A Quick Peek of Catalina Island

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While many Los Angelenos have heard of Catalina Island, many of them tell me they have never visited the little island that lies about one hour ferry ride off the southern coast of California. This time marks my third visit. I’ve flown over to it and had a bison burger for lunch; I’ve been dropped there by cruise ship, and kayaked around the harbor; and now, probably my favorite time, I took a ferry over and spent the day in the sleepy little town of Avalon. What is remarkable about the island, from what I could see, is that there isn’t a Starbucks or a McDonald’s to be found. It appeared to me that most of the restaurant’s and shops were locally owned. It’s a bit like being thrown back in time to the 1930s. Tiles were made right on the island and their use is evident in the walls, benches, walkways and architecture, staying true to the Art Deco time period. Truly, everything had the ambiance of a 1920s film. I had the strangest sensation of being in the middle of an Agatha Christie mystery just before the body is discovered.

The Catalina Casino is probably the most recognizable structure. Built in 1928 it contains a movie theater, a ballroom, and the island art and history museum. Although it is called a casino, taken from the Italian language, it is merely a place of gathering, and gambling doesn’t go on here.

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How in the World Did the Bison Get to Catalina Island in the First Place?

It is somewhat of a puzzle about the Catalina Island bison herds, since animals could only get to the island by swimming across the ocean, flying on wing, or floating over on the breeze. A little research shows that back in 1924 a silent picture was being made on the island, one of the Westerns by Zane Grey called The Vanishing American. Someone thought it a grand idea to include bison, it’s a cowboys and Indians type story after all, so they shipped fourteen of the woolly beasts to the island. You may look all you like but all the scenes in the film featuring the bison have been left on the editing room floor. And since it was too much trouble to haul back the herd they left them right there where they now number 150 head.

This short film clip looks nothing like the  Catalina Island I’ve seen. And sadly the bison are missing. So typical of Hollywood, but now for over eighty-two years the mighty bison has roamed the rocky terrain of Catalina Island, becoming something of a mascot.

And Speaking of Zane Grey

The famous author of adventure Westerns built a home on the island of Catalina. After his death the home was turned into a hotel The Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, now permanently closed. Perhaps it will be turned into a museum of sorts?

There are some other famous movie star connections on Catalina Island namely, Marilyn Monroe lived there as a teenager while married to her next-door neighbor who was in the Merchant Marines at the time. The harbor at Avalon is the center of the mystery surrounding the drowning death of Natalie Wood.

But What Else?

All this aside, Catalina is lovely place to find peace and solitude on the beach. There’s plenty of fun things to do like snorkeling, diving, and fishing. But, if you aren’t into any of that the shops are cute, the restaurants all get great reviews on Yelp, and the views from the beach are exquisite. You can find a nice place to sit and have a drink and relax. Which is really what I was in search of on my visit to Catalina Island. Many people come and stay over for a night or two. Hotels are in abundance, so yes, I will be back a fourth time, and will probably stay awhile.

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The Edge of the World Beckons and I Am at Once Soothed

One of the things that saddened me the most about moving away from southern California, was saying good bye to the ocean. A day trip to the beach was part of my routine growing up, now I have to make special plans to see the sand and surf. Thankfully we have the capability of traveling anywhere we like, so we make it a point to get to the ocean every now and then.

Going on a vacation to a place you really love can be very therapeutic, trust me. I’ve been having some health issues this year, mostly due to stress and tension, but I’m managing with medicinal help. This isn’t really good enough for me. Although I value the medicine I know it’s just a crutch, or a mask. My goal was to get this thing licked in six months and get off the medication entirely, but like all my other deadlines it passed by with a rushing breeze. So, I have to be patient. In the meantime, to remove some of the stress and decompress, Paul and I traveled to one of my very favorite places on this earth, and surprisingly not too far away from home: Watsonville, California.

Watsonville may not sound like a recognizable name to you. It’s a small agricultural town between Santa Cruz and Monterey. We stayed on the Pajaro Dunes along the coast, right on the Monterey Bay. This is a where the magic happens. Pods of dolphins swim and play and surf the waves. Otters search for whatever it is that otters search for right between the breakers.  Shore birds are numerous. I love watching them, they remind me of me running away from the waves trying not to get doused.

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This is a gorgeous morning view. I felt an instant calm, in fact, I’m feeling an instant calm just looking at this photo!

We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to vist the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a beautiful and awe-inspiring experience.  The special exhibit is Tentacles, and I have to say it is very cool.

IMG_0828 I believe there is an octopus in here somewhere!

The penguins are always a lot of fun to watch.

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I will be honest, the otter feeding is my absolute favorite part! Otters are the most adorable creatures I’ve ever seen. Did you know otters have one million hairs per square inch? That’s one house cat in one square inch! Amazing.

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Not to be missed are the tide pool areas, including the sandy shore and aviary.

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These gorgeous creatures were in the touch pond area. Although we weren’t allowed to touch this little shark and stingray, we could pet the bat ray’s. I managed to touch one and he (maybe she?) was so soft and velvety, a little smelly though, like sulpher, not sure why. I guess I should have asked, there were plenty of volunteers only too happy to explain things.

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We made it back in time for drinks and a stunning sunset.

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A definite must-see excursion is whale watching. We were told by so many people that they saw whales in abundance. We just had to see this for ourselves, so we headed to Moss Landing to begin our adventure. We managed to see quite a few tails, spouts and humps as the magnificent creatures dove deep, but no breeches. I did see the most magical rainbow in one of the whales spouts. I wish I had a picture of that…We still had an awesome experience and I recommend it to anyone!

IMG_0860 This is another whale watching boat, but I figured this must be what we look out on the briny sea!

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I would have liked to see a whale up close, but we saw many many seals and birds!

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And did I mention how mesmerizing the ocean is by moonlight?

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I couldn’t get enough of this view. I never felt more calm in my life. So, if you can go to the ocean, do so, it is a wonderful balm for the heart.

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“hark, now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic…”
– Van Morrison