I’m hardly the first Metroblogger to make my way across the clear blue sea to Santa Catalina Island, but it’s hard to convey exactly what you’re missing if you’ve never been. Catalina’s old tourism tagline is “In All The World, No Trip Like This,” and that’s pretty much an on-the-nose assessment. There are, of course, the tourist traps and hum-drum aspects you could find in Huntington or Hermosa – but in Avalon, something is different. The calm. The sun. The wonder of passing a day in a city only about a mile square.
For me, the island’s architecture is one of its biggest draws. The iconic Casino, standing as both a sentry and a siren, houses the world’s largest free-standing, circular ballroom and one of the most stunning art deco theaters to come out of that period’s golden age.
It’s hardly surprising that the Casino won numerous awards when it opened in 1929, but what may surprise you – or may not – is that it still functions today. Once a week, the Avalon Theatre shows almost-new movies (this week was Dukes of Hazard, next is The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and the top floor dance hall still hosts weddings and dances. Little has changed in the deco wonderland, save the replacement of some worn carpet. The biggest change awaiting the Casino, is the replacement of its 9 outdoor murals.
Let me qualify “replacement.” The artist originally intended for the murals to be made of tiles, but a rushed construction schedule forced him to apply the art directly to the Casino’s exterior walls. Part of me was immediately worried about replacing the original works, but our tour-guide assured me that the new tile panels were accurate to within an 1/8th of an inch – and the original artist had consulted on the project, pleased that his original vision would finally be realized.
The island’s history is long and too detailed to outline here. Suffice to say it’s been a playground for decades – at one point for most of Hollywood’s biggest stars (it has also doubled any imaginable tropic setting in the movies).
Of course, history has its time and place. If you’re lucky, you’ll spend a lot of time enjoying this view of Catalina on its (limited) beaches and (expansive) shoreline.
Given LA’s blessed climate, Catalina probably shouldn’t even have an off season, but it does – making these waning days of summer weather the perfect time to visit. You can catch a boat from Long Beach, Dana Point, or, my pick, San Pedro. You can hit Catalina’s highlights in a well planned single day, or check out various hotel packages and make a weekend or mini-vacation out of your trip. Word to the wise – some of these pakcages are just handy totals of various accomodations, boat fare, and tours – they won’t save you anything, so do a little side research to really find a deal. Few hotels aren’t charming, however, so it’s hard to mess up that part.
For those who’d rather avoid the knick-knack shops and bars, there is spectacular camping and hiking on the island as well, usually in the company of the island’s imported bison. There are also several popular race events on the island, including the Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run in January, Catalina Marathon, Half, 5 and 10ks, and a triathlon. But that’s another post.