California Bear

Hey, Weekend: Cruisin’ to Catalina Island

My mom would often share stories of childhood adventures on Catalina, the star of Southern California’s Channel Islands. She talked of bird sanctuaries and glass bottoms boats, ice cream afternoons and sleepy boat rides back home. By the time I made it to the island, the bird’s may have flown the coop, but the other charming adventures of Avalon remained, plus much more. 

Revived by Chicago businessman William Wrigley Jr. more than 100 years ago, the island became a popular playground for Hollywood stars and tourists alike. Wrigley even brought his Chicago Cubs to the island for spring training each year. At its height, the Catalina Casino, the iconic structure that greets guest as they arrive in Avalon, hosted big band concerts, dances and movie premieres. To this day, the island remains a family business, currently run by William’s great-granddaughter Alison and her husband Geoff Rusack. 

Flx tour bus

Getting There

Catalina Express offers easy and efficient rides across the channel from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point. The ride takes about an hour with 30 daily departures offered year-round. Once on the island at Avalon, all the hotels and amenities are walking distance and some offer golf cart shuttles.

Hotel Atwater

Where to Stay

The Catalina Island Company relaunched the famed Hotel Atwater, named for Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of William’s son Philip, in 2019. The century-old property has been lovingly updated, with a refreshed lobby, smartly appointed rooms and a breakfast bistro for morning recharges. 

Above Avalon, Mt Ada, the former Wrigley home, now houses an intimate bed & breakfast for lucky visitors. Enjoy daily breakfast or lunch on the wraparound terrace for stunning views.

Flx Biergarten

Where to Dine

Avalon hosts a variety of eateries, from casual snacks and treats to sit-down dining experience. Start off your afternoon with a craft beer at Flx Biergarten, a fun, open-air spot with firepits, games and revolving beers, ciders and more on tap. Island food favorites include Avalon Grille, offering inspired meat, fish and farmstand produce dishes alongside craft cocktails, beer and fine wines. Across the way, Bluewater Grill serves up all kinds of seafood on the historic site of the SS Catalina Ferry with incredibly harbor and Casino views.

The Theater inside Avalon Casino

Things to Do

The famed Casino, built in 1929, now offers self-guided tours that include views of the circular ballroom, colorful theater and more. The veranda outside the ballroom enjoys some of the best views of the harbor. Lovers of film history and art deco design will not want to miss this experience. 

Descansco Beach Club

Near the Casino at Descanso Cove, Descanso Beach Club features Avalon’s only beachside restaurant and bar. This laidback environment is the perfect spot to unwind and soak in some sun.

Views from El Rancho Escondido

More adventure awaits outside of Avalon! A new tour via a retro Flx bus takes guests through the island’s gorgeous interior, with frequent sightings of the famed Catalina bison, descendants of a herd brought over for a movie production in the 1920s. The bus journeys to El Rancho Escondido and the family-owned stables and courtyard built by Philip and Helen Wrigley nearly a century ago. Alison and Geoff had since brought the ranch back to life and now house several Arabian horses. You can view the Wrigley family’s long history of horse riding and competition at an exhibition in one of the stables. 

El Rancho Escondido

In additional to horses, the property also tends Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel vineyards that grow grapes for coveted bottles of Rusack handcrafted wines, made in Ballard Canyon.  Finally, a newly constructed Bishop’s Chapel awaits, weaving in artifacts from Los Angeles’ former St. Paul’s Cathedral and overlooking Catalina’s west end. Guests will also learn the history of JORY’s Bell, the Baptismal Font and the original stained-glass windows of this simple and moving chapel.

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