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Just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, but another world away for boaters, Catalina Island is definitely one of the west coast's top boating destinations. With a land mass of approximately 75 square miles, a length of 21 miles, and a width of seven miles (just a half-mile at Two Harbors), Catalina Island has become a backyard playground for boaters venturing off the California coast.

Though "high-season" is considered June to October, Catalina island is a superb boating destination year-round. With warm sunny days and cool evenings that are often compared to the Mediterranean, Catalina Island features daytime temperature averages of 75 degrees in the summer and a balmy 65 degrees mid-winter! In fact, quieter "off-season" and weekday visits anytime are definitely recommended!

The island is surrounded by some of the most pristine waters in the world, making getting out on (and in) the water one of the most popular pursuits. Scuba diving and snorkeling are superb just off Catalina's coast, thanks to colorful fish and other marine life that abound in the giant kelp beds. For those who like to stay dry, glass-bottom boat tours and semi-submersibles run both day and night.

Most visiting boaters arrive in Avalon. The island's only "city" has a permanent population of about 3,700 that may swell to 10,000 or more on busy weekends. Arriving in Avalon is like boating back in time, thanks to a unique history that comes from the people who once lived and vacationed here.

From the smugglers and missionaries of the 1800s to William Wrigley Jr. and some of Hollywood's biggest stars and literary giants, Avalon and all of Catalina Island has welcomed boaters of all types for years. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were among the many Hollywood favorites that frequented Avalon. American author Zane Grey's home sits high above Avalon Bay and is now a popular hotel. Wrigley's former home still overlooks the entire city and is now operated as the Inn on Mt. Ida.

The most famous site of Avalon is the Casino Building. It has never operated as the kind of casino like those found in Las Vegas. The stunning art deco building's name actually comes from the Italian word, casino, which means "a place of entertainment." The huge upstairs circular ballroom hosted many big bands in the 1930s and 40s, including those of Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and Harry James. Today, the Casino Building is the site for many special events throughout the year, as well as nightly feature films in the downstairs Avalon Theatre.

Along with taking a tour of the historic Avalon Theatre, visiting boaters shouldn't miss the excellent Catalina Island Museum (also located in the Casino Building). There's an outstanding collection of historic photographs, fishing tackle, Catalina pottery, and archaeological finds from the island.

Along with the Casino Building, Avalon's other major landmark is the historic Green Pleasure Pier. This 407-foot wooden wonder is the perfect spot for people watching, relaxing with a book from a nearby bookstore, watching a fish get weighed, or grabbing a snack. It's brimming with activity all year.

Most visiting boaters use the numerous mooring buoys available off Avalon, which are assigned by a patrol boat at the harbor entrance. Those without a dinghy can take advantage of "shore boat" service, which has a small per person charge. The Avalon Harbor Department is at VHF Channels 12 and 16 or 310/510-0535.

Boaters will also definitely want to check out Two Harbors (www.visittwoharbors.com). Called "Catalina's Undiscovered Boating Paradise" for good reason, the Two Harbors area is located on the quieter western end of Catalina. Here, boaters will find a laid-back and friendly atmosphere with full boater services (typically including lots of mooring spots). Catalina Harbor Services, Two Harbors, is at VHF Channel 9 or 310/510-4253. Dining, shopping, transportation, and a host of activities await ashore.

Whether you choose to head to Avalon or Two Harbors (or both), Catalina Island will be sure to please year-round. In addition, a number of quiet coves and beaches for anchoring will enhance the experience.

For further information, contact the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, 310-510-1520, www.catalinachamber.com. This excellent site also has links to marinas, as well as information about boat ramps and boating in general.