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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 7:53 am | Fair 48º


Donna Polizzi

Here & There

Donna Polizzi: Catalina Island Is a Real Trip, with Delightful Twists

Mostly ‘free-range’ bison, fabulous food, delicious desserts, charming accommodations all make the island a magical place


Catalina Island is a heavenly place, and we at Keys 2 the Coast are going to tell you the best places to visit so your quick getaway will feel like a full week of vacation.

There are so many choices depending on what kind of trip you want. I was looking for a relaxing experience so I could enjoy the island’s natural beauty and good food while spending time with my favorite person.

Let’s break it down ...

To get out to the island, we boarded the Catalina Express in Long Beach. Make sure you leave an hour sooner because traffic is always a mystery in that part of Los Angeles.

For convenience, upgrade your Catalina Express voyage to the Commodore Lounge, which allows you to board immediately and avoid the line. The lounge is private and comfortable, with a full bar. Commodore Lounge passengers also receive one complimentary beverage ticket and a snack for each leg of the trip to and from the island.

We sipped cocktails from our lounge vantage point while we watched brave parasailors and pods of cavorting dolphins. It was exhilarating.

Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought Catalina in 1919 and, two years later, he bought and brought west the Chicago Cubs baseball team for spring training on the island, about 20 miles off the coast of Southern California.

In the 1970s, Wrigley deeded 88 percent of the land to the Catalina Island Conservancy so that much of the island would remain undeveloped. Free to roam a vast portion of the place are deer and bison, the latter of which were brought over by Hollywood for a movie in the 1920s. Since then, the bison population has increased to about 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 10-year anniversary of his island purchase. The famed 11-story landmark was erected in less than a year by a crew of 500 men. Then, as now, it was a destination for a romantic night out.

Catalina Island comes with many eccentricities. Third Street is the only numbered street in Avalon. There is a bird park that no longer has any birds, and a mausoleum that contains no bodies. Oh, and flying fish swim in the ocean.

If the island’s history and beautiful architecture don’t make you want to venture out to Catalina, the food sure will.

Catalina Food Tours was an awesome experience through downtown Avalon. Our guide, Lili Dana, took us on amazing food and wine tour.

Bluewater Avalon, 306 Crescent Ave., is located right on the water, with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking a sea of beautiful boats bobbing at anchor.

The restaurant serves its famous New England-style clam chowder, which will keep you warm from the ocean breezes. The creamy chowder is loaded with clams and is the best you’ll find this side of New England. Also on the menu are giant prawns served atop a housemade sauce.

Bluewater’s delicious seafood selection matches its sea life décor and atmosphere while providing a great dining experience.

Steve’s Steakhouse & Seafood is an elegant restaurant on the water at 417 Crescent Ave. It serves an excellent surf and turf that includes a teriyaki marinated skirt steak cooked to your liking, with caramelized onions and mushrooms that melt in your mouth. Our favorite was a lightly toasted 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 up excellent chicken quesadillas topped with poblano sauce and paired perfectly with a coconut margarita.

Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionery, at the corner of Crescent and Sumner avenues, has been serving up delicious treats since 1934. There you can pull fresh taffy right off the machine. Can you believe that Marilyn Monroe once worked there? She did, 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 quaint Metropole Market Place. This place has a range of gluten-free options, cookies, Rice Krispies Treats, and delicious sweet and spicy tea that you can enjoy in the tropical courtyard.

Think you might like to bring home a one-of-a-kind souvenir that you made yourself? Robin Cassidy’s Silver Canyon Pottery is the place to do it, and Cassidy, a 50-year Island Girl, will happily 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 the oldest hotel on Catalina, 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 seals frolicking in the water. It was wonderful to walk just a few feet with my morning coffee to take a stroll on the island’s edge.

The Glenmore Plaza has been family owned and operated by the Amoroso family since 1981. The staff is very friendly, and recommended some great local spots to check out.

Jim Amoroso spoke of historically significant guests who have graced the hotel, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Amelia Earhart. In fact, a few of the beautifully suites are named after them.

Life is short, get out there — to Catalina Island — and have some fun.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys 2 the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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