Santa Catalina Island, California
It's time for a trip to Catalina
The last time we went to Long Beach, on a sunny and clear day, Catalina was visible from the shore. My grandson reminded me that since I was pulling him out of public school, he would be missing his 5th grade trip to the Catalina Science Camp. This is a big deal because it is three days of fun for the kids and he will not be going. Actually he said, "I've waited since Kindergarten!"
Catalina is not new to me. I grew up in Southern California and have been visiting there for more than 50 years. Still, since I haven't been there in several years I am back to being a tourist again. So, before we go, research is needed. What has changed and what remains the same?
We finally managed to get there in July 2012. It was even more fun since we took my sister-in-law who had never been there. We did all the touristy things that I wouldn't have considered had we gone without her. The photo is my grandson waiting to board the Glass Bottom Boat.
Before beginning, you must set the mood
My first trip to Catalina Island was in 1953. We traveled on the Big White Steamship until 1975 when it was taken out of service. Catalina was a once a year family outing. What do I remember most? The flying fish, the dolphins and the island children who would swim out to meet the boat and collect the coins that were thrown to them by the passengers.
The S.S. Catalina was built for William Wrigley Jr. who owned most of Catalina at a cost of $1 million dollars. The ship was built in 1924 and between 1924 and 1975 the S.S. Catalina carried about 25 million passengers between Los Angeles and Avalon Harbor. According to the Steamship Historical Society of America, the Catalina has carried more passengers than any other vessel anywhere.
The S.S. Catalina was left to rot, sitting in the Ensenada Harbor for about 12 years. The scrapping of the SS Catalina finally began in January 2009 and was finished by 2010. This breaks my heart.
Retro 1950s Cruise - SS CATALINA sails again to Avalon
The Wrigley Mansion - July 2012
There was a time when you could tour the Wrigley Mansion. The tour not only showcased the beautiful home but the incredible views overlooking the harbor. .
Everyone needs a souvenir
We are a baseball family, the kid thinks this is wonderful. He's just sad that he wasn't around when they were there. I guess the author, Jim Vitti, thinks the same thing, wishing it were 1937.
1953 to 1967
In those days, we often took our own lunches to eat on the beach although we occasionally ate in the restaurant that faced the beach. I doubt that it is still there.
However, Lloyd's of Avalon Confectionery is still there and still making salt water taffy in the window. We never left the Island without a bag and still never do. Yes, we can get taffy anywhere but it is just not the same.This is the picture from the Lloyd's of Avalon website.
Annual Family Vacation in Catalina - July 1962 - Posing with my brother and father in front of the Big White Steamship.
1962 Family Vacation PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Getting to Catalina Island
I like the boat best. The helicopter ride was interesting and as soon as I got there, I traded my ride back for the boat.
- Catalina Express
This is not the big white steamship but it will do. I really miss the bigger boat (ship?). Watch out for people who get seasick. We nicknamed one lady "barfy".
- Catalina Chamber of Commerce
This site has all the information you will need to get to and from Catalina Island and getting around to all the attractions. Very helpful. I am still getting the golf cart.
The Catalina Express, July 2012 - We took the boat out of Long Beach
The photo is my grandson, my son, and my sister-in-law. It's a fun trip and only about 45 minutes. The Big White Steamship used to take two hours.
Flying Fish Tour - This is Just one of the many things to do on Catalina. The flying fish are really quite something and great fun to watch.
Let's face it, all of these are favorite places to stay. There are some very high-end hotels but we grew up as less than high-end and have very fond memories of these hotels. These are all close to the beach and the shopping and the dining.
- Hermosa Hotel
Spent a lot of time at this hotel. It does have kitchen units so it is a cost saver when it comes to meals.
- Glenmore Plaza
Certainly has been upgraded since the last time I stayed there. Still a fun place and as they say, 50 steps to the beach.
- Pavilion Hotel
Updated and upgraded, this is one of the nicest places to stay. It is slightly more upscale and has many more amenities.
- Atwater Hotel
Built in the 1920s this is another favorite place to stay.
1968 - 1980
Catalina Island was the place of my honeymoon. We stayed at the Hermosa Hotel because it was the cheapest place to stay and we had no money. It still is the cheapest place to stay. It is old and even then seemed rickety. However, my girlfriend and I used to take our kids there for weeks at a time. The six kids who ranged in age from 5-yrs-old to 10-yrs-old, roamed the Island freely. Can't do that now but it was not so crowded then. I am still looking at the Hermosa as a place to stay. I actually love the older buildings. This is a picture of the Hermosa from their website.
I am also checking out the Glenmore Hotel as well as the Atwater. The Atwater is older too but is a fun place to stay and when I had more money, it was the place I would head to. The Pavilion Hotel is another nice place to stay. It is on Crescent Avenue and faces the beach.
A pretty view of the Casino from the harbor - July 2012
Things to do
You would think that on a small island there would not be much to do. Believe me, you could spend a week on the beach or take many of the opportunities to take a trip back into history. If that;s not enough, there are nature trails, places for camping and the windward side of the island to visit. Two Harbor (more commonly known as "The Isthmus") on the other end of the island is not as developed but is a village in its own right.
- Two Harbors
Food and lodging is available here and there are a few campground. One is for boats. Different feel from Avalon.
- Glass Bottom Boat
Probably the most famous attraction. We no longer take this tour but will have to when we take our grandson. Everyone who comes to visit wants to take this tour. It is actually really great and is a must see.
- Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden
This is a great place to visit. Look for the "Grandfather Cactus".
- Casino and Theater Tour
The Casino tour pulls you back in time when people flocked to the island from the mainland to see the big bands that played there. The theater is beautiful.
- Inland Tour
This tour is 31 miles through the interior of the island. The trip is completed in a 1950s Flxible Bus. The tour runs the 1800's stagecoach route. This is also the best way to see the wild beauty on the backside of the island. Passengers can spot th
- Golf Car Rental
Probably the best way to see Avalon is in a golf cart. A lot of the area is hills so walking in not necessarily the way to go. This can take you by the Wrigley Mansion that used to be open to the public but is now an upscale bed and breakfast. It wil
I suggest you take the Casino tour - July 2012
There is a lot to learn here but the one thing I found fascinating is the artist of the Casino paintings is the same one who did the ones at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Since we had visited the Chinese Theater the day before, is was interesting to find the same artist the next day.
1981 to Present
If you have a good understanding of Catalina and its history, it is fun to take out-of-towners there. When family comes to visit, it is one of the destinations they want to visit. At one time, I considered buying a house there. In hindsight, not doing so was one of my biggest mistakes. Still, that's the past and we are looking forward to our trip. The boy is completely excited. While he will miss the 5th grade trip, Catalina Island has several science camps and we plan to visit each one and decide which one suits him the best.
Places to eat
I could probably make a meal out of the candy at Lloyd's of Avalon but there are restaurants on the Island. My favorite place closed down and the bar I used to visit is also gone. There are some very expensive places to eat and the grab-a-meal stands. There are two grocery stores and if we are spending more than a day, we plan to prepare most of our meals. However, there are a few favorites left.
Keep in mind that this is a tourist destination so food is everywhere.
Take a hat with you
I can't begin to tell you how many hats I purchased on Catalina. Finally got smart, now I take my own. I'd rather use the money for food or something fun. Hats aren't fun.
You will need sunscreen
Most of the time on Catalina is spent outside. It's a good idea to take sunscreen. You should use it before you board the boat.
- In 1966, I went with a group of friends on one the the father's boat. We docked in Avalon Harbor and played around in town before anchoring at Two Harbors so we could swim. I am a good swimmer and made it to shore but had a hard time getting back.
- During these years we learned one large truth. Do not let 6-yr-old children eat peas after riding the steamship. To this day, my brother will not touch anything that has peas. Made quite an impression on all of us.