Cruise to Catalina Island

Cruisers kick back at the “Mediterranean of California” some 26 miles off the SoCal coast.
Catalina Island fox
The Catalina Island fox is found in six of the eight Channel Islands but nowhere else. The island is also home to the American bison. [banu]/

Not too far from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, there’s Catalina Island—a cruising oasis that provides yachtsmen an escape from the mainland, immersing visitors in all things rest and relaxation, from trying out Lady Luck to exploring the island’s wildlife.

Catalina Casino

This landmark opened in 1929. It’s an iconic legacy of the millions invested by chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. and his family to make Catalina Island the tourism destination it is today. The casino was built not for gambling but for entertainment and dancing in the world’s largest circular ballroom. The 1,184-seat Avalon Theatre in the casino’s lower level was the first designed specifically for talking pictures. Its stunning art deco murals depicting Catalina’s cultural evolution were painted by John Gabriel Beckman, whose work also graces Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Today, visitors to Catalina Island can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the casino, watch movies in the Avalon Theatre on the weekends or time their visit to coincide with one of the galas held in the ballroom throughout the year.

Catalina Island Fox 

The Catalina Island fox, a cute 4- to 6-pound fur ball, is a tremendous conservation success story. In 1999, the canine distemper virus wiped out all but around 100 of an estimated 1,300 animals and later landed the fox on the federal endangered-species list. Thanks to an intensive campaign of vaccinations, captive breeding and population monitoring, the fox now thrives, numbering around 1,800 today. Scout out these survivors along the island’s 165 miles of hiking trails or on the naturalist-led Catalina Island Conservancy Eco Tours.

Garden to Sky Trail

The moderately challenging Garden to Sky Trail rewards hikers who tackle its steep incline with some of Catalina Island’s best views. The 2.8-mile, paved out-and-back trail starts at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden, and peaks at Divide Road, where the breathtaking panoramic views take in the coast, the Pacific Ocean and the other Channel Islands. Be sure to pack water, snacks and sunscreen, and obtain the free (but required) day-hike permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy online or from its office in Avalon.

Buffalo Milk

While on Catalina, raise a glass of the island’s buffalo milk. This mixture of crème de banana, crème de cacao, Kahlúa, vodka and half-and-half is named after bison that have resided on the island since 1924. A dozen were ferried over for the filming of The Vanishing American, one of more than 500 productions shot on the island over the years. After the crew returned to Hollywood, the bison remained and multiplied, now numbering around 150.

Tip: Two Harbors on the island’s west end offers more than 700 moorings and anchorages in more than a dozen sites.