“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”~Kahlil Gibran
I’ve always been a bit star struck. Names like Lucille Ball, Liz Taylor, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart fuel stories of a studio era Hollywood that fascinate me. As a little girl I would watch television and see the stars heading off to Catalina for long weekends away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. It all seemed so glamorous.
Finally it was our turn to visit the legendary resort. Our alarm went off way before the first light of day but I was already awake excited about the adventure ahead of us. Thick gray clouds hung in the air as we drove to the port of Los Angeles but I wasn’t worried about the weather. I knew we would have a wonderful day no matter what. Our ship left San Pedro at 7:15 AM for the one hour and fifteen minute, twenty-two mile ride across the Pacific to the port of Avalon on Catalina Island. As the ship approached the harbor we could see the sun break through as if to welcome us.
Our first order of business in Avalon was breakfast at Sally’s Waffle Shop. It was the kind of local spot that we always hope to find when on the road in a new city. The tiny counter and ten tables were crowded with visitors who sipped coffee as they planned their day. The short order cook churned out breakfasts with lightening speed while servers balanced piled high plates in a space not much larger than an SUV. Well fed and entertained we crossed the street to the tour kiosk at the green pier and selected our tours and activities for the day.
Our first tour was a two hour bus trip hosted by Melinda, a local who has been living on Catalina for decades. We learned that Catalina is owned in large part by the Wrigley family of chewing gum and Cubs baseball fame. The Wrigleys set aside large parts of the island as a nature conservancy, which has protected Catalina from over development. This tour would cover a small part of those protected lands. On a lucky day you can see Buffalo herds as you travel up to the airport. Catalina has had buffalo since 1924 when they were brought over for use on a silent film. It turned out to be a lucky Day for buffalo spotting. We found ourselves in the midst of a rather large herd gathering at the lake and basking in the sun. We were all thrilled to get such a close up look at these beautiful beasts and we lingered taking photos and sharing the moment
After the bus tour it was time for our submarine ride. I was a bit relieved to find out that this sub only partially descends. The tour was a bit contrived in that the tour company has trained the fish to swim up to the windows by using food that patrons can release through a chute for a fee. It did however give us the opportunity to see the endangered state fish of California, the Garibaldi. I was mesmerized by the giant kelp forest we traveled through. Tall strands of kelp surrounded us, glowing in the diffused sunlight, waving rhythmically with the movement of the ocean. The kelp here grows at a rate of two feet per day. We were told that the only thing on earth that grows faster is bamboo.
When people think of Catalina they automatically envision the iconic Avalon Casino a twelve story art deco style ballroom and theater completed in 1929 to showcase a new innovation in film called talkies. The term casino was not always associated with gambling; it is a term that means gathering place and has been adapted in our vernacular to define a gambling hall. We absolutely had to take the tour and see this work of art for ourselves.
The theater was spectacular with hand painted walls and perfect acoustics. Every detail was a work of art. After a short film about the history of the casino we were led up to the ballroom. Visions of big bands and a bygone era danced in my head. The ballroom was enormous and ornate with the original wood floor and lighting fixtures. I danced with John right there in the middle of the tour so we would always have the memory of dancing at the Avalon ballroom. He is a very good sport about things like that.
Another part of the casino houses a history museum. One of the current exhibits was a collection of Rock and Roll photographs by Patti Boyd who had been married to George Harrison and later Eric Clapton. She has written a book about her adventures and shared some of her personal photos which we loved seeing.
Late afternoon found us hungry and a bit tired after a day of sightseeing. It’s hard to know which places are good when visiting a new town. We took some advice and selected Armstrong’s. This place was right on the water and we decided that even if the food was average at least the view would be worthwhile. We were seated at the waters edge with a view of the marina and the casino. It could not have been a more relaxing dinner. We lingered over our margaritas, ceviche and fish and chips watching the boats and the sea birds who were also looking for some dinner.
We decided to take a sunset walk down the road to lover’s cove to take some photos. The setting sun always seems to intensify the colors of the scenery. The sea turned a deeper blue and the rock formations took on a golden hue as we walked along the path toward a big craggy rock that was home to quite a few sea birds. We lingered at the rock watching the birds settle in for the evening.
As night fell lights were switched on and the harbor began to twinkle all around us. We sat on the beach exhausted but happy listening to an outdoor concert knowing that it would soon be time to leave and knowing that we would never forget the magic of Avalon.