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Avalon Bay. Photo Jill Weinlein

Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., purchased the controlling interest of Catalina Island in 1919 for his wife Ada Wrigley Jr. Catalina is one of the eight islands in the Channel Islands archipelago.

Soon after the purchase, he began improving the island’s infrastructure by adding transporatation to the island, hotels, a dance pavilion and new attractions. Through the years, various Wrigley family members have enhanced buildings and added new amenities to the Catalina Island Company portfolio.

Today the company is run under the stewardship and guidance of third and fourth-generation descendants of William and Ada Wrigley Jr. Philip K. Wrigley’s great-granddaughter Alison Wrigley-Rusack and her husband Geoffrey C. Rusack continue to make improvements to the resort destination at the Catalina Island Company. Together they help manage hotels, restaurants, land and sea tours, water sports, camping, and other activities to continue to attract Southern Californians, cruise passengers, and vacationers from around the globe.

Hotel Atwater. Photo Jill Weinlein

One of the improvements includes the historic Hotel Atwater. Named after Alison’s great grandmother, Helen Atwater Wrigley, she was the wife of Philip K. Wrigley. When the hotel originally opened in 1920, it was a new and exciting era for the island.

Renovations in 2019, included a fresh new island design, art and memorabilia, plus modern amenities in the guest rooms. 

Located just one-block from the beach in the heart of Avalon, the three-story hotel offers guest rooms featuring a king or two queen beds. Inside each room is a mini-refrigerator with two split bottles of sparkling wine for guests to enjoy on arrival day. The hotel also offers guests a $20 food and beverage credit per night to use at one of the Catalina Island Company restaurants and bars.

Breakfast at Bistro at the Atwater. Photo Jill Weinlein

Guests can use their food and beverage credit the first morning at the Bistro at the Atwater. It’s located across the attached arcade from the hotel. This grab-and-go venue offers breakfast items, specialty coffees, hot tea, pastries, yogurt and fresh fruit.

Walk over to a bench on the Green Pleasure Pier to soak up the morning sunshine while watching boats arrive into the harbor. Locals and visitors enjoy fishing at the end of the pier where schools of bright orange Garibaldi fish swirl around in the clear blue water.

Catalina Flxible Bus. Photo Jill Weinlein

Also new to the island is Catalina’s beautifully restored Flxible Touring Bus. Paying homage to the island’s rich history, many years ago there were five ‘Flx’ buses carrying visitors on the streets of Avalon and up to the island’s picturesque interior.

Catalina Island Company restored one of the iconic buses and named her ‘Betsy’. She takes the hairpin tours up to the island’s most notable and spectacular landmark, the newly opened El Rancho Escondido. This ‘hidden ranch’ was originally built in 1930 as an Arabian horse ranch. Alison and Geoffrey spent two years renovating the ranch as a home for the family’s Arabian and American Quarter Horses, and to grow grapes for the family Rusack wine collection.

Traveling up the rugged terrain provides picturesque water views, and Catalina’s interior hills and canyons via scenic Stagecoach Road. Up at the summit, there are rare native plants, trees and possibly free-roaming American Bison. These furry mammals are descendants of those left after a movie shoot in the 1920s.

Other wildlife viewing includes bald eagles, the petite and adorable Channel Islands Fox and California Quail. On clear days, one might see a number of the other California Channel Islands in the distance.

El Rancho Escondido. Photo Jill Weinlein

EL RANCHO ESCONDIDO

Upon reaching El Rancho Escondido, guests will have the opportunity to take a walking tour around the classic, nearly-a-century-old, Spanish-style courtyard and stables. They have been refurbished for the trainers and horses who live at the ranch.

Meet-and-greet photo opportunities are provided before guests are led to the exhibition ring to see how they train these beautiful animals. 

In the early 1930s, Philip and Helen Wrigley set out to develop a breeding program for Santa Catalina Island’s wild horses. This soon became a popular attraction to draw visitors into Catalina’s interior. By the 1950s, those efforts evolved into breeding champion Arabian horses, which were exhibited at shows and competitions across the United States.

Tour the informative Saddle and Trophy room filled with many one-of-a-kind saddles, award-winning trophies, and Wrigley family Western memorabilia. Signage throughout the room informs guests about a historical time on the island.

Bishop’s Chapel. Photo Jill Weinlein

One might think they have arrived in a small town in Spain overlooking the sea, when looking at the recently completed “Bishop’s Chapel’.  

Sitting high on a bluff, this is the only opportunity visitors have of seeing the awe-inspiring views of Catalina’s windward side and West End. Visitors will also be able to see the Rusack vines and grapes harvested in the late summer for their Santa Catalina Island wines.

The Bishop’s Chapel. Photo Jill Weinlein

Take a tour inside the beautifully designed house of worship and celebration. The Wrigley-Rusack family have hosted a few weddings at this site. 

Bishop’s Chapel. Photo Jill Weinlein

Guests will learn about how the simple wire cross once sat atop the entry doors to the downtown Los Angeles Cathedral of St. Paul’s, and then spent 30 years on Santa Cruz Island. It was gifted to The Bishop’s Chapel in 2021.

In addition, guests will learn the history of ‘JORY’s Bell,’ the 130-year-old Baptismal Font and the original stained-glass windows of this simple and moving chapel.

Rusack Vineyards at El Rancho Escondido. Photo Jill Weinlein

For a few years, the ranch has been planting and growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel grapes for Rusack Vineyards, another family venture in Santa Barbara County.

When they started planting they soon realized the classic, cool marine conditions and clay loam soil was excellent for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They also planted a few hardy Zinfandel vines that they acquired from Catalina’s sister island Santa Cruz.

On the Rusack website they are selling bottles of their 2022 Santa Catalina Island Vineyard Chardonnay for $98 a bottle.

E-bike Ride Around The Island. Photo Rick Weinlein

Be sure to rent an electric bicycle to ride around the town of Avalon. There are three different e-bike rental shops that range in price for $50 to $60 for two hours of exercise and sightseeing.

Highlights on the Avalon map to explore include Pebbly Beach and Lover’s Cove, up to Wrigley Road for spectacular Avalon Bay and Catalina Casino views. Ride up to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens over to the Chimes Tower, from there cruise by the Zipline’s entrance and down to the Casino and Descanso Beach.

Avalon Grille Serves Rusack Wines. Photo Jill Weinlein

NEW DINING EXPERIENCES

One of the best restaurants for dinner is Avalon Grille. This restaurant offers Rusack wines by the glass and bottle on the menu. For white wines by the glass, they have a Santa Barbara County Rusack Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay. Under the red wine section there is a glass of Rusack Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir available.

These wines pair well with items offered on the dinner menu.

Pork Porterhouse and Rusack Pinot Noir. Photo Jill Weinlein

Premium meats at Avalon Grille include a Cowboy ribeye steak, steak frites, AG Wagyu burger, ‘Cheekstone Farm’ Pork Porterhouse, and Black Angus Filet Mignon.

Local ‘Hook of the Day’ fish is prepared with a lemongrass beurre blanc sauce., and farm fresh produce is used to make many of the salads, including a burrata and caramelized fig salad.

Flx Biergarten. Photo Jill Weinlein

FLX BIERGARTEN

The newest unique and memorable venue in Avalon is Flx Biergarten, the island’s first and only biergaten (beer garden) on the island. Another island Flxible bus is on display, but this one is inoperable, and more of a homage to the island’s past.

Step up to order a flight sample of four different cold beers and kombucha and find a seat or play a game. Visitors can also order a glass of your favorite beer, wine or seltzer.

The open-air, al fresco atmosphere has string lights, flickering firepits, a beer pong table, cornhole and conversation areas and picnic tables.

Currently there is no food available to purchase at this venue other than bags of pretzels or chips. Soon The Santa Catalina Island Company will open a new dining venue across the street at the former Antonio’s Restaurant. Biergarten patrons will be able to order food and have it delivered to enjoy with a beer.

Descanso Beach Club. Photo Jill Weinlein

DESCANSO BEACH CLUB

Beyond the Catalina Island Casino is the Descanso Beach Club. Spend the day along the waterfront in a private cabana, and dine at Catalina’s only beachside restaurant and bar. This is one of the last private beaches in California that is still open to the public.

Order one of the signature Buffalo Milk cocktails or a Cadillac Margarita to go with guacamole, chips and salsa. Food and drinks will be delivered to your private cabana, or on the beautiful wood terrace overlooking the kayakers in the water.

Share a grilled chicken salad with a Clam Chowder Bowl or splurge and enjoy a juicy DBC (Descanso Beach Club) Burger with a Modelo and slice of lime.

Catalina Express. Photo Jill Weinlein

HOW TO GET TO CATALINA ISLAND

The only way to get to Catalina Island is by the Catalina Express or cruise ship. Greg Bombard, President and CEO of Catalina Express operates eight modern, fast vessels offering up to 30 different departures daily to Catalina Island from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point.

The Catalina Flyer leaves from Newport Beach three times a day depending on the season.

Cruise ships visiting Catalina Island every week. Some of the cruise lines that visit Avalon on a regular basis include Carnival Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises.

Catalina Express. Photo Jill Weinlein

FIRST CLASS TREATMENT

Upgrade your Catalina Express ticket to Commodore Lounge for a more comfortable ride at sea. Passengers who purchase a Commodore Lounge ticket receive priority boarding in a much shorter line, and sit in an exclusive area. This more intimate upper-level lounge setting has wider  leather trimmed seats that recline for additional comfort.

Each Commodore guest receives a complimentary packaged snack and one choice of beverages, that includes a split of Chandon bubbly wine, a Bloody ‘Ferry’ Mary, beer, soda, cocktail or bottle of water.

While the reserved seating is inside, Commodore ticket holders are free to go outside to take in the ocean views. Guests might see dolphins playing in the ferry boat’s wake, as well as whales from December to April, and Catalina Island.

Summer months the island swells with visitors. Spring and Fall are slightly quieter times, however the island hosts a Catalina Island 5K, 10K and Marathon in March and Catalina Jazz Festival in October that fills up the ferry boats, hotels and restaurants. To see a list of specials, go to Catalina Island Company.

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