Catalina Island is located just off the Southern California coast and can be reached in one hour by boat or even faster by helicopter. The Catalina Express which operates out of Long Beach and San Pedro offers a normally $70 ticket for FREE on the date of your birthday. That’s a great deal to remember on your special day. I happened to visit recently by cruise ship, where Catalina Island was a port of call on our 4 day itinerary. An hour and a half tour of the island was a great way to start our day. I had visited Catalina prior to this trip but never explored much of the island except for the main shopping areas that make up the city of Avalon. Our tour guide, who grew up on the island, took us past the golf course, school district, bird sanctuary, the former training grounds of the Chicago Cubs who called the island home for the spring training from 1921 to 1951. We drove high up on the bluffs to see the famed Wrigley Mansion and then down on the quaint streets to see just how close and personal the neighbors live to one another.
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Our final tour stop was at the Casino, which isn’t a gambling casino at all but rather a movie theatre and a ball room. I learned the meaning of casino is actually gathering place. I also learned that the beautiful mosaics placed high on the walls of the outer rotunda were painted by the same artist who did the artwork at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. We spent some time in the Catalina Island Museum, which was full of interesting photos, short video clips and mementos from the island’s fascinating history, including ties to the entertainment industry. The island calls itself “The Playground to the Stars”. Hollywood stars that is. Stories including the tragic, unexplained death of Natalie Wood just off the Catalina coast, to the fact that a teenage Norma Jeane (Marilyn Monroe) and her first husband Jim Dougherty called Catalina Island home in 1944. Many other Hollywood rich and famous have enjoyed the splendor of the island over the years.
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My mom and I enjoyed lunch at the Descanso Beach Club where we shared a few bites and also Catalina’s famous island drink, Buffalo Milk. Made with vodka, coffee liqueur, banana liqueur, crème de cacao and topped with a generous dollop of whip cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg, it was refreshing on that hot October afternoon. Plus it was the only Buffalo we encountered on our visit, as there is a herd of about 150 bison that live on the island. The beach club itself was fairly quiet for a Tuesday, but I understand even in the high season the charge is only $2.00 per person for the public to enjoy the club’s beachfront. However you get yourself to Catalina Island, I hope you make time to enjoy this little treasure just an hour from Los Angeles.
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By Trish Procetto