When my friend Toni told me she has never been to Catalina Island before, I was stunned. She’s lived in California most of her life and has never taken the one hour Catalina Express boat over to the island. I on the other hand, have been to the island over 50 times, because my parents designed and built a home up in the hills below the William Wrigley Jr. mansion, named Mt. Ada.
When Toni mentioned that her birthday was coming up and that she would love to go to Catalina for the day, she asked if I could be her guide. Excitedly, I told her that if we travel on the Catalina Express on her actual birthday, then her roundtrip fare is FREE. Catalina Express offers a “share your birthday ride” promotion. Not only do you receive two tickets with the purchase of one full fare Adult ticket, but also deals and discounts on hotel stays and activities.
As she went online, she bought two upgrade tickets for the Commodore Lounge to enjoy special privileges. The upgrade includes early boarding, larger seats, a complimentary drink and snack. Another friend, Susie, joined us to help Toni celebrate her special day. Upon check-in, the birthday girl received a special button to wear. The staff and other passengers smiled and offered her a friendly greeting.
It was smooth sailing as we sipped Bloody Mary’s and nibbled on chocolate chip cookies. Our day would start with a Catalina Island Food Tour, to immerse my two friends in the island flavors, history and culture. Catalina Island is the only inhabited island in the Channel Islands chain.
Once we arrived on the island, we strolled through the Mediterranean looking town of Avalon to meet our Catalina Food Tours guide Paula for a three hour tour.
There were 7 of us on the tour. Meeting on Crescent Ave., the first restaurant offering a tasting plate was Steve’s Steakhouse & Seafood. Walking up the stairs, we sat at a table set for 8 people and sipped a glass of lemonade before servers brought out a plate with Teriyaki hibachi grilled skirt steak, one coconut crusted shrimp and a small cup of tomato curry soup with small pasta shells.
Steve Bray is a fourth generation islander and his restaurant offers some of the best views of Avalon Harbor and the Catalina Casino. It’s known on the island as a special event restaurant for fine dining. The casino is not a gambling venue, but home to the largest floating ballroom dance pavilion in the world. When the Big Bands performed live in the 30s and 40s, the dance floor held the world record of holding 6,200 dancers. It also houses the island’s movie theatre, known as the largest silent and talking movie theatre with painted murals on the sides of the walls, and twinkle lights on the ceiling.
Paula told us that when the cruise ships are visiting the island on Mondays and Tuesdays the town is much more crowded. “When the ships are in there are more people on the cruise ships than there are residents on the island,” said Paula. She has lived off and on the 1 1/2 square miles in size island for most of her life.
Catalina is the second largest island of the Channel Islands chain and the only one that is inhabited. “The other islands are devoted to science or military,” said Paula.
While walking to our next dining destination C. C. Gallagher for elegant ice cream floats. Instead of root beer, they poured Bundaberg Ginger Beer over a generous scoop of salted caramel ice cream and sprinkled chocolate and caramel buttons on top. C.C. Gallagher is an elegant shop, wine bar, and light fare spot. It once was the Security Pacific National Bank and still has the bank vault inside. On the exterior of the corner building is the famous Descanso Green colored Catalina tiles. Paula shared the history of the inhabitants on the island from the Tongva native people to William Wrigley Jr. and his family.
Walking up the street Paula pointed out a residence that was made from two recycled steamboats. It’s located on Third Street. Avalon doesn’t have a First or Second Street, just a Third Street. before enjoying out third tasting at Coyote Joe’s. It’s a locals hot spot for tacos, guacamole and margaritas. Established in 1982, the owners make a John Daly cocktail that is too easy to drink down. It’s made with sweet tea, lemonade and vodka. We enjoyed this with a delicious crispy potato taco.
Walking on to our next destination, we noticed that most of the residents drive around town in a golf cart. We walked by the oldest miniature golf course West of the Rockies to the Avalon Arcade where every resident has a post office box inside the town’s local gathering spot. On the other side of the Arcade (no games, just post office, stores and a coffee cafe) we walked over to Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co. At this location we sipped Sweet & Spicy Good Earth Ice Tea and had a large piece of dark chocolate and nut candy.
Afterwards we walked to the harbor view Bluewater Avalon seafood restaurant for an IPA beer, cup of clam chowder and plate with shrimp ceviche and crunchy tortilla chips. You would think with all this food we were too full, however the portions are small and the flavors are different at each location, that we all continued to eat every item on our plate and sip every drink placed in front of us.
Our last restaurant, Maggie’s Blue Rose is owned by Steve Bray’s wife Maggie. It’s not a typical Mexican restaurant, it’s more gourmet. We received Maggie’s Blue Rose margaritas in clear skull glasses that offered true island flavors with Casa Noble Reposado tequila, Cointreau, blue curaçao, Grand Marnier and sweet and sour.
Plates arrived with a few pieces of achiote pepper skirt steak, and a cole slaw with apples, jicama and pickled onions. Next to this was a savory chicken and cheese enchilada.
While walking about one mile tasting and sipping on Avalon Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour we received a booklet with a tour map, some fun cultural insights & exclusive guest coupons.
Next time you would like to explore Catalina Island, reserve a CatalinaFoodTours.com.
Make a reservation to ride to Catalina. Click on this link – Catalina Express