Sail to Catalina

An exotic island awaits just off the California coast.

May 11, 2018
Catalina Island
Sail to Catalina Betsy Crowfoot

Palm trees sway, the sun glistens off the cerulean waters as you burrow your toes in the powdery-white sand. Who doesn’t love a tropical island?

But move over, Maui. Bye-bye, ­Barbados. This exotic paradise is none other than Santa Catalina Island, hardly a stone’s throw from the city of Los Angeles.

Just 20-odd miles from a number of California ports, Catalina Island has ­undergone countless incarnations. Home to Native Americans for centuries, it was later an outpost for pirates, smugglers, miners and the military. In the 1900s, chewing-gum guru William Wrigley Jr. turned it into the training camp for the Chicago Cubs and a Hollywood hideaway for movie stars of the era. The fascinating history of ­Catalina is documented with entertaining, informative graphics and prose at the new Catalina Island Museum, a modern 18,000-square-foot treasure in the heart of Avalon, the island’s only incorporated city. Golf, bike, zip-line and enjoy countless watersports, shops and gourmet ­dining in this easily walkable city.


Most of the rest of the island — ­almost 90 percent of the 75-square-mile isle — is wild and undeveloped, part of the ­Catalina Island Conservancy.

There are hundreds of moorings ­available throughout. As a gauge, plan on spending about $55 per night for a 40- to 49-foot boat. Moorings in Avalon Harbor and Descanso Beach are first come, first served, but at the isthmus they can be reserved in advance. Or you can anchor in any of the small bays (as indicated on your chart), but be mindful because excessive depth in some anchorages will necessitate lots of chain.

Kayak, snorkel and paddle in this ­refreshing water, or stretch your legs on dozens of miles of hiking trails that are continually being added and improved. But watch out for bison: They still roam free here, making Catalina a one-of-a-kind destination that has a little ­something for all types of sailors.

Palapaat Harbor Sands
Looking for an easy getaway from southern California? Pick up a mooring in Catalina’s Two Harbors and lounge in a palapa at Harbor Sands. Betsy Crowfoot

Looking for a real weekend getaway? Check out the beach clubs, restaurants and museums. Even the island’s isthmus, a holdout of the Wild West with dirt roads and rustic, rough-hewn bars and buildings, has stepped it up a notch. Harbor Sands, a half-acre oasis of velvety-soft sand at Two Harbors, has a new collection of private palapas, chaise longues and trendy ­dining options. Giant sails shade the palapas’ wooden floors and expanse of comfy ­furnishings that accommodate eight.

So if you’re Catalina-bound and your cockpit’s too cozy, or your group too ungainly, Harbor Sands could be on your horizon. Check into a palapa, order a couple of buffalo burgers and mai tais, and make it a party in paradise.

And if that’s not in your budget?


Bring your own towel to sprawl out on the sand (it’s free). For more information, go to


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