Traveling with Art: Avalon Harbor in Catalina Island, California

The stunning Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island is a tiny, tourism-centered town with a rich history where visitors can go today for excellent boating and other seaside adventures.

The painting you see above is by Marie Antoinette Ney, an artist who helped popularize many California missions and landscapes through her art. This watercolor of the harbor features small sailboats next to colorful orange and brown reflections in the still water.

The history of the bay starts with a Native American tribe of Gabrielino/Tongva people who inhabited the island for almost 7,000 years. They developed a marine-based culture, living a life dependent on the bay.

But when Spanish explorers came to the island, the fate of the tribe changed for the worst. Most of the native inhabitants moved to the mainland when the Spanish began to colonize the California coast. Whether that was by choice was another matter.

A 1903 postcard of Avalon Bay.

A 1903 postcard of Avalon Bay.

By the 1830s, all members of the native tribe had either migrated to the mainland or died off.

Early developers decided the fate of the island. A German immigrant named Augustus William Timms ran a sheep herding business on Catalina Island and would also ferry tourists to the bay. The settlement was from then on referred to as ‘Timms’ Landing’.

Later, one man named George Shatto took advantage of a real estate boom and privately purchased Catalina Island. Though the settlement was at first referred to as ‘Shatto’, he and his family took great care over choosing the name of the island.


The full width of the painting by Marie Antoinette Ney.

Mr. and Mrs. Shatto and myself were looking for a name for the new town, which in its significance should be appropriate to the place, and the names which I was looking up were ‘Avon’ and ‘Avondale,’ and I found the name ‘Avalon,’ the meaning of which, as given in Webster’s unabridged, was ‘Bright gem of the ocean,’ or ‘Beautiful isle of the blest.’
—Etta Whitney

George Shatto originally introduced the island to the public as a tourist destination, but the island has had many owners over the years, all of whom helped shape the island to become what is today’s pleasant resort location.

With a population of just under 4,000 people, the town is dedicated to its visitors. Its beach is the main attraction, with opportunities for boating and sunbathing. Other attractions include the world’s largest circular ballroom and chances to walk the footsteps of the island’s famous residents and visitors, including Marilyn Monroe.

Have you ever been to Avalon Harbor, or are you planning on taking a little trip to this seaside destination? Let us know in the comments!

Other articles in the ‘Traveling with Art’ series:

Mount Vesuvius and Naples, Italy

Le Quai des Grands-Augustins in Paris, France

Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

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