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Santa Catalina Island
Also known simply as Catalina Island, Santa Catalina Island is a rocky island found off the coast of California. It can be reached from Orange County, in Newport Beach and Dana Point, or from Los Angeles County in San Pedro, Long Beach and Marina Del Rey. An hour in ferry will get you to the island, with a cost of $40-$60 for a return trip. If you are feeling adventurous (and a little bit more of a big-spender), you can also catch a helicopter over from Long Beach or San Pedro.
Catalina Island falls under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County, and most of it is owned by the Catalina Island Conservancy. The only city on the island is called Avalon where most of its 3,700 plus residents live. If you really want to imagine how small a town can get, consider that the second biggest town on Catalina, called Two Harbors, is unincorporated and has more or less just 300 people living in it. In this situation, it is really important to get along with your neighbor. The village has one restaurant, one hotel and one village store.
Among the many reasons which bring curious visitors to the island are the flora and the fauna. Aside from the many species of plants and animals which wander and grow on Catalina, there are fifteen species which are not found elsewhere. Five native land mammals can be spotted on the island, for those with sharp eyes: The Island Fox, California Ground Squirrel, Santa Catalina Island Harvest Mouse, Santa Catalina Island Deer Mouse and the Ornate Shrew. The Catalina Island Conservancy is presently trying to restore the presence of Bald Eagles to the island, which, if successful, will certainly bring even more visitors. If you go snorkeling in the surrounding waters, you can hope to see Garibaldi, Yellowtail, Kelp Bass, White Sea Bass, Giant sea bass, Leopard sharks, Blacksmiths, Opaleyes and many more marine species.
The Catalina Island Conservancy, amongst other aims, strives to protect the natural beauty of the island. It has an agreement with Los Angeles County to allow visitors to hike and cycle around the island, however, only when granted a permit. Hiking permits are free, but biking permits are not; they cost approximately $60 for a year’s permit and $20 for a two day permit. You must declare which part of the island you intend to visit when applying for a permit. If you plan to drive around the island, you will encounter difficulty, as use of vehicles is restricted. Better to apply for the bicycle permit. If needs be, you can hire a taxi from the Catalina Transportation Services. Avalon, the main city, is fully open to the public.
Santa Catalina Island is a must-see place on your travels around California. Take a few days to relax or enjoy the main activities, including glass bottom boats which will open up the underwater world around the island, where both reefs and shipwrecks lurk. Scuba diving and snorkeling are both very popular and very fun, so put those on your list too.