Sunday, May 19, 2019

How to Spend 24 Hours on Catalina Island #WGTravel #visitcatalina #avalon #SoCal2019

Earlier this year, Michael and I enjoyed an amazing and immersive 24-hour visit to California's picturesque Catalina Island. Located just 22 miles from the California mainland, Catalina certainly feels like it's a million miles away! This small, easy-to-navigate island features gorgeous scenery around every corner, friendly residents, and a perfect destination to unwind and relax. During our visit, we stayed at a lovely boutique hotel, ate some fabulous food, took a glass bottom boat tour, and enjoyed a private tour of the new Catalina Island Museum. Going to and from Catalina was a snap thanks to the Catalina Express high-speed boat transportation service. Each day, several hour-long trips depart from San Pedro, Dana Point, and Long Beach on the California mainland. We stayed in Los Angeles the day before our visit to Catalina, so we left from Catalina Express' Long Beach terminal.

We arrived in Long Beach in the early morning and unloaded our bags just outside the terminal. Catalina Express allows each passenger to carry on up to two bags that weight less than 50 lbs. While I checked us in and got our boarding passes, Michael parked our rental in the convenient onsite parking garage. We met up at the waiting area inside the terminal while we waited to board our boat. Catalina Express offers passengers a range of fare options. Passengers can select general seating tickets, or they can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge or Captain's Lounge. These upgrades include additional amenities. The boarding process was quick and easy -- despite it being an overcast, drizzly morning. As you can see, it really does occasionally rain in Southern California!
Our tickets were for the upstairs Commodore Lounge. We enjoyed comfortable leather seats on either side of a shared table. Michael and I enjoyed expansive ocean views the entire trip thanks to large seat-to-ceiling windows beside our table! Commodore Lounge upgrade amenities include a complimentary beverage and snack served by a friendly cabin attendant. After shooting some video of our departure from the pier in Long Beach, we settled in to enjoy our snack.

Before we knew it, we were entering Avalon Harbor, which is Catalina's largest town. We were immediately captivated by breathtaking views from our boat's outdoor deck! There were several boats in the water surrounding Catalina, as well as a breathtaking view of the colorful buildings located up the sloping sides of the island terrain. This view reminded us of a Mediterranean island, but were only a few miles from the California mainland. One look was all it took for us to realize the next 24 hours would be magical!
Disembarking our Catalina Express boat was easy and quick. We picked up our bags on the boat's lower level and exited to the busy Avalon pier. We immediately noticed the Welcome to Avalon sign -- it was made of beautiful colored tiles. We quickly located a taxi for the quick drive up a steep hill to the Aurora Hotel, our home base for our Catalina adventure. This intimate boutique hotel property features ocean views and complimentary WiFi. That's just the start of the great amenities we enjoyed during our brief stay. The hotels soothing color scheme put us at ease immediately upon entering the comfortable lobby.

The check in process was quick, and the desk staff was friendly and helpful. The lobby area features comfortable seating, and it's also the location for the complimentary continental breakfast served each morning. After check in, we made our way to our room. I need to mention that the three-story Aurora Hotel does not have an elevator, so all guests must use stairs to access their rooms. I'm able to walk stairs following my stroke, so this wasn't an issue for me. The friendly front desk staff helped transport our luggage up the stairs to our corner room on the third floor -- so the stairs were not an issue.
Our room was small, but very cozy. It featured a comfortable Queen Tempur-Pedic bed, lovely art work, and a flat screen television. We especially loved the step-out balcony, which had a tempered glass rail -- which provided us lovely views of Catalina and the ocean. We unpacked and rested for a bit, then decided it was time to grab some lunch and explore Catalina! 
On our way downstairs, we took a few minutes to check out the gorgeous rooftop deck, located on the hotel's third floor. The deck features tons of places to relax and enjoy panoramic views of the ocean and the town of Avalon. Aurora guests often enjoy their complimentary breakfast or Friday Wine & Cheese Reception snacks on the outdoor rooftop deck.
Photo provided by Aurora Hotel Catalina Island
Our first stop in Avalon was lunch at The Lobster Trap, a seafood restaurant located a short walk from the Catalina waterfront. The Lobster Trap is a bustling restaurant that's popular with Avalon residents and visiting tourists. Our server helped us navigate the lunch menu, suggesting that we try one of their signature lobster rolls. We also ordered their Blackened Salmon with Mango Salsa -- which was served with steamed veggies and a baked potato. The lobster roll was different from the ones we've eaten on the East Coast...but it was totally delicious! It featured chopped chilled lobster claw meat and a creamy tarragon sauce served on a round bun. The tarragon worked perfectly with the sweet lobster!

As you can see, they didn't skimp on the amount of lobster in the roll! After lunch, we made the quick walk to Avalon's Green Pleasure Pier for our hour-long Catalina Island Tour UnderSea Expedition. We boarded our boat and took a flight of stairs below deck, where we found seats with individual portholes looking into the water. The expedition began, and we made our way into the ocean surrounding Avalon.
We saw a wide variety of colorful fish -- orange, dark grey with white spots, silver, etc. The onboard crew was very informative, telling us about the area's ecosystem and the variety of fish we were seeing. They even fed the fish during part of our trip, causing tons of fish to swarm just outside our portholes. As this video shows, it was an amazing sight!

After our undersea expedition ended and we exited our boat, we spent time enjoying island views from the Green Pleasure Pier -- including a direct view of the Catalina Casino, the island's most iconic architectural site. Casino means "gathering place" in Italian, so the building has never been used for gambling. The structure was commissioned by island owner William Wrigley, Jr. (owner of Wrigley chewing gum and the Chicago Cubs) in the 1920s. 
Today, the Casino shows first-run movies and serves as an event venue. In fact, the Casino's movie theater was originally one of the first in the U.S. built specifically for films with sound (aka "talkies"). Before we knew it, it was time for our private tour of the Catalina Island Museum. Avalon is definitely a city made for walking! The entire town is less than 2 square miles, and there are very few automobiles permitted on Catalina. The chief form of transportation -- other than walking and bicycles -- is golf carts! Nearly everyone drives a golf cart -- they can even be rented by the day or hour for easy exploring. We enjoyed a leisurely walk -- the only kind I can really do these days -- to the museum. The new Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building is a two-story museum that houses permanent and rotating special exhibits. 

During our tour, we learned so much about Catalina's fascinating history. Catalina was purchased by William Wrigley, Jr., in 1919. After purchasing the island, Wrigley invested millions of dollars in infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, etc. Wrigley's Chicago Cubs held their Spring Training on Catalina for nearly three decades. Today, the island is still owned by Wrigley's descendants.
Catalina Island was also a playground of visiting Hollywood celebrities in the 1940s and 1950s. In fact, during World War II, a very young Norma Jean Baker briefly lived in Avalon with her military husband. This was before she went on to become the legendary Marilyn Monroe we know today! We especially loved the museum's large open-air outdoor spaces. There's a 100-seat amphitheater that features a large projection wall for outdoor movie screenings. The area also includes an outdoor wood gazebo -- which features a gorgeous yellow and white glass chandelier focal point that was created by renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.

After our tour of the Catalina Island Museum, it was nearly time for our dinner reservation. We took our time walking over to Steve's Steakhouse and Seafood, because the Sun was setting over Avalon Bay. We stopped along the waterfront to enjoy spectacular and colorful sunset views.

Steve's Steakhouse and Seafood features amazing direct panoramic views of Avalon Harbor. Their expansive menu focuses on steak and seafood. Steve's corn-fed Midwestern beef that's been aged for at least 28 days. Seafood specialties include fish and shellfish prepared in a variety of ways. We decided to try both steak and seafood entrèes, and both were cooked to perfection! While we looked over the menu and decided what items to order, we admired the dining room's upscale casual décor. This was a perfect restaurant to unwind with a delicious meal after a busy afternoon exploring Avalon!

We started our dinner with sweet, crunchy Fried Coconut Shrimp served with a sweet & spicy Caribbean sauce for dipping. For our steak entrèe, we shared a ribeye topped with rich Béarnaise sauce. The perfectly grilled steak was tender and juicy. We paired it with seared grouper topped with a lemon butter sauce and mushrooms. The fish was crispy outside and moist inside -- and the sauce was tangy and rich. We finished our dinner with a slice of sweet-tart Steve's Signature Key Lime Pie.
What a fabulous meal! We grabbed a cab and headed back to our room at the Aurora Hotel. We enjoyed the nighttime views from our step-out balcony...we marveled that although we felt a world away, we could see the lights of Los Angeles glimmering in the distance! After a quick shower, it was nice to slip into one of the hotel's plush robes to lounge and relax a bit before bed.
Our room also included a mini fridge that was perfect for keeping bottled water and sodas chilled -- the tiered nook also included a microwave and a Keurig coffee maker. We literally had everything we needed in our cozy room. After a busy day exploring Avalon, we slept like babies on the Tempur-Pedic bed! The next morning, we woke up to discover an amazing sunrise ocean view from our balcony!
It was so convenient to go downstairs to the lobby and enjoy Aurora Hotel's included continental breakfast. The buffet included cold cereal, fresh fruit, boiled eggs, pastries, juice, and coffee. It was the perfect way to fuel up for our final few hours on Catalina!
We had heard that Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. was an excellent place to grab a cup of coffee and a pastry. It was a short walk from the Aurora, so we headed out. En route to the coffee shop, we enjoyed a gorgeous morning water view...and a look at the shops and restaurants along the harbor.
We made our way to Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co., where we ordered chai lattes and a duo of freshly baked cookies: chocolate chip for me and oatmeal chip for Michael. We enjoyed our goodies at an outdoor table -- enjoying the cool morning breeze and wishing we had one more day to explore all that Catalina has to offer!
With that, our 24 hours on Catalina were just about over. We walked back to the Aurora to gather our bags and check out. The boarding process at Avalon's Catalina Express pier was quick and easy. We even boarded our boat early enough to snap a few final pictures of Avalon Bay before we bid the island farewell. 
We thoroughly enjoyed our overnight stay on Catalina! Avalon offered rich history, delicious food, breathtaking scenery, and a relaxed pace. Michael and I agreed that we definitely need to return to Catalina to tour the Casino, rent a golf cart to explore more of the island's beautiful scenery, and visit more of its world class restaurants.

Disclosure: Catalina Express provided The Weekend Gourmet team a pair of round-trip boat passenger tickets, including the upgraded Commodore Lounge. The Catalina Chamber of Commerce/Visitor's Bureau arranged our accommodations at the Aurora Hotel, glass-bottom boat tour, Catalina Island Museum admission, and all meals. All opinions shared are solely my   

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love hearing your feedback!!!