View from Mr Wrigley’s casino (THE Mr. Wrigley chewing-gum)
NO gambling allowed
“Only 26 miles across the sea” . . . but decades removed from the mainland. Even though we have lived in California since 1973, we had never been to Catalina! Rather than the classic “26 miles” I could imagine Alvin and the Chipmunks belting out “Won’t you take me to Funky town” as a more apt description. I took my husband to celebrate a momentous anniversary, and also to see if I would get seasick during the 90 mn crossing from Dana Point to Avalon. Success! I didn’t toss my cookies (or rather a rather so-so fish taco lunch from a restaurant in the Dana Point Harbor. Skip the downstairs terrace of Harpoon Henry’s!) The weather was glorious, the crossing smooth, and the boat flew across the waves towards Calatina.
Much to our pleasant surprise, we landed smack in the middle of a set for Grounghog Day, a combination of a small Mediterranean seaside village lightly touched with the colorized exoticism of a vintage postcard. The hotel only reinforced the impression of stepping back in time. We could see the Hotel MacRae’s bubblegum pink facade from the ferry landing. Up the staircase we went (no elevator) to the office set in a corner of the terrace. The establishment reminded us of old hotels in France and Spain, where you first climb upstairs to a “lobby”, and then up more stairs to your room. This hotel offers a great location and very comfortable rooms. Next to the entrance is a karaoke bar open half the night, so make sure you ask for a room at the back.
The quality of the food on the island turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as well. The menu and the décor of Blue Water Grill are equally appealing. We dined on the deck with the waves crashing under our feet the two nights we spent in Avalon. We walked along the harbor, past Mr. Wrigley’s (yes, THE chewing gum Wrigley) famed art deco casino (well worth the visit), towards the Descanso Beach Club. a private club open to the pubic. The menu needs some rethinking and the food is overpriced, but you can’t beat the location on a palm-shaded deck with steps leading to a pocket-sized beach. The wait-staff consisted of a group of young foreigners, here on a tourist visa for the summer.
No cars in Avalon! (some waiting 30 years apparently, to obtain a permit.) Private golf carts dart around the narrow streets lined with diminutive beach cottages, most of them vacation rentals. The main beach is nothing to write home about, but you can reach more remote harbors by boat. The drive up to the Airport in the Sky was memorable not only for the excellent guide (via the Catalina Island Company tours), but also for hairpin turns that reminded me of driving through the High Atlas Mountains. I still don’t understand how he navigated the extreme turns in a BUS! Even though I don’t suffer from vertigo, I had to refrain from looking down the cliff in a few cases.
48 hours later, home we went, rolling our suitcases down the main street towards the ferry terminal. We may return! We celebrated July 4th with a Moroccan menu consisting of zahlouk eggplant salad, brochettes (kabobs) of chicken, lamb and beef liver (try it!) marinated in charmoula spices. Aren’t we citizens of the world?!