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A DAY IN

Pleasure Cruising in Avalon

January 07, 2007|Jessica Gelt

In 1887, George Shatto, a real estate speculator from Grand Rapids, Mich., purchased 21-mile-long Santa Catalina Island for $200,000. Shatto created the settlement of Avalon with the island's first hotel--Hotel Metropole--and its first pier. After chewing gum kingpin William Wrigley Jr. bought the isle in 1919, he drew tourists and Hollywood royalty with the Casino, a grand Art Deco ballroom and movie theater, and brought his Chicago Cubs baseball team for spring training. Modern complaints that Avalon (population 3,000-plus) is as rowdy as Tijuana in the summer are warranted, but even the revelers can't deplete the joy of finding the natural wonders beyond the town's touristy center.

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ONE THING TO DO

Paddling Into the Sunrise

Get recreational. From horseback riding to golf-cart driving, parasailing to bicycling, scuba diving to camping, Avalon is a gateway to adventurous times. Our pick of the litter is the "not-so-early bird, 1/2 day kayak rental special" at Descanso Beach Ocean Sports. For $64, you and that certain someone can "discover your own secluded cove" during a four-hour romantic getaway. Rent a double kayak before 11:30 a.m., bring snacks, beverages, ice and towels, and the company will throw in a dry bag and picnic cooler as well as snorkel gear and wetsuits. Descanso Beach, (310) 510-1226.

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$40:

Price per hour to rent a four-seat golf cart for a scenic tour

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EAT, DRINK

Cocktails by the Sea

Old World-style El Galleon is probably the most authentic local restaurant along buzzing beachfront Crescent Avenue. A pounded-copper bar is a magnet for midmorning Bloody Mary guzzlers; later in the day, smooth German beers, savory steaks and fresh seafood are the rage. A lively karaoke scene kicks up dust at night. 411 Crescent Ave., (310) 510-1188 . . . History flavors the food at Catalina Visitor's Country Club, which Wrigley built as the Cubs' clubhouse. The Spanish Colonial building houses an elegant Mission-style dining room with a high wood-beamed ceiling, roaring fireplace and sweeping hillside views. Enjoy a twilight special Sunday to Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m.: seafood cocktail, Caesar salad and prime rib for $19. 1 Country Club Drive, (310) 510-7404.

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SHOP, DROP

Old Maps,

Sticky Taffy

Ron Franklin Pyke came to Avalon as a teenage runaway in the '60s, only to be shuttled home in a helicopter. In the '80s, he opened R. Franklin Pyke Bookseller, which stocks antique books, maps and prints. Among them: a 1937 print by Wrigley's gum wrapper artist Otis Shepard, and an Isthmus map made during an 1852 geodetic survey. 228 Metropole Ave., (310) 510-2588 . . . Lloyd's of Avalon Confectionery makes candy dandy. The same taffy puller has been used for the signature saltwater taffy since 1934. 315 Crescent Ave., (310) 510-7266.

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Filmed on Location: Since 1911, the island has served as a location for more than 225 movies, earning the nickname "Hollywood's exotic back lot." Classics cementing this reputation include "Mutiny on the Bounty," "Jaws," "Ben-Hur" and "Chinatown." Also, the creepy devil-rape dream sequence in Roman Polanski's 1968 study in horror, "Rosemary's Baby," was filmed at Catalina's Little and Shark harbors, not in New York City.

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