SANTA CATALINA IS an island retreat off the coast of Southern California. During the past 7,000 years, the island has been inhabited by a fabulous cast of characters: Native Americans, smugglers, gold diggers, pirates, Union soldiers, missionaries and movie stars. More than 500 films, commercials and TV shows have been shot on Catalina. Since 1919, the family of chewing gum entrepreneur William Wrigley Jr. has been the island's primarily owner. Catalina Island Conservancy, whose mission is to balance conservation, education and recreation, owns 42,000 acres on the island.
Visiting vessels stay outside Avalon Harbor's anchorage to wait for the Harbor Patrol boat to assign a mooring. Catch the Shoreboat into the city of Avalon, which meanders around the southeast end of the bay.
Many activities center along Crescent Avenue, a scenic walkway surrounding the bay. A trolley stops near points of interest such as Catalina Casino, an art deco masterpiece with 105,000 Catalina clay tiles adorning its pointed rooftop. A narrated tour includes the Big Band era ballroom, the projection booth that introduced talkies, green rooms used by stars like Errol Flynn and Cary Grant, and the Wrigleys' private viewing room where Cecil B. DeMille often screened his films.
A variety of guided tours explore the island's highs and lows. Intrepid souls zigzag across a canyon and through a grove of towering eucalyptus at speeds approaching 35 mph on the Zip Line Eco Tour. Sea life lovers get a close-up of diverse undersea creatures in one of the world's healthiest marine environments on a glass-bottom boat or a semi-submersible vessel.
For a more grounded experience, follow a 19th century stagecoach route along rugged Cape Canyon into the vast interior. Varied wildlife sightings include a herd of 150 bison left behind from a 1920s movie shoot. Capture photos of expansive views from Black Jack Mountain or sip a glass of Catalina wine at Rusack Vineyards.
This rustic resort town sits on a narrow strip of land separating Isthmus Cove on the leeward side of the island from Catalina Harbor on the windward side. The Harbor Department oversees 700 moorings and anchorages in multiple sites.
Stops that make the west end the best end are Two Harbors General Store for supplies and groceries, including a great selection of specialty cheeses, breads and spirits, and West End Galley for fresh baked cinnamon rolls.
Two Harbors is all about having fun outdoors. The Dive & Recreation Center has the gear to enjoy hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling and world-class scuba diving in crystal clear water.
If outdoor fun means relishing warm sun and cool breezes from a chaise lounge, Harbor Sands on Isthmus Cove is infused with South Pacific charm. Harbor Reef Restaurant delivers food and drinks to your rustic palapa, beachside lounger or ocean view table. Don't leave before trying Two Harbors' original creation, Buffalo Milk.