It’s no wonder that the home of the first glass-bottom boat was designed to be tourist-friendly. The southernmost city in L.A. County, Avalon is the only municipality on Catalina Island and a popular spot for beach vacations. While no one’s stopping you from partaking in the parasailing and snorkeling opps, the hamlet offers much more than your garden-variety sun-and-surf itinerary. Catalina’s natural beauty coupled with the city’s vintage enchantment makes for a unique getaway from the mainland; trade rush hour on the 405 for a golf cart along the waterfront and see for yourself.
Local experts dish on their favorite spots…
“At Bluewater Avalon you can sit on the deck and overlook the water, and they do a happy hour in the offseason. Another highlight is the poke at Avalon Seafood on the pier in the bay. You can order it candy-style, which is a local favorite and comes with tempura chunks, their special Rosie’s sauce, and avocado. It’s a dressed-up version of the usual poke.”
“Catalina Souvenir Shop has been there for decades, and you’ll find seashells painted in fluorescent colors and goofball carved coconut heads. There is a tiki bar nearby called Luau Larry’s where you can have an exotic cocktail in a cave. The Catalina Island Museum is a must-do. There’s an amazing collection of artifacts from the Wrigley family, who bought the island in 1919. Southern California’s ultimate lunch with a view is at Wrigley Mansion. It’s now the Inn at Mt. Ada, a bed-and-breakfast with a terrace overlooking the town. The world’s most beautiful Art Deco movie palace is the Catalina Casino. Take the tour, and you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the grand ballroom upstairs.”
“Avalon is the birthplace of sportfishing. People catch everything from halibut to white sea bass to yellowtail, even tuna sometimes, and they take it to a local restaurant, and it’s cooked for them. You can bring your own fish to the Lobster Trap, which is the local, funky, rowdy hangout where we all eat. They have the best hours; they’re open well past most restaurants.”
Things to know before you go…
Avalon beaches can get crowded during peak times. For a little less density, check out Step Beach, a narrow strip of seashore that tends to get less tourist attention. Or if you don’t mind giving up the sand for something closer to solitude, Pebbly Beach is the way to go.
Set in a peaceful garden just a minute from the beach, the aptly named Golf Gardens has been a mainstay on the island for nearly two decades. Expect an unusually challenging putt-putt experience—these 18 holes are creative and varied enough to entertain all levels of golfers.
The Catalina Casino (in the Italian sense of the word—no gambling here!) was the first U.S. movie theater designed for talkies. The Art Deco/ Mediterranean revival design features original murals by John Gabriel Beckman. You can still catch flicks here, with opening organ performances on the weekend.
Take advantage of your time on Catalina and explore the interior of the island. If you’re not up for the entire 38.5 miles of the Trans-Catalina Trail, ask around for the Hour Trail. The view on the way back down will be worth the effort.
There’s a 20-year waiting list to have a full-size vehicle in Avalon, so golf carts are your best bet. Book one at Cartopia Cart Rentals and drive to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden. The monument to chewing gum mogul William Wrigley is partly constructed from Catalina blue flagstone.
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