The Catalina Casino has to be one of the most photographed and iconic buildings in the world. I never get tired of taking pictures of it, just as I never tire of visiting it.
On Saturday several of my explorer friends and I headed for Santa Catalina Island for a day trip.
Catalina is approximately 26 miles from San Pedro, the Los Angeles port we chose to travel from. I use that distance because it is the title of a 50s song by the Four Preps. I never heard the song before I Googled the words “Catalina song.”
At the end of the post I’ve included two versions of the song by the Four Preps, one from long ago and one more recently. It’s a peppy song and now I can’t get it out of my head… but certainly matches the Catalina feeling!
And yup, that’s our catamaran above, the Starship Express! Not quite the Enterprise, but close enough!
The photo above is our first sighting of the island after leaving port. A little hazy… and I was shooting through a window…
As we neared Avalon we were hit in the face by this crazy condo complex cut into the side of the formerly pristine mountainside. Hamilton Cove just keeps on growing… okay, moving on…
This was our next, more pleasant view from the boat. Just as I remembered it.
Avalon has a very small beach but it is popular. As it was past noon by now our first thought was food so we made a bee line for the restaurant.
It’s been several years since I last visited and since then The Busy Bee, my favorite water-side restaurant, morphed into the more upscale Bluewater Grill.
After a rather long wait for just the right table (able to accomodate six people) we were happy to sit down and admire that perfect view.
I ordered the sand dabs with summer squash and scalloped potatoes, one of the better meals I have ever eaten. I accompanied it with one of the best Bloody Mary’s I have ever tasted. It included a large, juicy shrimp, two huge stuffed olives and a string bean. I could have ordered two of those and called it lunch!
The Bluewater Grille hanging out over the water on the right. Pier on the left. At the top of the hill to the right is the Wrigley Mansion (now The Inn on Mt Ada). At one time William Wrigley, Jr. (Wrigley’s Chewing Gum) owned the entire island.
After lunch we walked up to the Casino and I stopped to take some snapshots of people enjoying themselves on this glorious day. Not just people, of course. This dog was obviously captain of his ship.
The row of buoys designates a swimming area where boats are not allowed.
A little paragliding, anyone?
And I had to take the opportunity for my selfie. Look at how clear that water is… if I wasn’t covered from head to toe to protect myself from the sun, I would have jumped in! Fortunately, I had many years of frolicking in the ocean so I still remember what it feels like… I have always loved being in, on and around water.
Cars are not generally allowed on Catalina but there are plenty of golf carts for hire. I also noticed quite a few two-person smart cars. According to the Chamber of Commerce there is currently a 14-year wait to own a car on the island, so why bother?
Tiles are everywhere. I could have filled this post with them but I had to restrain myself. Wrigley founded Catalina Clay Products in the 1920s which produced pottery and tiles. Forget about the pottery, I adore Catalina-style tiles which are prized by collectors and imitated by contemporary tile artists (myself included).
This tile piece illustrates the bison that have been roaming the hills of Catalina for a hundred years. I can tell you a few stories of my bison encounters when you have some time. Just recently (end of August) the CEO of a conservation group, engaged in mapping for a new hiking trail, was gored by a bison. Fortunately he survived, but they are wild animals and you don’t want to piss them off.
The Catalina Island Yacht Club sports a fancy weathervane of a galleon.
Sailboats come from Los Angeles and around the world to drop anchor at Avalon Bay. In my sailing days I remember not being able to sleep because of the clanging of the rigging from the boats that surrounded us. I suppose old salts get used to it, but I was merely a weekend sailor so I didn’t.
Like many things in my life, I’m glad I tried it, but after years of dreaming about learning to sail, the reality wasn’t as glamorous as the expectations! Now I’m happy just to look at the boats from afar.
The Casino is now a movie theater downstairs. The old ballroom is still open upstairs and many events are hosted here. There are also tours available of the building which I highly recommend… takes you back to days gone by.
The entryway murals were created in 1929. After John Gabriel Beckman completed the murals for Grauman’s Chinese Theater (in Hollywood), Wrigley invited the artist to adorn the Casino.
Walkway to Descanso Beach Club, north of downtown Avalon. The place was hopping with loud music and twenty-somethings. A sign stated for $2 members of the public could access the property. But we decided it was time to return to Avalon for our ice cream dessert. I treated myself to a double cone with Bubble Gum on the top and Vanilla Bean on the bottom. The only time I go for Bubble Gum ice cream is at Big Olaf’s on Catalina. It’s a tradition I started for myself many years ago and I can’t give it up now!
After sitting for a while to people watch as we finished our ice cream, we sauntered on down to Lover’s Cove just past the boat dock. This is a popular place for birds to hang out so they can watch the snorkelers.
It was almost time to board the Catalina Express to head back to the mainland. It was a short trip due to circumstances beyond my control. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful afternoon and I wouldn’t have missed it.
We are already thinking about coming back next year when we can spend more time. I’m also thinking about making an overnight trip on my own. Just me and my camera.
There is SO much more to see on the island within walking distance of Avalon Beach… I have such great memories of hiking and biking all over.
On the return trip we were able to snag seats on the outside deck. We had a fellow traveler for a while. But it turns out he was a stowaway without a paid ticket so as soon as we were out on the high seas he flew back to Avalon.
Bye bye until next year, sweet Catalina!
Don’t leave just yet. The Four Preps want to sing that song about the island that I promised you. But a warning, you will be humming it for the rest of the day!
The first video is from the 50s with the four original members:
The second video is a more recent version with two of the original members. (And one extra song.)
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