How Catalina Island Became California’s Island of Adventure

California’s Catalina Island is in the throes of an exciting (and surprisingly action-packed) renaissance. Since the island off the Southwest coast of Los Angeles was purchased by the Wrigley family, the dynasty has invested millions into revitalizing the island, while preserving its history and nostalgia. A big part of that revitalization is connected to outdoors activities, including ropes courses and zip lines, which have helped Catalina Island evolve into a veritable island of adventure for thrill-seeking Californians.

It all kicked into high gear when the island, under the creative control of the Catalina Island Company, started 2017 earlier this year with a new name and logo, billing itself as “California’s Island Escape.” With a long-term goal of outfitting Catalina with new amenities and activities through 2020, the island has already started to fill in quite nicely, expanding interest for visitors and nearby locals alike. New additions and investment are right in line with Catalina Island’s steadily increasing tourism, which has risen more than 45% over the past seven years.

First up, the west end of the island polished off a transformation that saw the opening of Harbor Sands, a beachfront village decked out with rustic palapas and lounge chairs across the white sand beach, along with food and beverage services and new meeting spaces for groups and events.

Amping up its adventurous aspect, Catalina Island unveiled its hotly anticipated Aerial Adventure, with the Descanso Drop Tower due later this year. These join previously existing attractions like the Zip Line Eco Tour through Descanso Canyon, the Catalina Climbing Wall and even the Catalina Falconry Experience. Altogether, it’s the rare island where guests can mingle with falcons, lounge on the beach and soar through the air via zip line in the same afternoon.

The newest feature, the aerial adventure challenges those who aren’t afraid of heights to ascend into the eucalyptus trees near Descanso Beach and navigate a series of challenges and obstacles—think rope ladders, balance beams and log bridges—to move throughout the forest, high above the canyon floor. Don’t worry, you’re securely fastened and connected to the ropes course at all times, so the only thing to fear is fear itself. And maybe rope burn.

Of course, this being an island 22 miles off the California coast, water activities are prominent. In addition to more familiar fare like kayaking, diving, sailing and paddle boarding, Catalina offers adventurous options like flyboarding, which straps thrill-seekers’ feet into a skateboard-like contraption and allows them to jettison themselves into the air off the water.

While looking to the future, equal investment is being poured into the island’s history. One such example is a new evening tour of the olden Casino. Guests will get the opportunity to experience the vintage ballroom in all its grandeur from over half a century ago, all while sipping wine and marveling at the views across Avalon Bay.

For a different, and much more unexpected kind of adventure, the island also offers ghost tours. Depending on how squeamish you are, tours are available during the afternoon, evening or at night, each delving into the paranormal discoveries of Avalon and the island at large. Guides come equipped with some pretty impressive, and slightly intimidating ghost-hunting gadgets to seek out spirits and learn more about the mystical past.

As far as lodging, in addition to hotels and cottages, the island boasts numerous campgrounds throughout the interior, including the especially rustic Black Jack Campground hidden amidst pine and eucalyptus trees near Mount Orizaba. There are even 17 campsites scattered across the cove between Two Harbors and Avalon that are only accessible by boat, ensuring utmost privacy and an intimate nature experience.

In years to come, Catalina Island Company plans to add more shopping and dining concepts, bolstering economic opportunities while honoring the island’s cultural past. The island is accessible via ferry or helicopter from Long Beach, San Pedro, Newport Beach or Dana Point.


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