About a million people a year visit the Catalina Island Beach. The numbers may fluctuate slightly due to economics and weather, but it is always a very popular spot. Most visitors take the hour long ferry across from the mainland to Avalon. The clear water features extensive visibility and both snorkeling and scuba diving are highly recommended. If you prefer not to get in the water, its possible to explore the wrecks and reefs from the comfort of a glass bottom boat. A couple close dive spots worth checking out in the immediate vicinity of Avalon are Lover’s Cove to the east and Descanso Beach off to the west of the Casino.
At 22 miles long by 8 miles, the rocky island of Santa Catalina Island is found off the coast of California. The island is part of the Channel Islands (not Channel Islands between France and the UK) and is located in Los Angeles County. Mt. Orizaba is the island’s high point at more than 2000 feet! 90% of the island’s 4,096 people (2010 census) live in Avalon, the only incorporated city in Catalina.
The Pimugna or Pimu, Native Americans, originally settled here. Starting in 7000BC. , archeological evidence shows Pimugnan settlement. They regularly travelled back and forth between other villages, near present-day San Pedro and Playa del Rey.
Due to forces out of Native American control, Catalina became part of the Spanish Empire, subsequently Mexico and the lastly the United States. Until William Wrigley (Chicago Cubs, Chewing gum) decided to develop the island for tourism it had been used for piracy, smuggling, gold prospecting and of course – otter hunting. Currently most of Santa Catalina is administered by the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Where is Descanso Beach? 33°34′N 118°33′W
Elegant Catalina Island Beach Vacations
In Avalon, Descanso beach can be found on the far side of the Catalina Casino. Descanso beach is a fabulous two-tiered private beach with crystal clear waters. While there is a $2 fee to use the beach, it does not seem as odious as some of the beaches on the Jersey Shore. The beach is part of the Descanso Beach Club, so there are facilities including dressing rooms, chair/ umbrella and cabana rentals. Typically, I am morally opposed to renting chairs, but we did here. The location is pretty great and the food is above average.
[pullquote]Due to a lack of fresh water, Franciscan friars abandoned the thought of building a mission on Catalina Island. [/pullquote]
All of the beaches in Avalon are very easy to access walking. The distances are quite short in this cute island little town. Avalon is eerily reminiscent of Cruz Bay in St. John, USVI. There is something that I just couldn’t put my finger on, but it is positive. Even though Avalon is very close to LA, it is another world.
Garibaldis, California’s bright orange state fish, and flying fish are the main attractions of the Avalon Underwater Dive Park at Casino Point. This dive park was the first underwater park in the United States operated for non-profit. Its possible to also parasail and enjoy a variety of other fun tourist activities in Avalon. The interior of the island can be visited via jeep and bus tours. The Catalina Island Conservancy manages the area located in the center of the island. It is a great idea to stop by the visitor center for information on how to get around. It appears to be purposely difficult to leave Avalon, but that is purely speculation.
European Exploration of Catalina
In 1542, Santa Catalina was claimed for the Spanish crown, by a Portuguese explorer, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo. Cabrillo named the island after his ship, the San Salvador. Apparently, the name didn’t stick because when the island was “rediscovered” by Sebastián Vizcaíno on the night before Saint Catherine’s day in 1602, it was promptly renamed in the saint’s honor. As the Spanish colonized California, the Pimugnans were decimated by disease. Finally, by the 1830’s the island had been abandoned by the natives.
Foreigners were not allowed to trade with colonies while Spain ruled Catalina Island. The Spanish did not have the naval power to enforce this ban though. The short distance to the mainland, small population and numerous hidden coves led to piracy and smuggling. The people living in the Spanish colonies wanted to trade with everyone and they did. Seal and otters were hunted for their pelts by Russians from the Aleutian Islands who established camps around the Channel Islands.
Baseball Diplomacy on Catalina Island Beach
The island’s fortunes changed permanently when William Wrigley, Jr. gained controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company by buying out all of the other shareholders. He invested a fortune in infrastructure and entertainment options. He built the Catalina Casino in 1929. A few years earlier, the Chicago Cubs started using Catalina for spring training. With only a brief hiatus for WW2, the Cubbies used Santa Catalina every season from 1921 until 1951.
Over Thanksgiving in 1981, the actress Natalie Wood drowned in the water off Two Harbors in extremely sketchy circumstances. “Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, were vacationing aboard their motor yacht, Splendour, along with their guest, Christopher Walken, and Splendour‘s captain, Dennis Davern. In 2011, thirty years after the actress’ death, the case was reopened, partially due to public statements made by Davern.”