Trip of the week: Santa Catalina, the island gem beloved by Marilyn Monroe

For decades, celebrities have enjoyed holidaying on the ‘ruggedly beautiful’ Californian isle

High Angle View Of Sea Against Sky Santa Catalina island
Santa Catalina, California: a ‘playground for all’
(Image credit: Laurence Hall/EyeEm/Getty Images)

It is only an hour by ferry from Long Beach, but the “ruggedly beautiful” island of Santa Catalina is a world apart from that traffic-choked megalopolis, says Jonathan Thompson in The Times.

Santa Catalina became a popular holiday destination after it was acquired by the chewing gum millionaire William Wrigley Jr. in 1919 and, in the 1930s and 1940s, some of Hollywood’s biggest names came here to see and be seen.

Recently, it has enjoyed something of an “A-list renaissance”, with stars including Taylor Swift and Katy Perry holidaying here. But it retains its wild charm, and still has one real town, pretty little Avalon. Deer and bison roam its mountainous interior, and its waters offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in the region.

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Wanting Santa Catalina to be a “playground for all”, Wrigley constructed roads and the 12-storey Catalina Casino in Avalon, whose vast ballroom is still in use as an arts venue. Perched on a bluff with a superb view over the town, his own mansion, Mt. Ada, is now a stylish boutique hotel.

Another survival from those early days is Lloyd’s, a sweet shop where you can buy “old-time favourites” such as saltwater taffy, and where Marilyn Monroe – before she even became Marilyn Monroe – worked shifts in 1943 and 1944. An aspiring model at the time, she lived here with her first husband, James Dougherty, for a year that her biographers agree was one of the happiest of her troubled life.

Avalon is “reminiscent of the Côte d’Azur”, with its colourful houses tumbling down a steep hillside to a “perfect”, crescent-shaped harbour. It has some good restaurants, and a peaceful air: most residents get about in electric golf carts thanks to strict limits on car numbers. Vehicle tours are available even so, and on them you can look out for the herd of bison, originally brought over to film The Vanishing American in 1925, that now roam the island’s 75 square miles.

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