Across The Sea
The Four Preps made Catalina famous with their song ‘26 Miles Across the Sea’ written by Bruce Belland, but apparently the island is closer to 22 miles across the sea, depending on where you are on the shore.
Catalina is part of the Channel Islands, which have the reputation of being California’s Gallapogos due to their unique biodiversity. Catalina is home to over 60 plant, animal and insect species that can’t be found anywhere else on earth.
Visiting Catalina Is Elementary, My Dear Watson
Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited the island in 1923.
Although there’s never been gambling at Catalina’s famous Casino, there was a gambling establishment called the Pilgrim Club on the island in the early 1900’s. The Pilgrim Club burned down in Catalina’s tragic 1915 fire.
Although gold miners did briefly seek their fortune on Catalina Island in the 1800’s, the boom was short-lived. Claims of Catalina gold remain suspect, but silver, lead and zinc were all found on the island.
In 1926, William Wrigley, Jr. and a business associate named D.M. Renton were driving across the island when their car got stuck in the mud. Through this fortuitous accident, Renton discovered that Catalina produces particularly fine clay. Wrigley opened a factory called Catalina Clay Products which began to produce brightly colored dishes and tiles. Although the studio factory closed in the 1930’s, Catalina Pottery remains highly popular collector’s items to this day.
Sunny With A Chance Of Smiles
Local legend claims that Catalina has perfect weather, which is pretty true. It’s rarely hotter than 85 on the island, or cooler than 65.
Although Catalina is known for its perfect weather, it did snow once in the 1940’s!