Bored, Anteaters? Take a Trip to Catalina Island

I’m sure that during their time at UC Irvine, most students have made it to the beach, and after all, living so close to the coast is one of the largest perks of going to UCI. Catalina Island is right off the coast, and is an excellent day trip or weekend vacation that not nearly enough students know about.

Santa Catalina Island is part of the Channel Island archipelago, and is officially considered to be within Los Angeles County. Before modern times, the area was inhabited by the Gabrielino or Tongva tribe, and was “discovered” and claimed by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Spanish explorer. The capital city is Avalon.

The island boasts a large variety of flora and fauna, including many endemic species – species found only on Santa Catalina Island and nowhere else. Of the 400 native species of plants that grow naturally on the island, six species are endemic, including the Catalina Dudleya, and a hearty plant called Catalina Manzanita.

In terms of endemic mammals, one of the cutest is the Santa Catalina Island Fox, the second smallest fox in North America – about the size of a house cat. They are currently listed as a critically endangered species due to non-native species, cars and canine distemper.

In the 1920s, American Bison were introduced to the island, and they subsequently bred with the cattle that were being kept on the island. Although they do have some negative effects on the island in terms of erosion and habitat degradation, as long as the population stays below 200 individuals, the Catalina Island Conservancy feels they don’t overly impact the environment, and feel they add to the culture of the island.

The general mode of transport to and from Catalina is either by ferry or helicopter. Getting to the island can be a bit pricey; the average ticket cost to take the ferry is around $65, but there are some excellent student deals. Currently, the Newport Beach Catalina Flyer is offering a 50 percent-off ticket through April 19 in honor of spring break. To receive the discounted ticket, call the reservation desk and mention that you’re a student, then when you pick up your ticket, show a student I.D. and a printout of the coupon, which can be found at its Web site (www.catalina.com), to the reservation desk.

Once you get to the island, there are a lot of interesting things to do. If water is your thing, there is excellent snorkeling and scuba diving around the island. The kelp is really something, and the California state fish, the Garibaldi, is common in the waters of Avalon. Kelp Bass, Opaleyes and Leopard Sharks also swim in close to shore. Kayaking and taking out private boats are always good options, and for the truly adventurous there is parasailing around the island.

If getting in the water freaks you out, there are glass-bottom boat tours of the island, which offer all the views without getting wet. They even go over the shipwreck sites, which is pretty cool. Whale watching is a seasonal attraction as well.

Day hiking permits are free through the Catalina Island Conservancy, and the hiking is excellent. For a fee, you can rent a bike and obtain a bike permit to tour the wild areas if staying on foot doesn’t interest you. Overnight camping is allowed by reservation and permit, and there are several hike-in sites, as well as a few boat-in locations.

If you don’t catch the last flyer out in the evening, there are plenty of places to stay, and some decent local nightlife. The waterfront restaurants are lovely at night, and for the over-21 crowds there’s the Chi Chi Club. For those non-nature-oriented people, there is shopping in Avalon, and even a golf course.

If you haven’t visited yet, Catalina is a great getaway and a wonderful place to experience wildlife, some of which can be seen nowhere else on earth, so check it out for a day or weekend trip.