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