Santa Catalina Island, often called Catalina Island or Catalina, is a rocky island about 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles. The island is 22 miles long and 8 miles wide when measured from Long Point. The highest elevation on the island is 2,097 ft. at the peak of Mt. Orizaba. As one of the Channel Islands in the California archipelago, Catalina Island is situated within Los Angeles County and most of the island is administered by the Catalina Island Conservancy. The total population in the 2000 census was 3,696 people, almost 85% of who live in the island's only incorporated city of Avalon. The second center of population is the unincorporated village of Two Harbors with a population of 298. The remaining population is scattered over the island between the two population centers.
The City of Avalon is only one square mile in size and everything is within easy walking distance. Golf cart rentals are abundant in Avalon and the mountainous terrain surrounding Avalon can easily be explored in an hour or two. People can also rent bicycles or take a sightseeing tour in a comfortable motor coach or open air tram. Outdoor enthusiasts are welcome to explore Catalina Island on foot but hiking and biking permits are required. Permits and trail maps are available at the Catalina Conservancy House at 125 Clarissa Avenue in Avalon or by calling (310) 510-2595.
Catalina Island was originally inhabited by the people of the Gabrielino/Tongva Indian tribe who had villages near present day San Pedro and Playa del Rey. Archeological evidence indicates that the Tongva settlement began in 7,000 BC. The Pimugnans had settlements all over the island at one time or another, with their biggest villages being at the Isthmus and at present day Avalon, Shark/Little Harbor and Emerald Bay. By the end of the 19th century, the island was almost uninhabited except for a few cattle herders.
James Lick, who earned a fortune after founding the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, was the first owner of Catalina Island, and died in 1876. The sons of Phineas Banning bought the island in 1891 from the estate of James Lick and established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop the island as a resort. The Banning brothers built a dance pavilion in the center of Avalon, made additions to the Hotel Metropole and the steamer wharf, built an aquarium, created the Pilgrim Club as a gambling club for men only, improved the standard of Avalon's beach by erecting a sea wall and adding covered benches, built a bath house, and set up close to one hundred tents throughout Avalon's canyon for visitors who might not be able to afford a hotel. One of main investors to purchase shares from the Banning brothers was chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., who bought out every last share holder until he owned the controlling share of the Santa Catalina Island Company.
About a million tourists visit Catalina Island every year. More than 500 movies, documentaries, television programs and commercials have been filmed on Catalina Island over the past 90 years and the presence of movie stars attracted many more tourists. Visitors to Catalina Island often ride the ferries that depart from Orange County in Newport Beach and Dana Point The trip takes approximately an hour. Helicopter service is also available from Long Beach or San Pedro.