When you visited Avalon in the early 1900s, rows of tents greeted you. The town on Santa Catalina Island has come a long way since then. You still can find tent camping, but Catalina's tourist vibe improves every year. If you're looking for luxury rooms with a chic seaside look, Avalon's the place; if you want to take a tour that's out of this world, try the new UFO Tour; if you're looking for bourbon-spiked ice cream or Italian coffee, stop by the new beachfront Descanso Fresh cafe. Here's a look at some of the island's other new summer offerings.
The new kid in town is actually a 1921 Catalina icon. The Inn at Mt. Ada, on a hillside overlooking Avalon, was closed for a bit while it changed hands, but it has now reopened and is better than ever. Once the summer home of William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum tycoon who developed Catalina into a tourist destination, the inn has a fantastic panoramic view of Avalon and the bay. On a clear day, you can see the mainland.
The six-guest-room bed-and-breakfast has been painted, redecorated and is in the middle of a multimillion-dollar renovation, said Randall Herrel Sr., president and chief executive of the Santa Catalina Island Co., which is operating the inn. Doubles from $390 a night include two meals and use of a golf cart.
Info: (800) 608-7669, http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com
Catalina Canyon Resort & Spa, in the hills behind the city, refurbished all 75 guest rooms and public areas earlier this year and has a heated pool, a rare commodity on the island. A plus for dog owners: It allows your canine to stay too. (Two other dog-friendly spots — Hermosa Hotel and Catalina Boat House — also accommodate dogs.) Doubles from $237 per night.
Info: (310) 510-0325, http://www.catalinacanyonresort.com
Hotel Mac Rae, which fronts the bay, dates to the 1920s and also has been renovated. It now sports a fresh look and a courtyard patio. Doubles from $179 a night.
Info: (800) 698-2266, http://www.hotelmacrae.com
Among new ways to pass the time this summer: Island Spa, Catalina's first destination day spa. The new facility includes a pool, overlooks the harbor and has nine treatment rooms, a cafe, two lounges and an ocean-view deck. Try the hot-sand therapy for achy muscles. Or stop by Thursday, when the spa is having an open house with complimentary treatments as well as snacks and beverages from the cafe.
Info: (310) 510-7300, http://www.islandspacatalina.com
Get a buzz on with the Happy Hour Tour of Avalon, a late-afternoon walking tour that hits island watering holes for a taste of Catalina's specialty drinks. The 90-minute tour costs $69 per person and usually can be booked on Fridays and Saturdays. Alcohol and snacks are included.
Info: (424) 226-9443, http://www.catalinafoodtours.com
Island visitors can learn more about the ancient tradition of falconry on the new Falconry Activity Tour slated to begin in late July. Trained falcons are used on the island to discourage sea gulls from pilfering food from tourists. Now Santa Catalina Island Co. will offer a chance for visitors to observe and interact with the birds.
Is Catalina a UFO hot spot? Find out on Catalina UFO Tours, which offers a one-hour evening walking tour. Catalina has had hundreds of UFO sightings, says UFO enthusiast and tour leader Lili Dana. Cost: $20.
Info: (310) 510-9635, http://www.catalinaufotours.com
Arts and crafts fans can get their hands dirty this summer while they learn more about Catalina's famed art tile tradition. Silver Canyon Pottery offers interactive tours that give participants a chance to create their own handmade tiles for $45 a person.
Info: (310) 499-8799, http://www.silvercanyonpottery.com
Looking for ice cream with a kick? The rocking beach scene at Avalon's Descanso Beach Club has a new gourmet espresso bar and cafe, Descanso Fresh, which also offers spiked ice creams. The restaurant features homemade breakfast pastries, specialty coffees and teas, fresh pressed juices, crepes, smoothies, grab-and-go sandwiches and other breakfast and lunch items.
You also will be able to pick up fresh morning pastries at Ben's Bakery, opening this summer in the Atwater Arcade, 119 Sumner Ave., Avalon. Ben's will have fresh food and beverages, including specialty coffees and teas, grab-and-go items and custom bakery goods for special occasions.