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The town of Avalon, which is served by Catalina Express boats from San Pedro and Long Beach, California harbors, is a quaint village with an oceanfront promenade lined with restaurants, boutiques and hotels. From the promenade, visitors can stroll along the colorful Pleasure Pier, which offers numerous opportunities for exploring the island's emerald waters with world-famous glass bottom boat rides, a semi-submersible undersea tour, flying fish boat trip, coastal cruise and a romantic sunset buffet cruise.Catalina Island at its friendliest, most tranquil during autumn
Most beach destinations tend to wind down when summer ends. The crowds thin out. The towns quiet down. Catalina Island is no exception. However, unlike most vacation spots by the shore, this tranquillity is one of Catalina Island's most welcome charms. Located 26 miles off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island is easy to get to but feels like a world away.
Ask any of Catalina Island's 3,500 year-round residents, and they'll likely tell you that Catalina Island is at its best during autumn. The weather is sunny and the water still warm enough to enjoy the island's many land and sea activities. Best of all, the overall atmosphere on Catalina Island is a lot more laid-back. Gone are the summer crowds and the long waits for restaurant tables. In their place, a serenity and friendliness that one would expect from an island getaway. Although everything is still open and the island is hopping with activities and events, most hotels offer reduced room rates this time of year - another pleasure reserved for those visiting in the off-season. Avalon, the island's only city, is truly the hub of Catalina Island and where you'll find the majority of restaurants, hotels and activities. It is also where the boat terminals are located.
With its tree-lined pedestrian walkways that trace the waterfront and with homes that climb the steep hills surrounding the town, Avalon is reminiscent of a Mediterranean village. It is almost free of cars, with most people opting to walk or drive golf carts. Also, Avalon's being only one square mile makes it easy to get around, and the picturesque harbor that Avalon is nestled in provides a good excuse to slow down and enjoy the view. If Catalina Island has one fault, it is its surprisingly small beaches. But don't worry, what Catalina Island lacks in space for beach blankets it more than makes up for with its island charm. The town of Avalon is like Main Street U.S.A., but with an ocean view. There are no chain stores, just little shops and ice cream parlors lining the town's main drag, Crescent Avenue.
With the exception of a Best Western inn, you won't find any hotel chains, either. Rather, cozy inns, romantic ocean-view hotels and beach cottages suitable for entire families are some of the options for accommodations. You can even stay in the former home of chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley. His hilltop Georgian-style Colonial mansion is now a four-star bed-and-breakfast inn called the Inn on Mount Ada. (Ada was Wrigley's wife.)Catch all that the island offers
Even if the sun is shining and beckoning you toward the beach, take some time to explore Avalon's many other treasures. Catalina Island's most recognizable landmark, the Casino Building, is one of the first things you'll notice upon arriving in Avalon. The round, white building rises the equivalent of 12 stories, and it is bordered by the sea on three sides. Built in 1929, the Casino Building - which isn't a gambling hall but rather a "place of entertainment" - played host to dozens of big bands through the 1930s and 1940s.
Guests danced the night away to the music of Glenn Miller, Harry James and many others over the years. Today, visitors can explore the inside of the Casino Building on one of several daily walking tours offered by Discovery Tours. The Casino Building is home to a meticulously restored 1,800-seat theater - which houses one of only two pipe organs in the world - and the legendary art deco ballroom.
The Catalina Island Museum is also located in the Casino Building, on the lower level. From the American Indians who inhabited Catalina 7,000 years ago to the Hollywood legends who vacationed there in the 1950s, the museum is a great place to immerse yourself in the island's history. Open daily, the museum boasts an outstanding collection of archaeological material excavated on the island, as well as historic photographs, displays and Catalina Island pottery.
And as for enjoying the water, you can go snorkeling, kayaking and fishing, all popular at this time of year. Options to fill the day on land include horseback riding, golf, bicycling or just strolling through Avalon's quaint shops and galleries.Protected wilderness
Fall is the perfect time of year to explore the island's vast and beautiful interior. Protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy, more than 85 percent of the island is unspoiled, undeveloped wilderness. This 75-square-mile paradise is home to hundreds of native plants and animal species, as well as some of the most beautiful views of the Pacific you'll ever see.
Get a taste of Catalina Island's rugged side on one of several sightseeing tours into the interior. Discovery Tours offers a narrated Inland Motor Tour, as well as the shorter Skyline Drive. The new Cape Canyon Tour, which carries a maximum of six passengers in an off-road vehicle, is a better choice for those who want a more personalized experience.Where the buffaloes roam
The hills of Catalina Island have been home to buffaloes since 1924, when the original herd of 17 was brought to the island as "extras" and left behind after the filming of the movie "The Vanishing American." For years, being able to see the buffaloes in the interior has been a treat. Today, however, visitors can enjoy the buffaloes right in town. Not the woolly and wild ones, but buffaloes in the form of 25 life-size, whimsically decorated fiberglass buffaloes on display in various outdoor locations throughout Avalon.
The public art display, aptly titled "Buffalo in Paradise," is the first ever art project of its kind to be staged on Catalina Island. On Nov. 9, all 25 of the buffaloes will be "corralled" into the Casino Ballroom, where they will be auctioned off for charity at the Big Buffalo Round-Up & Charity Auction. Even if you are not in the market for a life-size buffalo, take this opportunity to dance the night away in the Casino Ballroom, as so many have done in decades past.