Discovering Winter's Wonders on Catalina Island
Catalina Island Cosnervancy
Sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and crystal clear waters may not be what immediately comes to mind when thinking of a winter wonderland, but Catalina Island offers a unique destination for Yule time shopping, dining and celebrating. Imbued with a genuine small-town atmosphere, Avalon is the perfect location for a December getaway. Without the crowds of summer, visitors will discover the true tranquility of Catalina Island. Hotels often offer deep discounts in the winter and many restaurants have early bird dining specials that will allow you to save your greenbacks for holiday shopping. Activities in both Avalon and Two Harbors are widely available, including diving, kayaking, tours and hiking. December's peaceful atmosphere also offers the ideal chance to unwind and escape.
Many visitors, however, have discovered that Catalina's range of holiday activities have become an irresistible magnet drawing them to rediscover the spirit of the season far from the maddening crowds of the mainland. Whether you're looking for visits with Santa, Christmas carols or holiday light tours, Avalon offers it and much more.
Avalon's holiday season will officially kick off at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, with the lighting of the community Christmas tree on Wrigley Stage. This traditional event will be accompanied by the Jingle Singers, a quartet of carolers who will lead the audience in holiday songs while Avalon's mayor flips the switch to light the tree.
The tree-lighting will kick off not only the holiday season, but also Shop in Avalon night, an annual event that brings together shop owners and Christmas shoppers for four hours of discounts, drawings and checking off who's been naughty and who's been nice. Twenty of Avalon's retailers will be taking part in the event, including clothiers, jewelers, craft shops and gift stores. In addition to discounts of 10 to 20 percent, many of the participating retailers will also offer cookies, free gift wrapping and in-store drawings.
The next night, Sunday, Dec. 5, Santa will make his first appearance in Avalon. El Galleon Restaurant will host jolly old St. Nick from 5 to 8 p.m. Santa will be offering up his lap for free holiday photos for everyone who brings two cans of food for the city's annual canned food drive.
Avalon's most popular Christmas tradition takes place at one of the city's most distinctive landmarks. The Inn on Mt. Ada was the home of chewing gum magnate and former Island owner William Wrigley, Jr. Once the playground of heads of state and royalty, the magnificent home is only open to the public once a year, for the Catalina Island Museum's Open House at the Inn on Mt. Ada. Breath-taking views of the city of Avalon and the Catalina channel are a dramatic backdrop for the six-bedroom inn, which will be festooned with holiday finery.
Beginning at 2 p.m. holiday revelers will be welcomed into the inn by volunteers from the museum. Docents will be on hand to answer questions and provide some of the home's colorful history. Fans of Christmas carols will gather 'round the mansion's piano, where there is always someone on hand to tickle the ivories. Home-baked cookies and traditional wassail will be graciously served by volunteers. Admission is free, but those who attend will want to take part in the many raffles that are held as a fundraiser for the museum. For more information, call (310) 510-2414.
Avalon High School's Theatre Department will be welcoming the community for their presentation of Dirty Work at the Crossroads, an old-time melodrama suitable for the whole family. Audience members can boo the villain and cheer the hero on Friday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. The cost is only $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors and the play will be staged at the Avalon Schools Auditorium on Falls Canyon Road.
Visitors to Avalon are always excited to see the many displays of holiday lights that grace the hillside homes of the city. Residents and visitors alike have discovered that the easiest way to get an up-close look at those twinkling signs of the season is at the Tour of Lights, scheduled this year for Sunday, Dec. 19. Tour participants will be welcomed aboard trams by high-spirited song leaders and books of Christmas carols for half-hour excursions to view the most decorated homes in Avalon. The tours begin at 6 p.m. from Wrigley Stage and hosted for a nominal fee by the Catalina Island Women's Forum.
The next morning, Monday, Dec. 20, Santa will stop by Antonio's Cabaret to join children for a pancake breakfast. Just days before he cruises through the skies, he will be available for photos and passing out early Christmas gifts. The cost for the pancake breakfast is $4 and a limited breakfast menu will be available for adults. Mr. Claus is scheduled for arrival at 8:30 a.m., his reindeer, however, will be resting up for the big night and will be unable to attend the breakfast.
Visitors who would like to spend the holidays on the island will find that nearly all of Avalon's restaurants will be open for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Special holiday menus will be available. Call your favorite restaurant for more information and reservations.
The last day of December - and the last day of the year - is always a party on Catalina Island. Avalon's world-famous Casino Ballroom hosts the most well-known party, but it is far from the only party in town. Restaurants will be offering special menus and live music and revelry can be found at many Avalon night spots. Two Harbors, at the island's West End, will also be hosting a New Years Eve party, with DJ dancing and a special menu at the Harbor Reef Restaurant.
Whether you decide on a getaway filled with holiday revelry or a quiet retreat to contemplate the reasons for the season, Catalina Island's many charms and myriad activities will provide the perfect backdrop for a December escape.
Sherri Walker Cline