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Santa Catalina Island and Channel Islands National Park, California

15 localities
33 panoramas

There is a chain of islands off the coast of Southern California known as the Channel Islands, easily visible on clear days by millions of people. But only one island sees any significant number of visitors, and some are almost never visited.

The northernmost five islands in the chain (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara) are protected as Channel Islands National Park. The most visited (Catalina) once belonged to the Wrigley family (of chewing gum and stadium fame) and now has its own foundation to preserve and restore it. The other two, San Nicholas and San Clemente, sadly, belong to the US Navy and have been used for target practice.

The most visited island in the park is East Anacapa, less than a mile long. The park concessionaire, Island Packers, runs tours to there from Ventura almost every day, and there is a small campground. The island is notable for its spring bloom of coreopsis, ground nesting sea-birds, and a lighthouse.

Santa Cruz is the largest in the chain, but most of it (76%) is managed by the Nature Conservancy and not open to the public. However, it is possible to hike and even backpack on the national park-owned eastern end of the island, though the scarcity of water sources can be a problem.

Santa Rosa is west from Santa Cruz and entirely within the national park. Island Packers runs out there several times a week, in season, and there is a campground. San Miguel is the westernmost and the windiest. Santa Barbara, far south of the main group, is only one square mile and seldom visited.

Santa Catalina is another story altogether. Multiple daily ferries, plus air service and helicopters, make it easily accessible. It has a permanent population of 4000, mostly in the town of Avalon, plus the village of Two Harbors. Tourism is intensely developed in Avalon, and cruise ships sometimes visit, but most of the island is quiet and empty.

Catalina even has its own song, written by Bruce Belland, recorded by the Four Preps in 1958 — "26 Miles". [lyrics at bottom of this page]


Avalon on Catalina Island The Rest of Catalina Island East Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

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Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me
Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance

Water all around it ev'rywhere
tropical trees and the salty air
but for me the thing that's a-waitin' there's romance

It seems so distant, twenty-six miles away
Restin' in the water serene
I'd work for anyone, even the Navy
Who would float me to my island dream

Twenty-six miles, so near, yet far
I'd swim with just some water wings and my guitar
I could leave the wings but I'll need the guitar
For romance, romance, romance, romance

Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me
Santa Catalina, the island of romance
romance, romance, romance

A tropical heaven out in the ocean
Covered with trees and girls
If I have to swim I'd do it forever
Till I'm gazin' on those island pearls

Forty kilometers in a leaky old boat
Any old thing that'll stay afloat
When we arrive we'll all promote
romance, romance, romance