Catalina Island - Where the Buffalo Roam

Trip Start Mar 16, 2012
Trip End Mar 24, 2012

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Where I stayed
Catalina Island Inn Avalon
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did

Flag of United States  , California
Monday, March 19, 2012

We drive from Marina Del Ray south to the Port of Long Beach where we will catch the Catalina Flyer. This is a high speed people-only ferry shuttles us from Long Beach to the main city on Catalina Island – Avalon.  Although there is another city – Two Harbors, we are left with the impression from locals that this destination is for those of us who own yachts and will reside and dine on their yachts in the harbor.  Perhaps next time ;-)

As we depart the coastline of Long Beach, it  reminds me of the years I spent working on a project for GTE there.  I recall the mini-vacation I took with my wife and children to see the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose.

The one hour voyage is very comfortable in the Commodore Lounge area.  This upgrade is probably not worth the price, but it was fun.  We are informed that this journey is much more comfortable than the prior day when service was actually canceled due to high winds, extremely rough seas and overall foul weather.  This is not exactly high season – the ship is mostly empty. 

As we approach the island, I am amazed at just how big it is.  I learn that people have been living on Catalina Island for at least 7,000 years. It has served as the location for the filming of over 500 motion pictures, documentaries, television programs and commercials over the past 90 years.  Of those, approximately 300 were motion picture productions.  Beginning as early as 1911 and continuing with great momentum through the Silent Film era and the introduction of sound to motion pictures, the Island served as location for more than 225 films.

Upon our arrival, we explore the harbor area, its "Green Pier" and the charming city blocks.  Cars are few and far between on the island.  Golf carts are the principal means of transportation for many.  The best way to get a car on the island is that it must be small.  Smart cars and Mini Coopers are everywhere.

When we can check in to our hotel, Casey is delighted.  Not only do we get an outstanding physical workout climbing to the highest level offered by the hotel, but the room offers a spectacular view of the harbor.   I think this is the best view of the harbor offered in town.  Casey immediately makes a friend– Jonathan, the Seagull.

Since we are still largely on East Coast time, we are awake for the sunrise - a tremendous surprise and so beautiful and colorful.  And then the Cruise Ship arrives.  Later we learn that the ship only is in port on Tuesday.  Great – our only full day here and thousands of people are about to descend upon the town.  We decide to immediately book the afternoon 3 hour Jeep tour.  We had been informed that the cruise ship people stay away from afternoon tours so they can be back on the ship prior to its departure.  They also tend to like the 2 hour or under tours.

We want to beat the crowds before they disembark.  We head down and walk out to Lover's Point and then rent a Golf Cart for the 2 hour circuit ride around the city, up the hill, to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden and then switchback down the east coast side of the mountain for the greatest views ever.  Upon our return, we find the city swarming with cruisers and the golf cart rental place is completely out of carts and there is a huge line of people waiting.  They descend like vultures upon my cart.

We grab a great lunch at Café Metropole.  I had met the proprietor the previous day where I sampled her delicious offerings in the form of a light snack.  Where most of the eateries on the Island appear to serve, what I call, SysCo meals, this establishment appears to hand-crafts all its offerings and they are delicious and healthy. 

After a cozy lunch, we go over to the Catalina Island Conservancy building to start our jeep tour.  We had arranged for the three hour jeep tour conducted by the Catalina Island Conservancy.  While there are several tours available – bus, jeep, Hummer, etc.  This tour is the only one conducted by Conservancy members.  They work as volunteers and the total proceeds you pay for the tour goes into the Conservancy.  Beth is our driver.  I probably did not tip Beth enough.  She earned much more.

It is during the tour that I learn that chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. fell in love with the island and, in 1919, bought out nearly every share-holder until he owned controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company.  Thereafter, he devoted himself to preserving and promoting the island, investing millions in needed infrastructure and attractions.  If I understand the oral history I heard, the Wrigley family then donated 90 percent of the island to the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Founded in 1972, the Catalina Island Conservancy is the oldest and largest private land trust in the state of California. It protects nearly 90 percent of Catalina Island, including 50 miles of unspoiled beaches and secluded coves—the longest publicly accessible stretch of undeveloped coastline left in Southern California.

The jeep tour was an amazing experience along paved, unpaved, rutted out roads into the backwoods of the island.  We saw impressive Wrigley family homes, an Arabian horse farm, vineyard, private beaches and a stable of aircraft.  We also saw… Buffalo.

The prices are quite high at all the sit down restarants.  We are told the swordfish is fresh.  We go to the seafood market on the pier and establish that nothing is really fresh.  We are really not that hungry, so we grab a pizza to go and eat back at the hotel.  Antonio’s Pizzeria on the waterfront was perfect.  A great pie at a great price.

The Wrigley family appears to be humble protectors of the island.  Thank you.  This trip is a memory we will never forget.
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Sally on

stunning scenery! i want to go to Catalina!

Lawrence on

What a great life!

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