Catalina Island offers a fun getaway – "22 miles across the sea"
Second of two parts
Long Beach is the closest port to Catalina, the intriguing isle 22 miles to the west that once was a hideaway for smugglers and pirates. Nearly all of its 3,500 year-round inhabitants are gathered in Avalon, the only town of consequence on the hilly, often barren island.
It’s the weekend visitors that sustain Catalina. Most come by ferry or helicopter. Others are delivered by cruise ships. All quickly become acquainted with the restaurants, gift shops and fine beaches.
Other available options are riding and hiking trails, tennis, sport and pier fishing and golf on a nine-hole course that was built in 1892 and was Southern California’s first.
You can take a motorized tour of the island or you can rent a golf cart. There are more than 900 of them and they are the preferred means of transportation. There are not rental cars and there’s an 8-10 year waiting list for anyone wanting to own a car.
Catalina’s most famous residents were William Wrigley Jr. and Zane Grey.
Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate and owner of baseball’s Chicago Cubs, brought his team here for spring training for 30 years.
Grey spent most of his late life in Avalon writing and fishing. His home is now a hotel (the Metropole) that displays many of his original furnishings. It’s just a short distance from the Wrigley home. Grey was a member of the Catalina Tuna Club. Founded in 1898, it’s the oldest fishing club in the U. S. Other distinguished members were Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George S. Patton and Cecil B. DeMille.
In 1924, 14 buffalo were brought to Catalina for the filming of a silent movie based on one of Grey’s 89 books. When the film was completed, the production company left but the buffalo stayed. Today there are some 150 buffalo freely roaming the island’s interior. You’re likely to see some of them on a guided tour.
While buffalo burgers are featured at some downtown eateries, but the meat is not from the Catalina herd; it’s from Montana.
No tour of Catalina is complete without a stop at the world-famous Casino, currently celebrating its 75th anniversary. It’s on the waterfront at the west end of Avalon. This is where during the Big Band era the orchestras of Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Harry James and others entertained sellout crowds. Today the ballroom remains the site of year-round special events. The Island Museum, featuring local artifacts and mementos, is also in the building and is worth a look.
Catalina’s education facilities cover Grades K-12, and are part of the Long Beach school system. Also here are a 12-bed hospital and adjoining medical clinic, fire and police departments, 13 AAA listed hotels, and a harbor-view cantilevered condo complex offering rental accommodations.
For more information call Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (562) 436-3645 (or http://www.visitlongbeachcvb.org); Catalina Chamber of Commerce (310) 510-1520 (or catalinachamber.com); Silversea Cruises (877) 215-9986 (or silversea.com)
Bob Richelson is a frequent traveler and lives in Lake Wildwood
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