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CIVR Blog: Catalina Conservancy Ball

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The Catalina Island Conservancy Ball will help support efforts to the protect the Catalina Island fox. Photo by Jack Baldelli, Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

The Catalina Island Conservancy Ball will help support efforts to the protect the Catalina Island fox. Photo by Jack Baldelli, Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

Catalina Island’s unspoiled natural beauty has intrigued generations – and thanks to the Catalina Conservancy, it will continue to offer a respite from the unbridled development on the mainland. Charged with preserving the island in its natural state in perpetuity, the Catalina Conservancy is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the island.

Supported by grants and donations, the non-profit Conservancy is also the beneficiary of the one of the most elegant events on the island. Each year, the Catalina Conservancy Ball fills the Casino Ballroom with tuxedoes and ball gowns for a gala event that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars. This year marks the 20th Catalina Conservancy Ball and organizers are celebrating with an emerald theme and a tagline of Leaping Lizards.

With more than $4.5 million raised over the last two decades, the Conservancy Ball is one of the organization’s most important events. The first ball was co-hosted by the Corsair Yacht Club, and this year the club will reprise its role. The evening will include dinner and dancing as well as a silent and live auction. The fun begins at 6 p.m. on April 11. Invitations may be requested here.

CIVR Blog: Catalina off season

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Visitors to Catalina Island in the off-season discover a unique destination

Visitors to Catalina Island in the off-season discover a unique destination

When the Banning Brothers first began developing Catalina Island as a tourist destination back in the early 19th century, Avalon was seen as a seasonal destination. For generations, visiting Catalina was something that was only done in the summer months. From Labor Day until Memorial Day, the island’s visitor services were minimal – the joke was that “would the last person to leave the island after Labor Day please turn off the lights?” Restaurants closed their doors, busses stopped running and tour boats were hauled from the water.

These days, visiting the island is something that happens 12 months of the year. Hours may change, but restaurants stay open nearly year-round and – while not every activity is available as readily in February as it is in July – there’s still plenty to do 365 days of the year.

What most off-season visitors discover is that discovering Catalina off season gives them an entirely new perspective on this Southern California destination. While they may trade expansive hours, what they get in return is hillsides greened by rain, uncrowded activities and a destination that welcomes them with enthusiasm. Thanks to Southern California’s normally mild temperatures, they can also expect mild winters and sunny skies.

CIVR Blog: Wrigley Botanic Garden

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Exploring at the Wrigley Botanic Garden

Exploring at the Wrigley Botanic Garden

Thanks to the 20 or so miles separately Catalina Island from the rest of Southern California, flora and fauna have had a chance to evolve separately, creating unique species found nowhere else on earth. One of the most charismatic of these island natives is the Catalina Island fox, a diminutive cousin to grey foxes that is a subspecies found only on Santa Catalina.

While the Catalina Island fox may steal the spotlight, Catalina is also home to a number of additional endemic species. Catalina Island Mountain Mahogany, Catalina Ironwood and St. Catherine’s Lace are just a few of the plant species found nowhere else on earth.

One of the best places to learn more about Catalina’s native plant life is at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, located at the top of Avalon Canyon Road. A 30-minute walk from town, the garden is a 37-acre showcase of California island endemic plants, as well as succulents and other desert plants. The garden was originally planted at the direction of Ada Wrigley, wife of William Wrigley, Jr. She had desert plants brought from around the world to create the original garden in 1935. More than 30 years later, the garden was revitalized and expanded and plants from all of the Channel Islands were planted.

The garden is open daily and can be reached by trolley, golf cart or on foot.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Art

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The Catalina Art Gallery recently opened.

The Catalina Art Gallery recently opened.

Surrounded by the sea and the blessed by an abundance of natural beauty, Santa Catalina Island has been a muse for artists for thousands of years. Native islanders carved totems, plein air artists captured natural vistas and photographers pushed the digital envelope thanks to the inspiration of Catalina.

For more than half a century, one organization has worked to bring artists living on and inspired by Santa Catalina together. The Catalina Art Association, best known for organizing the Catalina Art Festival, also works year round to promote art, support artists and contribute to art education. The Catalina Art Festival, held each year in September, brings thousands of art aficionados to the island and in April, the Catalina Art Fair and Exhibition is becoming another must-do art event on Catalina Island.

In January, CAA took another big step in promoting art on Catalina Island by opening the Catalina Art Gallery. Made possible through the collaboration of USBank of Avalon, the new gallery space showcases a variety of local artists, creating in a variety of mediums. Local artists show up to four items each and also volunteer as docents. The Catalina Art Gallery is located in the foyer of USBank on Crescent Avenue.

CIVR Blog: Avalon Underwater Cleanup

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Photo courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy

Photo courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy

Each February for more than three decades, hundreds of scuba divers plunge beneath the surface of Avalon Harbor to collect trash, debris – and a few treasures. The Avalon Harbor Underwater Cleanup is the only time of the year that recreational scuba divers are allowed in Avalon Harbor. The day-long event clears tons of bottles, cans, plastic and more from Catalina Island’s waters.

In addition to raising funds and clearing trash, the Avalon Harbor Underwater Clean-up also offers divers and non-divers alike an entertaining  day of treasure seeking. Hundreds of pairs of sunglasses have been retrieved as have hundreds of cellphones. Clean-up divers have also discovered jewelry, clothing, dinnerware and much more. Each year, prizes are given for some of the unique items discovered in the bay.

Proceeds from the event benefit the Catalina Conservancy’s Robert E. Given Fund for Ocean Conservation and Educational Research and the USC Hyperbaric Chamber. This year’s event is scheduled for Feb. 21. Diving will begin at 9:30 a.m. and all divers must be out of the water no later than 11 a.m. Registration is $50 per diver. For more information call the Catalina Island Conservancy at 310-510-2595 or visit the event website.

CIVR Blog: Little Harbor Catalina

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Little Harbor's wide sand beach makes it a popular destination for families.

Little Harbor’s wide sand beach makes it a popular destination for families.

Ask any local what their best recommendation is for a truly memorable Catalina Vacation and many of them will say “Get out of town.” They are right. Getting out of Avalon, whether for a tour, a hike or a multi-day expedition is the perfect way to see more of what this dramatic island has to offer.

Dozens of coves and beaches are waiting to be discovered, along with archeological treasures, unique wildlife and dramatic vistas. One of the most popular destinations outside of Avalon is Little Harbor, located on the windward side of Catalina Island. Although it’s located on the windward side, Little Harbor’s setting shields it from the pounding Pacific waves and it offers a relaxing wide sand beach on which to relax. The gradually sloping beach extends out into the shallow, protected cove, making Little Harbor on Catalina a perfect destination for those looking for a family-friendly destination.

This cove was home to generations of native islanders, who had an extensive village in the expansive meadow opposite the beach. That area is now home to a couple dozen campsites, which can be reserved through the Catalina Island Conservancy. Little Harbor can also be reached aboard the Safari Bus or through a private excursion.

CIVR Blog: Avalon 50 Miler

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Photo courtesy Spectrum Sports

Photo courtesy Spectrum Sports

Every January for the more than three decades, some of the top long distance runners in the world come to Avalon. These elite athletes will be challenging themselves and each other across Catalina Island for the annual Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run. Nearly the length of two marathons, the Avalon 50 Mile Run course will takes runners from Avalon to Two Harbors – and back again.

The race will begin in Avalon on Jan. 10. Runners will set out up Avalon Canyon and from there ascend onto the high ridgeline above town. They will be challenged by both the island’s rugged terrain and sheer distance of the race. Along the course, volunteers will provide water, electrolyte replacement and energy sources such as fruit and candies. Turning around just past Two Harbors, the racers will face the grueling return to Avalon and the finish line.

Over the years, the “Benefit” portion of the Avalon 50 Mile Benefit Run has raised tens of thousands of dollars for various island charities. Beneficiaries include the Catalina Island Medical Center, scholarships for Avalon High School students and the Catalina Island Conservancy.

The 50 Mile Benefit Run is organized by Spectrum Sports. For more information, including registration details, visit their website.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Island shopping

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For generations, Catalina has offered a number of treasures for shoppers. Catalina Island pottery is still collected today.

For generations, Catalina has offered a number of treasures for shoppers. Catalina Island pottery is still collected today.

Shopping on Catalina Island offers something for everyone. Toys and trinkets, art and artifacts, crafts and clothes all can be found in the many quaint shops scattered enticingly along Avalon’s waterfront. Dozens of stores and small businesses provide an array of temptations that will thrill even the most ardent treasure hunter, whether they are looking for a quirky Catalina souvenir or a unique Island memento that will become a family heirloom. Catalina Island shopping stands in sharp contrast to the mainland shopping experience. Chains and franchises are few and far between on the island and in most stores you will frequently meet the owner, who is eager to share local stories and recommendations.

Several stores feature art and crafts both created on and inspired by Catalina Island. Whether it’s nearly 100 year old pottery or art created using the most modern of technological advances, finding a keepsake that embodies Catalina Island creativity is easily done.

Looking for the perfect gift for the Catalina Island shopping fan? The Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce offers gift certificates in any denomination. These versatile certificates can be redeemed at most Catalina Island businesses, provided they are members of the chamber and participate in the program. Call (310) 510-1520 for more information.

Toys and trinkets, art and artifacts, crafts and clothes all can be found in the many quaint shops scattered enticingly along Avalon’s waterfront. Dozens of stores and small businesses provide an array of temptations that will thrill even the most ardent treasure hunter, whether they are looking for a quirky Catalina souvenir or a unique Island memento that will become a family heirloom. Catalina Island shopping stands in sharp contrast to the mainland shopping experience. Chains and franchises are few and far between on the island and in most stores you will frequently meet the owner, who is eager to share local stories and recommendations.

Several stores feature art and crafts both created on and inspired by Catalina Island. Whether it’s nearly 100 year old pottery or art created using the most modern of technological advances, finding a keepsake that embodies Catalina Island creativity is easily done.

Looking for the perfect gift for the Catalina Island shopping fan? The Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce offers gift certificates in any denomination. These versatile certificates can be redeemed at most Catalina Island businesses, provided they are members of the chamber and participate in the program. Call (310) 510-1520 for more information.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Island dining

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Catalina Island dining offers something for everyone

Catalina Island dining offers something for everyone

For many vacationers, dining out is a key component of a great vacation. New tastes and new experiences align with favorite traditions to create a culinary adventure. Catalina Island dining offers something for everyone. Early morning coffee shops, bakeries and classic diners offer a great way to start the day. Lunch options include everything from grab-and-go sandwiches, fresh salads and healthy soups to burgers, fries and hot dogs. At dinner, Catalina Island restaurants provide a cornucopia of culinary choices. Family-friendly pizza joints, fresh seafood and prime steaks compete for your appetite with Asian, Mexican and Italian options. Quick snacks and tempting desserts, appetizers and ice cream are all waiting to be discovered.

Whether those on your Christmas list would prefer a quick lunch of burgers and fries or a culinary adventure with several courses, Catalina Island dining is a perfect option for everyone on that list. Nearly all Catalina Island restaurants offer gift certificates. Simply call your favorite Avalon dining establishment and let them know that you’d like to give the gift of Catalina Island dining this year. In most instances, they will be able to accept payment via credit card and mail a gift certificate. Alternately, the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce offers Catalina Island gift certificates that can be used at most member businesses.

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.