Catalina Island: Time Machine Travel Just Off The Coast of Southern California

We often dream of being able to step back in time to experience history in the making, up close and personal. One popular era that many historians relish sharing information about is the Roaring Twenties, a time of histrionic social and political change. Jazz music, flappers, gangsters, Prohibition, speakeasies, Model Ts, women’s rights and more exciting happenings made up what many referred to as a cultural civil war, all taking place within a decade when the nation’s wealth more than doubled.

The strong economy was driven by visionaries who actually pulled up their sleeves and worked their way to the top. Case in point, William L. Wrigley Jr. was perhaps best known for his Wrigley Gum empire and for being the owner of the Chicago Cubs. In 1919, he purchased controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company and began to develop a small paradise roughly 20 miles off the shore of Los Angeles, California. Not only was he creating a place where individuals like Charlie Chaplin and The Beatles’ George Harrison frequented but he also launched opportunity for economic growth by turning the island into a revenue generating business, producing clay tiles and household products within the Catalina Clay Products Tile and Pottery Plant.

The island was nurtured with extensive plantings of trees and shrubs. William’s wife, Ada, created what is now known as the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. A number of industries benefited from the development of the island, primarily construction, transportation, hospitality and restaurants—providing job opportunities for veterans returning from World War I.

The island’s city of Avalon became a tourist destination easily recognized in images for the historical casino built in 1929. The shores of Avalon are sprinkled with rich history and a vibe that transports visitors directly into the exciting and racy 1920s’ culture while maintaining a modern, enchanting, serene and somewhat luxurious ambiance often compared to a little Capri, Italy. Cruise ships stop there weekly, bringing visitors from across the globe to this unique and mesmerizing secret California utopia.

The year 2019 marks the 125th year Wrigley Centennial Celebration and the Catalina Island Company continues to strategically invest millions of dollars into the beautification of the island while preserving its rich history. The legendary Atwater Hotel is being transformed into a luxurious resort and restaurant while maintaining and preserving some of the original features of this historical landmark as it prepares for the grand opening this summer. The charming Pavilion Hotel located in the heart of Avalon offers a fireside wine and cheese reception everyday at 4:30 in its open-air courtyard lounge just steps from the beach and pier.

Visitors have a few options with regard to transportation to the island including a one hour ride onboard one of the Catalina Express ships or ideally enjoying breathtaking aerial views onboard one of the Island Express (IEX) helicopters, arriving roughly 12-14 minutes after departure.

A popular wedding and honeymoon destination, Catalina Island offers private concierge tours and opportunities to indulge in spa treatments, fine dining, and the ability to step back in time and experience early Hollywood glamour at its finest. In May each year, Catalina’s silent film festival attracts movie buffs from all over the world. In the 1920s, silent films like Terror Island starring Harry Houdini, Leap Year starring Roscoe Arbuckle and The Navigator starring Buster Keaton were all filmed on Catalina Island. Once the “talkies” hit the big screen, the island was and remains frequently used for filming and has attracted the likes of Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney Doris Day, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and Christopher Walken as well as television shows ranging from Growing Pains to Arrested Development and the season finale of Netflix romantic comedy web series Love. And, of course, the hit podcast Fatal Voyage, The Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood discusses in detail how Catalina was a favorite getaway spot for Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner on their yacht, Splendour, prior to her death in 1981.

In addition to the numerous hotels and bed and breakfasts on the island, some of the finest accommodations including private golf carts can be found in the secluded villas of Hamilton Cove, located in a cloistered bay next to the white sandy beaches of the Descanso Beach Club.

The remarkable beauty of this majestic island, combined with its rich history, has made Catalina a popular destination for both couples and families. Most of the vehicles operated in the city of Avalon are golf carts and bicycles with plenty of fun located in the heart of the town for children, including an award winning miniature golf course and a Fun Zone arcade. Whether one is searching for a romantic getaway or an all inclusive family vacation, journey back to the 1920s at Catalina Island for a memorable experience.

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Catalina Island Trivia: Did You Know?

  • Marilyn Monroe (known at the time as Norma Jean Mortenson) resided on Catalina Island with her family prior to being discovered.
  • The Catalina Island Museum opened its permanent home, the Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building, to the public on June 18, 2016, launching a new era for this spectacular museum.
  • Now in its 17th year, the Art Deco’s Avalon Ball is a fantastic journey into the past when big bands played for huge audiences which were broadcast to the nation in the Art Deco Casino Ballroom, built in 1929 and located in the city of Avalon on Catalina Island.
  • The Wrigley Mansion, overlooking the city of Avalon and the shoreline of Catalina Island, was transformed into an elegant bed and breakfast with six suites, providing one of the most magical views in the world and is now operated by the University of Southern California.
  • In the 1920s, William Wrigley Jr. was the first baseball owner to bring a major league club out West for spring training, building a facility for the Cubs on Catalina that he humbly called “Wrigley Field.” (Regular-season major league baseball wouldn’t arrive on the west coast until the Dodgers and the Giants made their moves west in the 1950s.)
  • Fourth generation Wrigley family members continue to own and operate a percentage of Catalina Island (after deeding over 42,000 acres to a private land trust known as the Catalina Island Conservancy) including the magnificent Rusack Vineyards located on the island as well as in Santa Ynez Valley.
  • Catalina Island provides activities that include topnotch zip-lining, jeep tours among the herds of Catalina’s famous bison, a country club golf course, underwater submarine adventures, yachting, whale watching, fishing, a spectacular beach club and nature camping opportunities near the island’s small village of Two-Harbors.
  • The Island Spa opened in 2016 offering first-rate experiences and a full menu of world-class treatments designed to enhance one’s overall health and wellbeing.


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