"The Trip With Many Pauses"
Catalina - Day Three (Wednsday, March 29th, 2006): "Oh, sure, now it's sunny..."
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Dawn came, bright and sunny. Very bright and sunny - not a cloud in the deep blue sky, warm temperatures, and generally a perfect day.
Pity it couldn't have done that the day before.
Anywho, it was our last day on Catalina so amongst other things we needed to check out - by ten. This would
be a problem normally - after all, we didn't want to spend the rest of the day lugging around our luggage everywhere we went - but they provide lockers right by the docks for the boats to the mainland.
So, we gathered up our stuff, checked out and said "goodbye" to the hotel and caught the taxi to the boat docks, where we proceeded to stuff fifty pounds of luggage into thirty pounds of locker space...
Having succeeded in violating the laws of physics, we started walking back towards town. But not all the way there, for we had a plan:
We were renting bikes.
Catalina has a bunch of places renting all sorts of bikes (and the golf carts - but those are hideously expensive!), ranging from simple single speed "beach bombers" up to four-person quadracycles (you know, golf carts with pedals...). We got a couple of six speeds
and - after a brief bit of wobbling around, getting used to them - headed back the way we came. Past the docks and around the point and we were at Lover's Cove,
where the glass bottom boats & semi-submersibles all come to see the kelp forests - like we did on the first day.
It's amazing just how close
to shore they get too. Apparently, the bottom drops off real fast in this area of Catalina, because it almost looks like you can touch them from the road. This would require fifteen, twenty foot arms, but it's still a lot closer than you think they could come and a lot closer than you think they are
when you're riding them.
At the east end of the cove is Abalone Point
, which it decorated with a tall spire of rock on the sea-side of the road. We watched the birds resting there for a while, then continued eastwards to Pebbly Beach
is an incredibly
accurate name for this stretch of coast. The gentle curve of Lover's Cove
turns into a nearly straight stretch of coastline between the hills and the sea, where the narrow strip of "sand" is composed entirely of fist-sized rocks. As each wave hits this beach, the sea makes a pouring-gravel noise as the water flows through it. A series of larger boulders pockmarks a line down the coast about ten feet off-shore.
And the sea lions seem to love those boulders.
As we rode along we saw sea lions napping on the boulders. We also saw several just off-shore "herding" fish into a tight spiral in increasingly shallower water that they then selected their breakfast from. It was fascinating, actually, watching them slip back and forth, from one side of the tightening spiral to the other, as they fought the fish's tendency to head back out to sea and
the crashing waves to prepare their breakfast table.
We continued down the road as far as the Buffalo Nickel
restaurant (right next to where once the seaplanes came ashore on Catalina
), then realized that, unlike the sea lions, we
hadn't had breakfast and it was already eleven. So around went the front of our bikes and back to town we went...
...were we would once again "Eat at Joes
...the Final Breakfast."
Parking your rental bike on Catalina is a fairly easy affair - you just stick it in any one of the many bike racks, no locking required. Oh, in theory
someone could run off with it, but then where would they go? The bike is easily identified as a rental and you can't go more than a couple of miles in any direction before you have to come back.
And, of course, they are not
going to let you take it on the ship.
Thus, bike theft in Avalon is a...low probablity event. So we park, then have our final meal at Joes
Noon sees us biking west along the shore towards the famous Casino
- and as has been said many times before, don't place your bets...it's not that kind of casino.
Actually, the cylindrical Avalon icon is a big movie theater
on it's lower level (and it is still
Avalon's movie theater) while the upper is an equally big dance floor/music stage. During the 30's and 40's, every big band that was somebody played at the Casino. Now well past it's low point of the 1970's (where high school proms were about the height of excitement for the place) it hosts various jazz
and blues festivals, along with dances and an annual big band evening
, just like the old days...
They also do tours of the building
- and we have tickets for the 12:45 tour.
We got to the Casino and while waiting for the tour to start, we checked out the murals that loom over the entryway.
Nine of them, painted in 1929 when the building was constructed and restored in the nineties to their original state. Well, most of them were restored - the main mural of Venus got a little more.
When John Beckman
originally created the murals, his idea was that they'd be done on tile - not surprising, Catalina was the center of a booming art tile industry at the time. However, the owners wanted the Casino done as fast
as possible (it was constructed in less than a year, IIRC), so something as time-consuming as tiles was right out and he had to paint directory onto the concrete of the building.
Flash forward fifty years to one Richard Thomas Keit
, art tile maker, who was part of a major bit of restoration/decoration work going on in Avalon at the time and an admirer of Beckman. He and Beckman (now in his late 80's) met and decided to do at least this one mural the way Beckman originally planned.
And now Venus looks down upon Casino-goers in all her fired glory.
As the tour went in we got our first look at the Casino's art-deco glory. Wood paneling walls the lobby as red ceilings with gilt abstract stars arc overhead.
Inside the theater is a classic - and glorious - example of art-deco movie house. One of the first theaters ever made specifically for talkies, it's curved dome of a ceiling is encircled with more murals by Beckman - also recently restored - which tell the history of Catalina. Over a thousand plush red seats fill the hall while a massive pipe organ still sits by the stage...
...and it's just a darn shame only one of the pictures I took inside the theater came out...
(fortunately, the tour company has some
Once the tour finished with the theater, we headed up to the upper level and the ballroom. You make your way along a wide ramp that zig-zags up the fifty-odd feet to the top, past the ballroom's concession area (itself a nice bit of deco) and finally into the vast round ballroom itself.
A shell-like ceiling floats high above the big wooden floor1
while between big windows/doors look out for nearly all directions. "Cameos" peer down upon the dancers while an absolutely gorgeous deco chandelier hands over all.
If you step out of those doorways, you find yourself on a balcony that encircles the building, giving you ridiculously good views of Avalon, the harbor and the mainland "twenty-six miles" away. In theory, you can see from Ventura to San Diego, but it wasn't quite
clear enough to pull this off that day. Still nice views.
The tour finished and we finally headed out of the Casino - then promptly went around to the side of it and into the Catalina Island Museum
- a visit included in the price of the Casino tour.
It's not a big museum, but it is filled with relics from Catalina's earlier days. Catalina Island tiles sit next to displays on the early steamships that visited. Recreations of Indian homes are around the corner from the history of the Catalina seaplanes. Bits of a Chinese junk sit next to bits of 1900's luggage and photographs older than Dee Dee and I combined.
It's a nice little museum, well worth checking out.
Afterwards, we got on our bikes and headed just a bit further west to Descanso Beach. While now there is a beach club
(with snorkeling and kayaking and whatnot) and outdoor restaurant, once there was the Hotel St. Catherine.
The St. Catherine was once a very posh hotel - if you were a celebrity on Catalina, you stayed there - originally built following the great Avalon fire of 1915 and lasting clear up until 1966 when the collapse of Catalina as an "In" spot to go finally killed it. Now there's just some foundations and what looks like an old staircase that looks like it heads up towards the Chime Tower - though I wouldn't try it now without a machete and possibly some stout climbing ropes.
|We headed back into town and strolled on the beach and under the pleasure pier for a while, then headed east again to Lover's Cove where we watched seals and birds and semi-submersibles for about an hour, finally dropping the bikes off back at the rental place at about four-thirty.
Then it was off to dinner. For our final Avalon meal, we headed over to El Galleon, a long-time place-to-eat on Catalina, serving a mix of barbecue, seafood and Italian. We had the barbecue and both of us recommend it.
Following dinner, we strolled back to the dock and pried all our luggage out of the lockers. We just sat around an watched the lights for about an hour until our boat got there. By seven we were on our way back to the mainland and by eight we were waiting for Mim to pick us up.
The Catalina portion of our annual "Road Trip" was now complete.
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