SoCal So Cool: 50 Miles
of Pure Pleasure


                                                          Part 3 of a series 
 LONG BEACH:  This harbor-side city, 25
miles south of downtown Los Angeles, was given its name in 1888 because of its
5.5-mile stretch of sandy beaches.  This was to be my gateway to Catalina Island
on a Catalina Express catamaran. However, I thought, why not spend 24 hours here
and see what Long Beach has to offer?  Well, I found out what Long Beach had to
offer… plenty!

Karmel Shuttle transported me from Redondo Beach to the
Hotel Maya in Long Beach.  And what a delightful surprise that was. This stylish
Joie de

boutique hotel is a hidden gem on the California coastline.

Hotel Maya
exudes the energy and hospitality of the Latin cultures.  Its affordable
waterfront setting, lush tropical grounds and skyline views of downtown Long
Beach came as an unexpected bonus.

The hotel’s Fuego Restaurant was an
added bonus.  At Fuego I savored the cuisines of coastal Latin America as I
enjoyed fine food, fine tequila, fine skyline views, and the fine view of the
historic Queen Mary.  Buen Provecho!
The Queen Mary was my other
raison de

(reason for being) in Long Beach.  Although I have sailed on some 130 cruises,
the sight of a cruise ship still ignites concupiscent feelings in me.  And,
although she no longer sails, the Queen Mary still takes me away. 

The Queen Mary and Russian submarine docked in Long Beach

the largest luxury liner afloat, the Queen Mary has been Long Beach’s flagship
attraction since its final voyage in 1967.  Once a World War II troops ship
bigger than the Titanic, the Queen Mary is now a hotel.  You can tour the mighty
ship, relax in its Art Deco lounge, or dine in its elegant Sir Winston’s

Adjacent to the ship, in the Queen Mary Seaport, is the
Russian Foxtrot attack submarine Scorpion.  This genuine “Cold War Warrior”
gives a sense of what it was like for the 78 Russian sailors who went to sea for
three months at a time in this “shark of steel”.

Long Beach’s Aquarium
of the Pacific instills a sense of wonder, respect, and stewardship for the
Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants.  Home to over 11,000 animals you can get up
close and personal with the ultimate predators of the ocean on Shark Lagoon
nights at the Aquarium.
SANTA CATALINA ISLAND:  In less than an hour, a high-speed Catalina
Express catamaran made the 22-mile trip between Long Beach and Avalon on Santa
Catalina Island. Those of us who opted for a minimal price upgrade were afforded
pre-boarding privileges, reclining seats, and a complementary beverage of choice
served by a cabin attendant.

From the moment we docked in Avalon, it was
obviously time to relax. No pulsing neon, no stoplights, no cars…golf carts,
bicycles, and shoe leather are the favorable modes of transportation. We were on
Island Time…time for romance, time for family fun, time for memories that last a

Welcome to Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island, often called Catalina Island, or just
Catalina, is part of the eight Channel Islands archipelago.   Catalina is the
only one of the eight islands with a significant permanent civilian
settlement…the city of Avalon. Two Harbors is an unincorporated village that is
13.4 miles by boat or 23 miles by road from Avalon.
People have been living
on Santa Catalina Island for at least 7,000 years.  But it was the Wrigley
family (of chewing gum fame) whose influence we enjoy on Catalina Island
In 1919, sight unseen, William Wrigley Jr. purchased the
majority of the island.  Soon after the purchase, he came to Catalina and fell
in love with the island.  For the next ten years, Mr. Wrigley underwent an
ambitious economic development program, building the Catalina Country Club, Bird
Park, the
S.S. Avalon and S.S. Catalina, and the legendary Casino

Wrigley’s son, P.K. Wrigley, continued developing the Island
resort when he took over from his father and ushered in the Big Band era at the
Casino.  He redesigned the beachfront Crescent Avenue with an Early California
ambiance, and built the Airport in the Sky in 1946.   The Airport in the Sky
occupies a 1,602-foot-tall mountaintop at the center of the island, 10 miles
from the city of Avalon.

Many of the homes in Avalon were also built
during this time period.  The original Wrigley mansion was built in 1921 atop a
hill that Wrigley named Mt. Ada, after his wife Ada.  This restored Georgian
Colonial home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now the
Inn on Mt. Ada.  It’s worth the trip up the hill for a divine lunch at this
Mobil 4-star, 6-room, inn.  The Quarry Burger is sensational!

Catalina Island as viewed from the Inn on Mt. Ada

In Avalon,
my hotel of choice was the Villa Portofino, where Mediterranean charm meets the
Pacific Ocean.  Our Bella Vista suite came complete with gas fireplace, Italian
marble bath and a wrap-around balcony that offered both a hillside and full
Avalon Bay view.

There are newer, sleeker hotels on the island, but at
Villa Portofino I felt like I was tucked away off a courtyard somewhere on the
Isle of Capri.  Consistently rated one of Avalon’s best hotels, the Hotel Villa
Portofino carries on the traditions and high standards of a European seaside

The adjacent Ristorante Villa Portofino is widely regarded as
one of the best restaurants on the island.  With its Mediterranean décor and
harbor views, dining at Ristorante Villa Portofino is like an ambient sojourn to
the regional areas of Italy.

Lunch at the Avalon Grille was amazing. 
For starters, you must try the Crispy Brussel Sprouts with Cranberries and
Almonds, and the Ahi Tuna Tartare with Wasabi Guacamole.  You could stop right
there and walk away happy.  But if you’re really hungry, the Seafood Benedict
with Fried Green Tomatoes is divine.

A Salta Verde Margarita with Fresh
Squeezed local Organic Tangerine Juice got dinner at M Restaurant off to a
flying start.  Seared Wild White Sea Bass was the grand finale.Catalina Island is a historic
treasure. The Catalina Island Museum, located in the legendary Casino Building,
has an outstanding collection of historic photographs, Catalina pottery, and
archaeological artifacts excavated on the Island.

If you want to learn Catalina’s history in a more
exciting way, opt to fly through the air on the Catalina Zip Line.  You will zip
down 5 different Zip Line routes totaling 3,761 lineal feet cruising at speeds
up to 45 miles an hour, and reaching heights of over 300 feet.  At each platform
in between zips, you will learn about the Island’s history, ecology and

Catalina boasts a year-round Mediterranean climate, with
warm, sunny days, perfect blue skies, and cool evening breezes. There are said
to be only three places in the world with a Mediterranean climate: The
Mediterranean…the coast of Chile around Santiago…and Catalina

Catalina Island is an escape from the everyday
hustle and bustle and stress of life.  It is the only place in Southern
California where you can fully immerse yourself in the freedom, beauty, and
relaxation that only an island can provide.

Take the time to discover
your Island Time. And don’t forget your sunglasses! 

winner of 38 national Travel Writer Awards and an International Travel
Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.