There was a time when the island was called Santa Catalina. In the early 20th century, it was developed as a resort by William Wrigley Jr, who was known for his chewing gum and baseball team, the Chicago Cubs (thus, Wrigley Field).
As time passed, Hollywood began using Catalina Island as a filming location and, at one point, shipped in a herd of buffalo for background use in a film but neglected to take them home again. As such, the buffalo had little choice but to adapt to the land, and wild offspring can still be seen roaming the hills to this day.
In 1929, the Catalina Casino was built and featured Big Band performers and ballroom dancing for the island’s many visitors. The white art deco structure remains as a landmark and shows up prominently in so very many photos as it overlooks the harbor. Despite that today it is used as a movie theater, one can get a sense of the type of roaring 20’s crowd that once frequented this tiny piece of land in the California archipelago that is 22 miles in length and only 8 miles wide.
Today, Catalina Island is visited by approximately one million tourists a year, many of whom take the ferry from Long Beach. And with so much to do and see, it’s no wonder the numbers are so high. Bikes and golf carts are available for sightseeing purposes, as are bus tours if you wish to explore the interior of the island. Visit the botanical garden, charter a fishing boat, rent a jet ski, or take a glass-bottom boat tour of the reefs and shipwrecks in the area. If seeing them from a boat isn’t enough of a thrill, try scuba diving and snorkeling to get a closer look. If you’d rather coast above it all, parasailing is also available.
Visit the museum, a spa, or perhaps go shopping. The retail district is small, as one would expect given the size of the island. But that doesn’t mean it lacks in variety. There are plenty of shops and boutiques, restaurants and bars. If you have a craving for seafood try the Bluewater Grill and the Descanso Beach Club. And do try the buffalo milk, which, for obvious reasons, is a local specialty. You can have it numerous different ways, including with vodka, Kahlua, creme de cacao, and banana cream liqueur blended and served over ice.
For hikers and outdoorsy types, Catalina offers numerous trails, kayaking trips, and is popular with overnight campers. Other activities include zip lining, seaplane tours, a golf course, Segway rentals, and a Jeep tour of the rugged inland where you might spot some buffalo.
If you’re a fan of wildlife, there’s plenty to see, both on land and in the water. If you’re a photography buff, you can’t go wrong on Catalina Island. Everywhere you look is picturesque and just waiting to be captured on film. And if you’re a fan of a lazy day, then time on the beach will keep feeling relaxed and fulfilled.
Catalina is a great place to spend the day. However, if you’re hoping to spend more time, there are several options for camping, inns, bed & breakfasts, and vacation rentals. There are even a few hotels.
Almost all accommodations are smallish on Catalina island, so don’t expect big chain hotels and huge resorts of 200+ plus rooms. But one thing you can expect is quality and gorgeous rooms with absolutely stunning views. To view the options, visit the Catalina Chamber of Commerce.
And if the beautiful surroundings inspire you to get married on the island, the Chamber of Commerce can help with weddings, too.
It’s hard to believe that a strip of land so close to California would have such a European flair and that an area so small would be so diverse with so very much to see and do. But that’s what makes Catalina Island so very special and an absolute MUST to visit. So if you haven’t considered it yet as a vacation destination, perhaps you should!