ISLAND AFFECTIONS: Anyone who loves island life understands that every island has its own rhythms, traditions, rules, and whimsies, particularly at the holidays. It isn't simply enough to slap a photo of a palm tree on a brochure and stick a cartoon Santa hat atop it; you need to take the island's particular character and history into consideration. Santa Catalina Island does indeed boast the occasional palm tree, but few would say that's a symbol of the beautiful, 22-miles-away-give-or-take isle. A buffalo might be more apt, or a flying fish, or, let's face it, the Casino Building, which probably appears in one out of every three photos taken on the island. (A compliment, as no building in California quite matches it for grandeur, roundness, Big-Band-era-ness, or into-the-ocean-jut-i-ness.)
SO... come the sparkliest season, one needs to consider the Casino Building and all of Catalina's charming quirks. It has some of the expected holiday events -- there's a shopping day and tree-lighting on Saturday, Dec. 7 -- and some that qualify as offbeat, like the New Year's Day pajama party at Antonio's Cabaret. (It's a breakfast, in fact, if you're up for it, but mornings start bright in Avalon, given that it faces the ocean at pretty much due east.) Special meals are found at various restaurants, like El Galleon's Thanksgiving Day feast. And the Casino indeed gets its starring moment -- make that its extra super-duper starring moment, since it plays a big role every day on the island -- come New Year's Eve.
OUR ONLY QUESTION... is this: Does Kris Kringle arrive on water skis? He shows up in Capitola via outrigger canoe. Ocean-side season-sweet towns, we do love you so.