CIVR Blog: Catalina Island maps

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Explore population numbers of Catalina Island fox. Photo by Jack Baldelli, Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

Explore population numbers of Catalina Island fox. Photo by Jack Baldelli, Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

If you’re missing your favorite island and just can’t seem to schedule a getaway soon enough, there are plenty of ways to get a dose of Santa Catalina Island from anywhere in the world. While it certainly won’t compete with an actual Catalina Island visit, the Catalina Island Conservancy offers a number of virtual Catalina Island maps and tours on its website. Informative, entertaining and intriguing, these maps and tours provide a virtual visit to several spots on the island.

All of the maps require a download of the Google Earth Plugin, which will take few minutes to download depending on the speed of your internet connect. Once you have the free application, you’ll be able to explore key conservation activities of the Conservancy, including the dramatic changes in numbers of the Catalina Island fox and non-native plant species removal.

Looking to plan your Island explorations before your next trip? The Conservancy’s bike trail map provides elevation changes as well as mapping so you’ll be able to determine just how hard you want to push yourself. Prefer to relax and enjoy the ride? Check out the tour of the Wildlands Express route from Avalon to the Airport in the Sky. Speaking of the Airport in the Sky, you can also explore that island landmark from the comfort of your computer.

CIVR Blog: New Year’s Eve Catalina Island

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The Catalina Casino hosts an annual New Year's Eve gala

The Catalina Casino hosts an annual New Year’s Eve gala

One of Catalina Island’s most iconic events happens each year in its most iconic building. New Year’s Eve in the Catalina Island Casino is an event worthy of the landmark building that hosts it. Built in 1929 at a then astronomical cost of one million dollars, the Casino has become one of the most famous buildings on the West Coast. Downstairs is a spectacular movie theater and upstairs is the Casino Ballroom, where every Dec. 31, the New Year is rung in Catalina style.

Catalina Island’s New Year’s Eve celebration includes a buffet dinner, dancing and live entertainment as well as one of the best views of Avalon available. This black-tie evening provides an epic party, complete with balloon drop, party favors and a 10-member band performing covers of five decades worth of top hits. Reservations are available at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and the party continues until 1 a.m. Parties from 3 to 10 will have their own table, while couples will be seated with an additional couple in order to maximize the amount of space on the dance floor. Tickets to the 42nd Annual New Year’s Eve Gala on Wednesday, Dec. 31, are $175 per person. For more information, call the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce at (310) 510-1520 or visit their website.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Island kelp forests

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Catalina’s prolific kelp forests will soon reappear

Catalina Island’s waters are nearly devoid of one of their signature species. Simmered by warmer sea temperatures and battered by surges from a pair of hurricanes, nearly all of Santa Catalina’s kelp forests are gone. The amber fronds of the kelp forest fill a role very similar to terrestrial forests – they are habitat, food source and hunting ground for dozens of species. Bladder kelp and bull kelp are the most common species in local waters, but there are about 30 species of kelp, which in actuality is a type of brown algae.

Kelp thrives in colder Pacific waters and normally the waters around Catalina are prime habitat for its waving amber fronds, but this summer saw unusually warm water temperatures. Although visitors loved the warmer waters, they all but assured the demise of the Catalina Island kelp forests – at least for a time. Although kelp is very susceptible to less than prime water conditions, it’s also one of the fastest growing species on earth. Once the water temperatures drop into the low 60s, the kelp forests will rebound quickly, growing up to one or two feet a day.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Island water activities

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Parasailing with Island Water Charters

While Catalina Island abounds with land-based activities, including hiking, shopping and relaxing, the Pacific Ocean calls to most visitors. Whether they are drawn to soar above the waves or plunge beneath the surface, Island Water Charters and Catalina Divers Supply can provide the adventure.

Island Water Charters is home to three vessels, all of which are ideally designed for parasailing and Catalina Island’s newest adventure – tubing. Parasailing, which, once you get past the thrill of soaring several hundred feet above the sea, is actually rather relaxing. With nothing but the peaceful sounds of the breeze lufting the parasail, adventurers can relax and unwind while getting a view of Avalon normally reserved for the birds. Island Water Charters recently added tubing to its line-up of adventures. Open to two or three tubers at a time, this high-speed escapade involves riding an inflatable inner tube while being pulled behind a vessel. Depending on the seas and how much adrenaline is deserved, tubing can range from unique sight-seeing cruise to a rodeo of spins, dips and launches reminiscent of a bull ride.

The island’s oldest dive shop, Catalina Divers Supply features a full-service dive shop on Avalon’s green Pleasure Pier, an air fill station at the Casino Dive Park and the Scuba Cat, a comfortable dive boat available for day trips. Catalina Divers Supply offers Discover Scuba, an opportunity for non-certified divers to experience the thrill of the underwater world as well as guided dives, gear rental, air fills, dive classes and certification courses. Snorkeling is also available, including gear rental, boat trips and guided snorkels.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Island ravens

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Taking a tour can give you an overview of the island

A Catalina Island raven’s view of Avalon

One of the most familiar sights in Catalina Island’s skies are the coal-black shapes of common ravens. Avalon is home to both ravens and crows, but the crows are recent immigrants. Pairs of ravens have played in the thermals above Catalina Island’s hills for generations. Ravens are distinguished from their smaller crow cousins not only by size, but also by their distinctive kwark calls and the fact that they form pairs rather than flocks.

Widely regarded as the smartest of birds, ravens are renowned for their problem-solving skills. These birds are opportunistic feeders, as likely to raid other bird’s nests as they are to raid human trash cans. Ravens have exceptional flying skills and often seem to play in the thermals above Avalon, soaring, tumbling and chasing one another.

Ravens are found throughout western and northern North America and have most likely been living on the island for hundreds of years. They live about 15 years and tend to mate for life, raising a clutch of chicks each year. Fearless and feisty, they will tease and torment much larger birds, including hawks and bald eagles.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Buffalo Milk

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The buffalo milk is Catalina's signature cocktail

The buffalo milk is Catalina’s signature cocktail

Like lobsters in Maine, barbecue in Texas and sourdough bread in San Francisco, many spots on the globe have their own signature cuisine. Other locales, however, tend toward more adults consumables. Whether it’s margaritas in Mexico, Cabernet in Napa Valley or pina coladas in Hawaii, certain spots have a signature adult beverage. Catalina Island definitely falls into the latter category.

While plenty of mai tais, wiki wackers and Descanso destroyers have been consumed in Avalon over the years, the island’s signature cocktail is the Catalina buffalo milk. This frothy concoction’s origins are much disputed and are perhaps lost to the fog of time. For decades, bartenders from the Buffalo Nickel at Pebbly Beach to the Harbor Reef Saloon at Two Harbors have swirled blenders full of this deceptively delicious decoction.

Although its name is inspired by Catalina’s largest terrestrial mammal, a buffalo milk does not contain buffalo milk. Recipes vary, but you can’t go wrong starting with a half shot each of dark crème de cocoa and light crème de cocoa, a shot of Kahlua and two shots of vodka. Pour that over ice in a blender, add a banana and about a shot of cream and blend until smooth. Pour into two glasses, top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

CIVR Blog: Catalina holiday concert

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Photo courtesy Catalina Island Museum

Photo courtesy Catalina Island Museum

One of Catalina Island’s most popular holiday traditions is also one of its most recent. The Catalina Island Museum’s Holiday Symphony Concert fills the Avalon Theatre with the classic sounds of a world-class orchestra.

The Stanford Music Ensemble, which includes members of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and the Stanford Philharmonia Orchestra, includes the talents of Stanford students and community players and is considered one of the top ensembles in the country. For this year’s concert, Anna Wittstruck will once again conduct. Special guests include violinist Chen Zhao from the San Francisco Symphony and soprano Clancy Cox from Syracuse University. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s compositions will be showcased during the concert.

Scheduled for Friday, Dec. 12, the Holiday Symphony Concert is free for members, with a limit of two tickets per member. All children under 17 are also free.  Adult tickets are $5. Tickets are required for entry. The concert is sponsored by a number of local businesses and organizations, including Catalina Island Vacation Rentals and Catalina Island Real Estate.

Before the concert, from 4 to 7 p.m. the Catalina Island Museum will offer free admission as well as a storewide sale in its museum store.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Island Thanksgiving

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Two Harbors can be a great Thanksgiving destination.

Two Harbors can be a great Thanksgiving destination.

Catalina Island may not be the first thing people think about when it comes to Thanksgiving, but the island can be a perfect way to reconnect with family, friends and loved ones on this most grateful of holidays. With most employers offering a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving, this holiday is ideal for a relaxing time on the island.

Avalon offers a wide range of accommodations for the Thanksgiving weekend, ranging from romantic villas to large homes suitable for the entire family. Many shops and activities will also be available on Thanksgiving – the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce has compiled a list of businesses that will be open on Thanksgiving Day.

If you’d rather leave the cooking – and the clean-up – to someone else, many Catalina Island restaurants will be open on Thanksgiving, some offering their regular menu, others offering traditional turkey dinners and some creating custom Thanksgiving dinners with an island flair.

While Avalon offers a great option for a Thanksgiving getaway, for a truly off-the-beaten path adventure, a turkey day in Two Harbors can’t be beat. The Harbor Reef Restaurant will be serving traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Reservations are necessary, call (310) 510-4215. Casa Santa Rosa and Casa Santa Cruz are the perfect Catalina Island accommodations choice for a long weekend with friends and family.

CIVR Blog: Shop in Avalon

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Wrigley Stage Christmas Tree

Wrigley Stage Christmas Tree

On the mainland, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season is Black Friday, a notorious maelstrom of materialism that tends to dampen even the brightest of holiday spirits. Crowded malls, overflowing parking lots and teeming big box stores are just not the way to start the Christmas season.

Catalina Island provides the perfect antidote for those weary of mall madness — shop in Avalon. Scheduled this year for Dec. 6, Shop at Home night kicks off with a holiday tree lighting at 5 p.m. Avalon’s giant Christmas tree is located near Wrigley Stage, and after the tree is lit, Shop at Home Night begins with strolling carolers, holiday spirit – and discounts at many local retailers. With Avalon Harbor providing the perfect backdrop, shoppers stroll casually among Avalon shops, many of which offer wassail, cookies and other refreshments. Stores stay open until 9 p.m., offering plenty of time to find just the right gift for everyone on your list. Discount cards, which offer special deals at participating retailers, are available from the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event. St. Nick will even be making an appearance, with Santa Claus holding court at El Galleon restaurant from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

For more information about Shop at Home Night, call the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce at (310) 510-1520.

CIVR Blog: Avalon Preschool Auction

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PLAY Preschool serves some of Avalon's youngest residents

PLAY Preschool serves some of Avalon’s youngest residents

For decades, the PLAY Preschool craft auction has signified the start of the Avalon holiday shopping season. Hosted and organized by the parents whose children are enrolled in Avalon’s co-op preschool, the auction provides an evening of food, fun and shopping, while raising funds to improve the lives of many of Catalina Island’s youngest citizens.

Dozens of hand-crafted items, many created by local residents, are the focus of the evening. Art and jewelry, home décor and much more can be found during the live auction. The evening also includes a silent auction replete with Catalina getaways, Avalon dining and island adventures as well as gift baskets, spa experiences and mainland experiences.

In addition to the craft and silent auctions, a highlight of the evening has always been the two raffles. Each year the preschool parents collect dozens of local items ranging from newspaper subscriptions to dinners at Avalon restaurants. These items are raffled off throughout the evening, generating enthusiasm and excitement as the evening progresses.

This year’s PLAY Preschool Auction is scheduled for Nov. 14 at the Bluewater Avalon beginning at 5 p.m. Tickets are available at the door.