Old Fashion Romantic Adventure on Santa Catalina Island
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Peering down from gangway of Catalina Express, I see fat orange Garibaldis, California State fish, nibbling among rocks. It’s early-afternoon on a sunny day and we’ve arrived at Avalon, little town on Santa Catalina Island off coast of California.
Yes, island of “Twenty-six miles across sea” fame, song made famous in 1958 by Four Preps. But we didn’t swim here with “water wings and my guitar.” We took Catalina Express, modern ferry that crosses water in one hour and five minutes—much easier to visualize than 26 miles.
Views of Long Beach skyline, Queen Mary, freighters, and cruise ships plying Mexican Riviera are to be had from topside aft, only outdoor seating. Inside, besides seating, there are tables and restrooms. There’s a full bar with snacks and on top deck, Commodore Lounge―a private seating area for 50 people. For just $10 more on ticket price (plus you get to pre-board) you can recline in leather seats and enjoy a free cocktail and snack. It’s a particularly popular place in summer, when ferries are crowded.
A taxi takes my husband and I up to Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, perched atop a green hillside overlooking Bay of Avalon. Our handsome driver, Jorge Garcia, is a retired dancer who worked with Jose Greco. “I’ve been on island since 1991,” he tells us. “I go home to Jalisco in winter when island tourism slows down.”
After checking in we walk down and spend rest of afternoon and evening exploring town of Avalon.
The Channel House Restaurant facing bay, with its paved brick enclosed patio shaded by green umbrellas and an enormous ficus tree, proves perfect for a mid-afternoon lunch. My husband orders a sensible Chinese Chicken salad and a cup of clam chowder; I devour a swordfish burger with fries.
Custom tile art welcomes you to Avalon.
Crescent Avenue, lined with eye-candy boutiques, is a pedestrian walkway only; no vehicles allowed. Its water fountain and stuccoed benches are dotted with colorful Catalina tiles. Every nook and cranny sprouts pansies, snap dragons, begonias. Hanging bare root baskets are home to fuschias and orchids. Here you can indulge in espresso, ice cream, salt water taffy, shrimp cocktails, waffles, oyster bars, or a cantina that boasts 70 different kinds of tequila.
We slurp oysters and beer outdoors on patio at Armstrong’s Market & Seafood Restaurant.
At sunset, we find a table on outdoor deck at Armstrong’s Fish Market and Seafood Restaurant. We order beer to wash down oysters on half shell, which we consume under watchful eye of a seagull, perched to dive for any crumb you might drop into water.
The next morning we take Discovery Tours new off-roading adventure, its Cape Canyon Tour. We meet our Catalina Conservancy guide, Dave, in Island Plaza, just one block from waterfront. He hands us each a free bottle of chilled water and introduces us to open-air, all-terrain 1968 Mercedes Unimog. Originally built for German military as a supply vehicle, this outback-looking vehicle with its jaunty canopy cover holds 12 people.