Catalina1Santa Catalina Island is an extremely popular vacation destination for Southern California residents and should definitely be considered more seriously by us Northerners. A few of our older readers may remember the lyrics, “26 miles across the sea Santa Catalina is awaitin’ me” from the hit song “26 Miles” by the Four Preps in the 50s. The Preps style and that particular song were considered by some to be major influences on the Beach Boys and the wave of surfing and beach songs that swept the country in that era and are still popular today. Since both of us grew up in Southern California, we remember early on that we were excited about making that first journey out to Catalina. A high seas adventure for young kids! Although we visited it separately, we both had indelible memories of those initial visits. For years, we talked about making a return sojourn together, but for some reason hadn’t done so. Awhile back that all changed. In the past, we’ve often been disappointed by return visits to our yesteryear memories. Usually the current experience just doesn’t live up to expectations. But our joint Catalina excursion far surpassed those early memories.

First of all, getting to Catalina has entered a new era of ocean transport. Instead of the slowmoving ferries, Catalina Express now provides high-speed jet catamarans that get you there in about an hour from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point. Round trip fares range from around $60- $75 and airline- type seats add comfort. Upgrades are available for a special Commodore or Captain’s Lounge (think business or first class). Upon our arrival, the quaint main town of Avalon seemed much more upscale and prettier than we remembered. The promenade walkways and colorful landscaping all along the harbor have been improved dramatically. In our opinion, the overall quality of hotels, restaurants, attractions and shops has definitely improved.


We opted to stay in the center of town at a charming European boutique-style hotel, Villa Portofino, overlooking Avalon Bay and within footsteps of the beach. It reminded us of the charming Spanish inn that was our Barcelona hangout many years ago. The rooms were delightfully decorated- some with fireplaces and ocean views.

The staff was exceptionally friendly and the rooftop sundeck
was a perfect place to relax and enjoy the panoramic vistas. On our first night, we dined at Ristorante Portofino and were blown away by their creative regional Italian cuisine. For complete info on packages, rates, and wonderful photos
of the property go to: Other recommended dining spots: the award-winning Steve’s Steak House, where the turf meets the surf, features nice harbor views and incredible Omaha beef.; for the ultimate in fresh seafood, check out the Lobster Trap, also known for tantalizing Bloody Mary’s and their happy hour.; for funky nightlife, drop into Luau Larry’s featuring casual food offerings and energy filled live entertainment. And, keep in mind that the diversity of restaurants in Avalon offer most ethnic cuisines with a wide price range.

Before we left for Catalina a friend commented, “I don’t think there’s enough to do there”. Well, let us assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the following list: golf, tennis, biking, beach volleyball, hiking, beach walks, snorkeling, scuba, sailing, swimming, ?shing, kayaking, camping, horseback riding, zip lining, and the list goes on and on. Get the idea? As a matter of fact, we would have liked to stay at least a week instead of three days on this picturesque isle. This trip only allowed us time to take three of the island tours of the many offered. The Classic Inland Motor Tour included some fascinating island history. Most of you might be surprised to hear that Santa Catalina was purchased in 1919 by the well known Wrigley family from Chicago. Wrigley gum and Wrigley Field are reminders of their illustrious history. For a number
of years, Wrigley brought his beloved Chicago Cubs to Catalina for their spring training, but now the team is camped out in Mesa, Arizona as part of the Cactus League. A Catalina3guided walking tour of the world famous art deco Catalina Casino, built in 1927 is a must. The Ballroom, Theater and Catalina Island Museum are extraordinary. It’s interesting to point out that the casino has no gambling, so for those experienced gamblers or even first time slot players that are wanting to gamble, they will actually have to elsewhere, or even online which is becoming increasingly popular. Back in that era, the word casino was used to describe a “public building used for entertainment and dances”. Our
guide informed us that Las Vegas was responsible for adding gambling into the casino de?nition. Another tour we thoroughly enjoyed was an exciting ocean rafting adventure highlighted by a lengthy closeup visit with a playful school of dolphins cavorting all around our motorized raft. This same company also has bike rentals, Jeep and Segway tours.

The Wrigley family is to be applauded for their efforts to keep their island as unspoiled as possible by donating 88% of the land to a conservancy. This will insure the reservation of most of the island’s natural interior and 48 miles of coastline in perpetuity. Members of the family remain as administrative overseers of the Santa Catalina Island Company. And, for those of you who just want to relax, Catalina has plenty to do for rejuvenation. Sunning at Descanso Beach Club just steps away from the casino,
reading a book around the pool, leisure walks around the residential neighborhoods and shopping strolls through downtown are just a few of the options. We hope we don’t wait as long for our next getaway to this little bit of serene utopia on California’s only island resort.

And remember the local mantra: “Relax, you’re on island time.”

(Publisher’s note: Next month Managing Editor Lindsey Rodrian will be reporting on her recommendations for a visit to the beautiful California beach city of Santa Monica.)