September 18, 2018

3-day Escape from Reality on Catalina Island

How can a place that is only 20 miles off the mainland of the US, feel a world away? That place is Santa Catalina island and it’s true. DayTripper Tours made that escape from reality a reality for 47 passengers on a recent three day, two night excursion to this magical isle.

It was a very foggy morning as we began our trip. No blue sky. No sun. Just lots of grey. Oh, how that would change! Driver Carolyn expertly drove us north to Long Beach where we caught our boat, the Catalina Express, our smooth mode of transportation to our eagerly awaited destination. It wasn’t until the protected harbor of Avalon came into view that the thick fog started to burn off, almost on cue it seemed. Dozens of boats bobbed in the crystal clear water. On the left, high on the hill sat the stately Wrigley Mansion, home of William Wrigley, Jr. (of chewing gum fame) who used to own the island. On the right, the large, white cylindrical building known as The Casino, colored banners waving from the round rooftop, welcomed us. We had arrived! Along with a few hundred other tourists, we stepped out on the dock, took a group photo in the sunshine, and proceeded to walk the short distance half way around the harbor to Steve’s Steakhouse. Along the way, we passed boutiques selling every imaginable item embossed with the word “Catalina.” Swimmers splashed in the water. An ice cream shop called “Scoops” beckoned, but we had a date for lunch. Up the stairs right on the waterfront, Steve’s Steakhouse was waiting for us. Some of us enjoyed a steak (of course!), others opted for grilled chicken, baby back ribs, or salmon. Yum!

Next on the itinerary was a narrated tour of Avalon. We DayTrippers piled into two connected buses and with driver/guide Laura at the wheel, learned more in 50 minutes than we thought possible. Did you know that gasoline costs over $8.00 per gallon on Catalina? Cars are a rare thing and only for those who can afford it. A 20 year waiting list for a car makes them even rarer. Golf carts are everywhere, however. We drove past the only school on the island, the golf course, the medical “hospital” (women must leave the island to give birth), and stopped at the best vantage point to take photos of Avalon. Stunning! Our hotel was pretty stunning too—The Pavilion—right on Crescent Drive overlooking the water. After checking in, some passengers relaxed on chaise lounges in the tropical courtyard, while others strolled around town. At 4:30, a complimentary wine and cheese social hour provided by the hotel was enjoyed by all. We could choose between four different wines and four different cheeses. It was so nice meeting our fellow DayTrippers, many visiting Catalina for the first time. Evening time was free. Some dined at one of the many nearby restaurants, others grabbed a snack and called it dinner, feeling full from the wine and cheese. As the stars sparkled in the clear sky, our first day ended and our comfortable beds awaited. Catalina was already working her magic…

Now this is the way to start the day! The Pavilion Hotel really lays out a spread for a complimentary breakfast. Platters piled high with thick bacon (cooked just right!), fat sausages, scrambled eggs, toast, bagels with jam, 2 kinds of freshly baked muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, and perhaps best of all—an omelet bar! I had never seen it done quite this way: you took a card listing the choices of ingredients you might want in your omelet, then checked the boxes next to your selections. You handed your card to the chef who prepares it exactly to order and IN order. Working four omelet skillets at the same time, he had his hands full. Just delicious! I noticed several DayTripper Tour guests were lingering long after breakfast was over just enjoying the beautiful surroundings of the Pavilion Hotel property.

The biggest decision of the day was what to do first. Many excursions were available. A tour is the only way to see Catalina’s back country. Some signed up for an off-road tour on eco-jeeps, climbing out of the protected town of Avalon and into the barren, dusty hills. The island is 21 miles long and at its widest point, 7.5 miles across. They came back with great photos including photos of the famous bison that were brought to Catalina in 1924 for filming the movie “The Vanishing American” and then left here. They have flourished and are now one of the most unusual things to see on this island paradise. Lucky buffalo, right? Another popular tour was the Casino Tour. Catalina’s Casino was never a gambling place, but it does have a beautiful ballroom and movie theater. The elegant wood-paneled lobby is appraised at more than $4 million for the wood alone. Inside the auditorium, the stylish Catalina history murals are really something to see. By the way, the Casino gets its name from the Italian language where “casino” means “a gathering place.” One of the more unusual tours is the Flying Fish Tour. The little fishy critters really do “fly,” speeding toward the water’s surface, into the air and every once in a while into a startled visitor’s lap! Another popular tour was the semi-submersible sub tour that offered diver-like views. The glass-bottomed boat rides have been a Catalina tradition for almost a hundred years and will be a part of my DayTripper guests’ memories for many years to come. With two types of water converging here—the cold,nutrient-rich California current and the warm southern waters—there is great diversity in marine life. My favorite are the bright orange Garibaldi fish that live in the kelp and look like overgrown goldfish. They are so bright that you can even see them from above water. Just look down from the walkway along the waterfront, and there they are! I borrowed a bike from the hotel, donned my helmet and just explored the quaint streets where 85% of the 4,000 people who call Catalina home live. In the evening, many of us opted to catch the film showing at the Casino, “Alpha.” It was a very good day!

By our third day, we DayTripper passengers felt so relaxed, so apart from the craziness of the rest of the world, that it was difficult to think about returning to the mainland. Catalina is one of the eight Channel Islands and 25 miles away from the nearest one. It was never attached to the mainland and is so isolated that several species have evolved on Catalina the same way that Darwin’s finches adapted to the Galapagos Islands. Twenty are endemic species found only on Catalina Island. One “species” we saw plenty of was the “human species.” In fact, over a million people visit Catalina every year.

Having enjoyed another generous breakfast, many DayTrippers opted to just hang out on the private property and watch the world go by this morning after officially checking out of the hotel at 11. The Pavilion Hotel’s bellmen took care of collecting our forty pieces of luggage and seeing them safely to the boat for the trip back across the water. No worries. I talked to a few guests who decided to fit in a little more sightseeing before the trip home. One couple enjoyed a special (but expensive) lunch at the Wrigley Mansion overlooking Avalon harbor. Today, it’s called the Inn on Mt. Ada, a 6-bedroom home Mr. Wrigley built for his wife Ada in 1921. It is the most expensive hotel on Catalina (over $700 a night). At just about any restaurant in Avalon, you can order the signature drink called “Buffalo Milk” a mixture of vodka, kalua, creme de banana, creme de coconut, half and half, and topped with whipped cream.” Oh my. I wonder what the buffalo in the back country would think of that!

By mid afternoon, my 47 guests reluctantly made their way back along the waterfront to board the Catalina Express back to Long Beach. Under bright sunny sky, we took our seats in this boat that felt more like an airliner inside and settled in for the crossing which took about an hour. As we neared Long Beach Harbor, a young girl yelled, “Look! A dolphin!” Call it the trip that just kept giving! We passed the famous Queen Mary ocean liner in all her glory on our final approach to the dock. Driver Ernesto was waiting for us outside the terminal building and loaded our luggage on the comfortable DayTripper Tour motor coach. With cold water and “Pirate’s Booty” snacks, we headed back to San Diego. As we made our way through Long Beach, I pointed out the Long Beach Aquarium and the unique architecture of some of the million dollar bungalows in the residential areas. Soon, we were back on the highway—back in rush hour traffic—back to reality…BUT, in our minds we would always have Catalina, that little slice of paradise thanks to DayTripper Tours.

– Pat Brown
DayTripper Tour Manager
Tour: Catalina Island 3-day Getaway
September 9-11, 2018


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