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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Catalina Island: the best time to see Avalon is NOW

I’ve always been a huge of Catalina Island, the 26-mile-from-Los Angeles Riviera that’s great for long walks, back-country exploring and of course, photowalking.

I’ve been on an island kick recently, and was thus inspired recently to hop a boat to Catalina recently and spend some time searching for the best photo spots.

I walked and walked and walked, which is a good thing, got in one great sunrise, a memorable sunset and a quasi sunset that was actually the best of the bunch. Take a look at the video, which combines a visit to another great Los Angeles area island, Balboa, to get what I mean by that.

I love the backroads of Avalon, and walking up to the old (and recently re-opened) Zane Grey hotel and Inn at Mt. Ada on the other side, which are way less crowded.

Summer time is a rough time to visit, because of the throngs, and days when the cruise ships dumps passengers out for a limited time can be challenging. Great thing that we’re now in “shoulder season” now, the best time to explore Catalina.

If you’ve never been to the island, yes, Avalon can be really crowded, full of too many golf carts and people itching to get drunk and live it up, but work on your timing. Go in the fall, and see way fewer people. You'll have the island to yourself.

Well, almost. There are several events in October aimed to bring in visitors, including a chili cook-off, the Oktoberfest and big JazzTrax jazz festival. One bonus of the festival is that the historic casino, built by William Wrigley at the dawn of "Talkies" to showcase the new art form of movies with soundtracks, will be open to the public, something that doesn't happen that often.

For more photos of the island, check out my gallery here:

Meanwhile, I have a little tour for you. The beauty of the island is that it’s so walkable. My #Photowalk below will take you from one end of town to the other, on foot. The extras are optional, and you could get there via golf cart, taxi, bus or tour.

Your Photowalk will begin at the boat terminal. Leave there and walk into town.


Catalina Conservancy, 708 Crescent Avenue. Here is where you can pick up some brochures about the island, hiking and biking permits in the back country and get a bite to eat the new Toyon cafe.

—Green Pleasure Pier. The center of town, home to fishing, boat rentals and such.

—Catalina Museum, 217 Metropole. For checking out the unique history of the island, and William Wrigley’s role in developing it.

—Via Casino. The arched walkway that will lead you to:

—Casino, 1 Casino Way. The jewel of the island, the historic 1929 masterpiece that sits majestically on the left side of Avalon.

—Descanso Beach Club, 1st Catherine Way. On the other side of the casino, a fun outdoor eatery and bar with a killer view of the water.

—Chime Tower, 199 Chimes Tower Road. You’ll have to climb up a hill for this, but it’s worth it, to catch the harbor shot.

—Inn at Mt. Ada, 398 Wrigley Avenue. The quintessential shot of the harbor and casino, as seen on many a local TV newscast. Also a big uphill climb, but you can always catch a cab if you’re feeling lazy.

‚—Wrigley Botanical Garden, 1402 Avalon Canyon Road. Another great walk, but a flat one, to a Wrigley memorial and garden.

—Airport in the Sky, Airport Road. For this you’ll need a bus ride, to the top of the island, where little planes land. The Airport has a great restaurant with another killer view, and local Bison have been known to graze up here.

Where to stay:

Hotels aren’t cheap, but the Catalina Hotel and Seaview Village are on the lower end, the Hotel Atwater has recently had a major upgrade, looks like a totally different place (who knew a 100 year old hotel could be so snazzy?) and couldn’t be in a more convenient spot right in the heart of town.

I’ve always been a fan of the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel. What I liked about it was that it was high up the hill, near the Chimes Tower, and away from the action, with a killer view overlooking the harbor. On the other side of town is the Inn at Mt. Ada, the most expensive hotel in town, the old William Wrigley mansion that’s now a steep $700 a night and up bed and breakfast. (It comes with lots of food and free use of a golf cart, by the way.) Carts start at $50 an hour in Avalon.

(The Atwater lobby, artwork and harp shown below.)

Where to eat:

I’m not a foodie, but love the experience at the Descanso Beach Club, a very Hawaii like open air eatery on the other side of the casino. (That’s my cheeseburger from my Descanso seat, with the Casino in the background.) In the heart of town, Mi Casita has terrific Mexican food, Antonio’s Pizza has two locations and is a long time fixture. For the experience, it’s hard to top the DC3 restaurant at the Airport in the Sky. It’s a trek to get up there, but what a view.

Photo rules:

To fly a drone, you’ll need a permit from the city of Avalon or Catalina Conservancy.

Best time to visit:

Know that the cruise shops have tended to dock on Mondays and Tuesdays and passengers are all over town for much of the day. However, that could change. You might want to check the cruise ship dock schedule before you embark!


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