Charming Catalina

Catalina Island has a permanent population of under 4,000 people, but is visited by a million tourists a year! Since we only had a few days before we had to be in San Diego to pick up Koiya, we decided to head straight to Avalon Harbor. After hearing so much about Catalina, we were prepared to be disappointed. After all, it was certainly no Morro Bay!


We had to admit that it was beautiful, though, as the afternoon sun pierced through the fog. And Avalon, with its houses covering the hills, the boats in the bay, and its quaint streets reminded us of the Caribbean… minus about 20 degrees!


We launched the dinghy and went ashore to check out the town. “We’ll just find out where the services are, and look around a bit, and then go back to the boat for a nutritious dinner of kale and tofu,” I said. Todd grunted something that I thought was agreement.

Well, we got about 10 yards from the main pier, when Todd’s keen vision spotted a sign at El Galleon Restaurant: Happy Hour: 16 oz. margaritas $5. “Time to practice my espanol!” he cried.

Todd sucked his first one down before I’d finished half of mine, so I kept a tight grip on my glass and moved it outside of his striking distance. “Would you think less of me if I ordered another?” he asked. “Oh honey,” I replied, “How could I possibly think any less of you?” “Alrighty then!” he chirped, motioning to the bartender.

Luckily, happy hour ended, and I was able to coax Capn 32-ouncer out of the bar, with the prospect of finding dinner. We settled on a pizza joint that gives you a bunch of peanuts when you sit down, and you just crack them open and drop the shells on the floor. “I wish Koiya were here,” burped Todd. “She would love this!”

The next day we walked up the hills on both sides of the town, visited the museum, and got to see a movie (“American Gangster”) in the famous art-deco theater. The guy playing the organ reminded us of our local Castro Theater, where the Wurlitzer player entertains the patrons before the film starts, and launches into “San Francisco” as a finale.

On Saturday, we walked up to the Wrigley Botanical Gardens. William Wrigley, Jr., of chewing gum fame, devoted himself to promoting and preserving Catalina Island, and even had his Chicago Cubs do spring training there. The gardens have a great succulent collection, and we also got to see a number of plants that are unique to Catalina and the Channel Islands.

At the end of the gardens there is the Wrigley Memorial, which I’ve decided is tied for first place in my “Favorite Memorials” category (the other Number 1 being the MLK memorial in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens). The Wrigley Memorial is made almost entirely of materials from Catalina Island, including island stones and lovely Catalina tile. It is pretty, not ostentatious, and when you climb to the top, the most striking thing is the beauty of the canyon around you. You can see why Wrigley loved the place!

Though it must be a zoo in the summer months, we found Catalina charming, and hope to return and see more of this and the other Channel Islands. And, we have to grudgingly admit that Los Angeles has one thing that San Francisco doesn’t: easy access to these fabulous isles!

We left Avalon on Saturday night. It was a dark night, with no moon and light fog, so the inky sea was barely distinguishable from the charcoal sky. Knowing we were crossing a shipping channel, we kept a close watch on the radar. As it was so dark, our wake glowed with bioluminescence. Suddenly, two glowing streaks torpedoed towards us. “Missiles!” yelled Capn Spineless, “Prepare to abandon ship!” “Do they make missiles with dorsal fins?” I asked.

There is no word to describe dolphins riding the bow at night, lit with glowing phosphorescence! Their bodies, beaks, flippers and tails were outlined like a house trimmed with white Christmas lights. They’d charge ahead of our bow, crossing and diving, surfacing for air in a split second. And then from each side of the boat, we’d see the tell-tale streaks of light as more dolphins sped in to join the fun. “Incoming!” yelled Todd. I hate to use militaristic terms to describe them, but well, we were blown away!

We’re now in San Diego, Koiya is back on board, and Todd’s cousin Eric will be joining us soon.

See all our Avalon photos here:

20071103AvalonCatalina

5 Responses to “Charming Catalina”

  1. Ari and Frank says:

    Hey Susan, Sequoia and Todd,

    It’s great to read your blog and to see the pictures! It looks like a lot of fun and we are very jealous 😉 Here in Vienna it’s already winter time and we couldn’t be farther from sailing in the Pacific Ocean, that is why we enjoy a lot reading your adventures! Looking forward to hopefully joining you in the new year for a leg of journey 🙂

    All the best and have a great time!
    Ari & Frank

  2. DRR says:

    I can’t believe you’ve made it to San Diego already. You’ll be in Canada in no time, and then on to Mexico!

  3. Ross says:

    Tracie and I took a cruise to Mexico and the highlight of our trip wasn’t Mexico at all, but our layover in Catalina! Those go-carts are sickeningly fun to drive.

  4. Sharon Flynn says:

    I always thought of Todd as Cap’n Wonderful, but then, being his mother, I am biased! He did become accustomed to a sherpa early on, and I have several photos of him in the Swiss Alps on my back or his father’s. (To be sent later). Trish also took a terrific photo of him with one of his first boats…sitting in a galvanized tub of water, laughing.

    So many beautiful places to visit and such exciting wildlife experiences! It’s great to be able to take this unforgettable trip. Todd has mentioned how much time it takes for Susan to write, edit, and post each leg of the journey. Thanks for sharing it with us in such detail.

    Having been amazed by Sequoia’s fund of knowledge, ability to read well beyond her years, and her excellent verbal abilities, it is fascinating to hear her reactions to these experiences.

    Avalon is well named and so beautiful, the kind of place it would be very hard to leave! The Morro Bay photos took my breath away. So glad Frank and Ari are going to be able to join you. Hello to Eric when he arrives!

    Sending wishes for favorable winds and a safe journey!

    Shay and Jef

  5. chrispix says:

    Ah Catalina… I lost a wedding ring and camera there about 10 years ago. You didn’t happen to find them, did you?

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