Sunday, June 17 , 2018, 5:57 pm | Overcast 64º

Here & There

Donna Polizzi: Catalina Island’s Charm Is Just the Ticket for a Quick, Relaxing Getaway

Less than an hour from the mainland, this enchanting place successfully blends majestic scenery, up-close nature, friendly locals and endless views

With a fleet of sailboats, yachts and other vessels lying at anchor, Catalina Island rises in the distance. Click to view larger
With a fleet of sailboats, yachts and other vessels lying at anchor, Catalina Island rises in the distance. (Donna Polizzi photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Catalina Island, from offshore, appears magical. As you look past the paddleboards, sailboats and yachts, you see 54 miles of pristine coastline and an island that has the charm of a bygone era.

On the east side, you’ll see stunning white villas with tile roofs, reminiscent of Greece, gracing the hillside.

Looking a bit further, is a circular structure that the locals call “the casino.” Construction on this beautiful, 12-story facility started in 1928 and opened a year later.

Make no mistake, it’s not a gambling establishment. The main floor is a theater and the upper levels hold a promenade and boast a magnificent 20,000-square-foot ballroom with a 180-foot diameter dance floor that can hold 3,000 dancers. It’s the worlds largest circular ballroom.

It surprised me that the theater holds 1,154 people and houses a built-in pipe organ.

To the west is Avalon, a quaint seaside town bursting with personality. It reminds me of Key West, Fla., with its own unique vibe.

We were like excited kids when we discovered that our accommodations were the spectacular villas that we previously spotted while on the ferry from Long Beach. Hamilton Cove was luxurious. It was like walking into an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It was 1,300 square feet of comfortable, luxurious Mediterranean elegance, with breathtaking views of the surrounding villas, swaying palm trees and the bluest water imaginable.

Speaking of swaying, the suite came with a golf cart. What happens in a golf cart stays in a golf cart.  

My girlfriends and I chartered a boat from Catalina Coastal Tours & Fishing. The wind blowing our hair back was exhilarating. I felt like a dog, grinning with my head sticking out of a car window.

Captain Sandra led us on a fun adventure. The boat glided over crystal-clear turquoise water with great tunes blasting and spectacular scenery.

Seals and their pups lined the shore on the east side of the island. Have you ever seen a white seal? May through August is mating season and seal pups as small as 2 feet long can be born on land or in the water. To my surprise the gestation period is 12 months and one male is born to every 20 females. Females average 230 pounds, while males grow to more than 800 pounds and have a big hump on their heads.

Huge eagles nests could be seen on the hillside. When the majestic birds flew from the nests, their wingspans stretched to about 6 feet wide even they weigh about 18 pounds on average.

It was a magnificent sight to see and wonderful to know that eagles are now off of the Endangered Species List. Did you know that eagles mate for life?

The locals were friendly and so proud of their home and heritage. Many were fifth- or sixth-generation Islanders with families who came over in the 1800s.

It’s fun to ask the locals to share something not commonly known.

“Our island has a mausoleum with no bodies, a casino with no gambling and a bird park with no birds,” smiled Roger Hill. Is that hilarious or what?

Stopping in for lunch at Steve’s Steakhouse, a locals’ favorite for 15 years, I found the food delicious and the view ... well, just imagine an island paradise.

At sunset, the island has a stillness that is settling. It was heavenly watching the shimmer of the moon on the water as we stood and listened to the peaceful silence, punctuated by the waves crashing in the distance.

Catalina is a very special place that can make you feel like you’re having a far-off adventure. The good news is that this local treasure is only a 55-minute ferry ride from Long Beach. A blast was had by all.

Click here for more information on Catalina Island.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to 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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