Catalina Island

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Catalina Island

Written by Scott Messmoer

Catalina Island is a place of rare beauty and tranquillity only 22 miles from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and San Diego. Only 76 square miles of land, Catalina Island is a mixture of outdoor adventure, old world charm and some of the best scuba diving in the world. Outdoor enthusiasts, especially divers, can enjoy Catalina Island's pristine waters or travel inland to see the island's plentiful wildlife. Visitors can even catch a glimpse of Buffalo that were originally brought to the island for during a film production in the 1930s. Bald eagles soar above the island and the Catalina Island Fox and Beechey Ground Squirrel exist only on Catalina Island.

Avalon, the Tuna Club and the Oldest Nine Holes in the West

Catalina Island was first developed by the United States when a wealthy landowner obtained it from the Mexican government in 1846. Catalina Island has seen more than its share of activities: yachting, movie making, commercial and sport fishing, diving, cattle and sheep ranching, even gold mining for a short while.

The Santa

In 1892, the small nine-hole golf course was built at the Catalina Country Club & Golf Course, making it the first golf course west of the Rocky Mountains. The oldest fishing club in America, the Tuna Club, was formed in 1898, the same year as the Spanish American War. Listed on the Registry of National Historic Places, the Tuna Club has occupied the same building since 1916 and hosted such luminaries at Cecil B. Demille, George Patton, Bing Crosby and Winston Churchill. Writer Zane Grey's old pueblo home is now a hotel. Grey's book the Vanishing American was the basis for the film of the same name and the reason buffalo were brought to Catalina Island.

Catalina Island Conservancy

Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley owned the majority interest in the old Santa Catalina Island Company which administered most of Catalina during the late 1800s. The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy was formed in 1986 and now owns 86 percent of the island. There is only one city on Catalina Island, Avalon, with its beautiful bay full of sailboats and dozens of shops lining the streets. Very few automobiles are in Avalon, most residents drive around in golf carts. In fact, the waiting list to legally drive a car on Catalina Island is about 10 years.

The Casino

The beautiful art deco Casino is a great place for dances or to go to the theater. Built in 1929, the theater sits more than a thousand people and the ball room has been the site of big band concerts and dances since the glory days of Jimmy Dorsey and Harry James. Hikers can explore the interior of Catalina Island on their own but hiking permits are required by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.

Boating and Tour Information

Boaters can tie up at Avalon Harbor on one of 400 locations. Boats under 39 feet are charged only $16 per night. The Avalon Harbor Department can be contacted at 310-510-0535. Visitors can sail by boat from the California coast for fly by helicopter. The Island Express Helicopter Service flies visitors to the island in only 15 minutes. For booking information, call 310-510-2525. The Catalina Express sails from the coast departing from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point. Call 310-519-1212 for costs and sailing times.

From Long Beach harbor, Catalina Cruises offers voyages on vintage boats which last nearly two hours before docking at Catalina Island. For more information or to receive a 100-page travel brochure, write to the Catalina Island Visitors Bureau & Chamber of Commerce at P.O. Box 217, Avalon, CA 90704. Or call at 310-510-1520.

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