Santa Catalina Island is a perpetual beacon for any sightseers along Southern California’s rugged coastline. Situated about 20 miles from San Pedro, the deep channel that separates the mainland from the iconic California island harbors reefs, critical fish habitat, and offers some of the best whale watching in California from mid-December to mid-March.
The island is accessible by an hour-long ferry ride from San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach or Dana Point. It’s always a thrill and prompts a chuckle to watch both private and commercial helicopters overhead, beating you to your destination by 45 minutes. Once on the island, Avalon is easily to navigate and sightsee by foot, although taxis, trolleys, busses, and golf carts are available for those who prefer a more leisurely approach.
Principle attractions for Santa Catalina Island, and Avalon Bay in particular, are snorkeling, scuba, and fishing. The many coves, beaches, and reefs are haven for a remarkable variety of fish. Schools of smelt, sardines, and mackerel abound, attracting larger predatory sport fish like yellowtail and white sea bass. The opportunities for hooking into one are plentiful and range from hiking to a secluded corner of the beach to casting a line, renting a small boat, or hiring one of the numerous charters that entice eager tourists with images of enormous trophy fish.
There are a number of scuba outfitters on the island, each offering access to the hidden nooks and underwater playgrounds surrounding Catalina Island. Diving areas are accessible from both boat and from shore. The waters around the island are considered some of California's premier scuba locations, and in addition to the aforementioned fish, divers can explore prolific kelp forests that teem with coral, garibaldi, lobster, common octopus, barracuda, and more.
Back on land, the historic Avalon Casino dominates the architectural silhouette of Avalon Bay. Built in the late 1920s by Sumner Spaulding and Walter Weber, the façade was designed in a Mediterranean style that is followed throughout the foyers and corridors inside. The theater itself is a spectacle of a different sort altogether. The impressionable room is imbued with creativity and accentuated by the impressionistic murals of John Gabriel Beckman. It is worth more than a simple walk-through, and a tour leaves a visitor with a much fuller sense of the ideals upon which Santa Catalina Island was founded.