The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy protects 88 percent of this hilly island. The rural, unspoiled character of Catalina contrasts starkly with the traffic-choked sprawl of the southern California mainland, located only an hour away by ferry. The island is not the paradise that brochures often make it out to be. Avalon, the main population center, can get crowded on weekends and introduced animal species have imperiled many local ecosystems.
Here is a representative sampling of additional anonymous comments from the panelists. They are not necessarily the views of the National Geographic Society:
"The Island Conservancy has done a generally good job caring for the interior of the island. It is best to visit in off-seasons and on weekdays. Exotic species like bison have taken a toll on the native vegetation, but the ecosystem is still in very good condition. A good taste of Californian geography."
"Santa Catalina is a Southern California jewel. Development is concentrated in just a few areas. Avalon is the perfect size for tourism. Weekends get packed, but it's not overwhelming."
"A nice landscape, with some interesting ecological touches such as endemic plants."
"Most of the visitation occurs in the town of Avalon, which is charming and not overly touristy."