AVALON — Catalina, 22 miles off the mainland of Southern California, is a Christmas stocking filled with holiday delights.
Summer visitors are returning for Christmas and for New Year's Eve (at the famed Casino, with dancing to the classic jazz of the Big Band era).
Christmas lights beside the bay mingle with the reflections of yacht club boats aglow for the holidays.
Children carol from house to house and families celebrate the meaning of Christmas in small churches that seem as far away from the mainland as an isle in the South Pacific.
At the same time, the renaissance that has quietly been upgrading the resort facilities of the island adds a sparkle of new amenities and attractions for this holiday season.
What's happening this month in and around the town points up the need to make plans early for next year's holiday season here.
This is especially true if you want to enjoy New Year's Eve at the Casino, remembering when Glenn Miller, Jan Garber, Les Brown, Woody Herman and many others brought their bands here.
The 1,200 tickets for this year's New Year's Eve dinner-dance went on sale at the end of September at the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau. They sold out quickly. The bureau is receiving daily calls from people hoping to pick up a cancellation.
The $50 tickets are non-refundable, but the bureau puts callers in touch with people who bought tickets early and might not be able to attend. The price includes champagne and party favors as well as dinner and dancing.
The Society for the Preservation of Big Band Jazz, based in Ventura, is sending Randy Siple and his 20-piece band to Avalon's Casino for the New Year's Eve party featuring the music of Glenn Miller.
To accommodate guests, Catalina Cruises will operate a special passenger vessel for those who can't stay overnight. It will arrive in Avalon at 6:30 p.m. and sail when the party is over. Round-trip fare is $19.90.
Hotel Villa Portofino bought some tickets for their guests.
The Villa Portofino is part of the Catalina renaissance. In the late 1940s it opened as Scari's Hotel at a choice waterfront location. Two summers ago, owners Tom and Gina Campanelli, with manager/host Larry Buster, transformed the hotel and restaurant into the Mediterranean-style Villa Portofino with ideas brought from the Ligurian coast of the Italian Riviera.
Beginning at 3 p.m. on New Year's Day the villa's Ristorante will serve a dinner that the Campanelli management team learned at cooking classes in Florence, Italy, last summer.
The stately old Wrigley Mansion, high on Mt. Ada overlooking Avalon and its harbor, has become the Inn on Mt. Ada, with six guest rooms and suites. The elegant accommodations are in a setting of fireplaces, terraces and panoramic views. Rates range from $140 to $330, including full breakfasts, and the inn is fully booked 10 months in advance for weekends and two months ahead for weekdays.
Other stories of the past are shared this holiday season by guests of the restored Glenmore Plaza Hotel. Teddy Roosevelt and Clark Gable slept there. Amelia Earhart sat in the cupola and looked out over the ocean panoramas.
In 1981 James Amoroso and his family bought Glenmore and began the restoration. The Victorian oak lobby has been preserved, and to the turn-of-the-century atmosphere of each room has been added such contemporary touches as a whirlpool tub.
The Clark Gable suite has an oversize round bed for holiday honeymooners. Glenmore's weekend doubles are $69, and suites go up to $250.
Seaport Village, a new luxury resort hotel, is offering a holiday-season package of three days/two nights at $69.95 per person, double occupancy. It includes the round-trip boat fare from the mainland, taxi service to the hotel and champagne on arrival.
The old Paradise Island Inn behind town has been expanded and renovated as the Catalina Canyon Hotel. It adjoins the golf course and tennis courts and provides health-spa facilities. A Christmas dinner of continental cuisine will be served in the Catalina restaurant.
Catalina has about 40 places to stay this holiday season, from cottages to the new and restored lodges and hotels. The waterfront walk is a temptation of restaurants, along with shopping, browsing and dining at Metropole Market Place.
Santa Near Waterfront
Early this evening Santa will appear at the lighted tree on Wrigley Plaza beside the waterfront. There will be toys furnished by the senior citizens. Afterward, Antonio's Pizzeria will donate 25% of its dinner receipts for the evening to a food fund for the needy.
At the Casino, the theater includes Handel's "Messiah" and school choirs in its holiday season programs. The museum is open 1 to 4 p.m. daily, including Christmas and New Year's.
The Zane Grey Hotel, once Zane Grey's luxurious pueblo home high on a hilltop overlooking Avalon, turns another page of island history for visitors who step into the rooms where the novelist lived and wrote for 20 years.
For information to help plan a visit to the island, phone the Catalina Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau, (213) 510-1520.