Donna Polizzi: Catalina Island is a real trip, with delicious twists and turns | Donna Polizzi
Catalina Island is a heavenly place, and at Keys 2 the Coast, we’re going to point you to the best places to visit to make your quick getaway feel like a full week’s vacation.
There are so many choices depending on the type of trip you want. I was looking for a relaxing experience to be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the island and great food while spending time with my favorite person.
Let’s break it down …
To get to the island, we boarded the Catalina Express in Long Beach. Make sure you leave an hour early as traffic is always a mystery in this part of Los Angeles.
For added convenience, upgrade your Catalina Express trip to the Commodore Lounge, which lets you board immediately and skip the line. The lounge is private and comfortable, with a full bar. Commodore Lounge passengers also receive a complimentary ticket for a drink and a snack for each leg of the journey to and from the island.
We sipped cocktails from our lounge vantage point as we watched brave paratroopers and pods of dolphins frolic. It was exhilarating.
Chewing gum mogul William Wrigley Jr. bought Catalina in 1919 and two years later bought and brought the Chicago Cubs baseball team west for spring training on the island, about 20 miles off the southern California coast.
In the 1970s, Wrigley ceded 88 percent of the land to the Catalina Island Conservancy so that much of the island remained underdeveloped. Deer and bison are free to roam much of the area, the latter having been brought in by Hollywood for a movie in the 1920s. Since then, the bison population has grown to around 150.
If you encounter a bison in the wild, be careful. These animals can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and can jump over a 6-foot fence.
Wrigley built the Catalina Casino in 1929 to mark the 10th anniversary of its purchase of the island. The famous 11-story monument was erected in less than a year by a crew of 500 men. Then, like today, it was a destination for a romantic evening.
Catalina Island has many eccentricities. Third Street is the only numbered street in Avalon. There is an ornithological park which has no more birds and a mausoleum which contains no bodies. Oh, and the flying fish swim in the ocean.
If the island’s history and beautiful architecture don’t make you want to venture to Catalina, the food certainly will.
Catalina Food Tours was a great experience in downtown Avalon. Our guide, Lili Dana, took us on an incredible food and wine tour.
Bluewater Avalon, 306 Crescent Ave., is located directly on the water, with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking a sea of beautiful boats floating at anchor.
The restaurant serves their famous New England-style clam chowder, which will keep you warm in the ocean breezes. The creamy chowder is loaded with clams and is the best you’ll find on this side of New England. Also on the menu, giant prawns served on a homemade sauce.
Bluewater’s delicious seafood selection matches its decor and marine life atmosphere while providing a great dining experience.
Steve’s Steakhouse & Seafood is an elegant restaurant on the water at 417 Crescent Ave. It serves excellent surf and turf that includes a teriyaki marinated skirt steak cooked to your liking, with caramelized onions and melting mushrooms in your mouth. Our favorite was a lightly grilled coconut shrimp over a Thai chili sauce.
Owner Steve Bray is a respected philanthropist, and his wife, Margaret, owns Maggie’s Blue Rose on the second floor. Margaret Bray serves excellent chicken quesadillas topped with poblano sauce and perfectly paired with a coconut margarita.
Lloyd’s Confectionery in Avalon, at the corner of Crescent and Sumner avenues, has been serving delicious treats since 1934. You can get fresh taffy straight from the machine here. Can you believe Marilyn Monroe has worked on it before? She did so, in 1943, although she was known as Norma Jean Baker at the time.
I also highly recommend Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. at 205 Crescent Ave. in the picturesque Metropole Market Place. This place offers a range of gluten-free options, cookies, Rice Krispies treats, and delicious sweet and spicy teas that you can enjoy in the tropical courtyard.
Do you think you would like to take home a unique souvenir that you made yourself? Robin Cassidy’s Silver Canyon Pottery is the perfect place to do it, and Cassidy, a 50-year-old island girl, will be happy to help you create your own masterpiece.
When looking for a place to stay, the Glenmore Plaza Hotel is an excellent choice. The hotel at 120 Sumner Ave. is Catalina’s oldest hotel, having been built in 1891.
The venerable inn recently underwent a $ 2 million renovation and it exudes Victorian charm. From your room you have a view of the ocean and can watch the seals frolic in the water. It was wonderful to walk a few meters with my morning coffee to take a walk to the edge of the island.
The Glenmore Plaza has been family owned and operated by the Amoroso family since 1981. The staff are very friendly and have recommended great places to visit.
Jim Amoroso spoke about the historically significant guests who graced the hotel, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Amelia Earhart. In fact, some of the magnificent suites bear their names.
Life is short, go ahead – to Catalina Island – and have fun.
– Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys 2 the Coast, a free travel resource on the Central Coast providing honest recommendations on the best places locals want to visit. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read the previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.