Feb 10, 2011

Catalina Island - 26 Miles Across the Sea

John and I remember the Four Preps hit, “26 Miles.” It sounded wonderful with “Water all around it everywhere. Tropical trees and the salty air.” So when we were in California recently we put it on our itinerary and we were not disappointed.

It was off-season – our favorite time to visit – but the weather was perfect. In a little more than an hour on the Catalina Ferry we were on the “Island of Romance.” Our hotel, the Metropole, was right on the main street and with a great view of the sea.

The locals like to mention all the ironic features of the island. There are no eucalyptus trees on Eucalyptus Street, the only private beach is public, and there is no gambling in the Casino. The word “casino” means “meeting place” and that is exactly what the Catalina Casino is. Our tour of the building was fascinating and included the song “Avalon” played on the historic pipe organ as we entered and a short Buster Keaton silent movie clip in the beautiful theater. The top floor is one of the world’s largest circular dance floors without supporting pillars. At one time a record-setting 6200 guests danced to Kay Kyser’s band.

On the Inside Adventure Bus Tour we learned that William Wrigley, Jr. of chewing gum fame purchased the island for $5 million in 1919 – sight unseen. After passing where Zane Grey lived while writing some of his novels the bus headed out of the town of Avalon offering us great views of the scenic coastlines and the unspoiled countryside alive with wild animals. Most impressive were the American bison. They were brought to the island for the filming of Zane Gray’s novel, “The Vanishing American.” Viewing the powerful creatures butting heads, running across the road, or standing majestically on the hillside was a high point of the tour. The Inside Adventure Tour has it all – history, nature, and fantastic views.

Another day we went ocean rafting on a powered inflatable raft and saw dolphins, seals and bald eagles. The dolphins are protected so people can not feed or swim with the playful creatures but those who dangle their hand over the side are sometimes rewarded as they cozy up to be petted.

We viewed the underwater world around Catalina Island on the yellow submarine, the USS Nautilus. A multi-media display on the monitor adds to the excitement as it simulates the lights and sounds of a dive. The display also shows and identifies the various fish and plant life. The Nautilus has a row of porthole windows along the each side making viewing easy. As the Nautilus leaves the harbor it passes through a forest of Giant Perennial Kelp.
When the vessel arrives in Lovers Cove Marine Preserve the fish show up – hundreds of them including the bright orange Garibaldi fish, the California state fish and thus protected. People can buy shots of food, which are torpedoed out into the water creating an amazing feeding frenzy. Truly an amazing sight. The Nautilus is the perfect adventure for those who want to see the undersea world but don’t want to get wet. Typical of every place we visit there is never enough time to do everything. Catalina Island has beaches, diving, zip lines, shopping, great restaurants, and more. To learn about Catalina Island check http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/ or call 800-626-1496.