Catalina Birthday Express, April 2009

Cocktails on Catalina - click for the full setMy quest to visit every place associated with a Will Ferrell film continues. I live in San Diego (discovered by the Germans, who called it San Diago, apparently), and for Cassie’s birthday we went to Catalina, home of course to the f*ckin’ Catalina Wine Mixer.

I’d never heard of the place until seeing that movie, and I didn’t realise it was an island off the Californian coast. I assumed it was a nice exclusive place on the coast somewhere. It turns out to be a beautiful place, with just a couple of small towns, and the same seaside atmosphere as Mevagissey and Brixham (or Ventnor), but with Pacific cruise liners dropping by.

We took the catamaran Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach, which is a bit like San Diego, in that it has boats and bars. It took about a hour to get there, first cruising slowly past the Long Island docks where my shipped stuff arrived, then across the channel to Avalon, the main settlement on the island.

Cassie’s parents’ friends had offered us the use of their holiday home there, which was beyond generous. It’s a beautiful place up on the hill, complete with balconies, lovely kitchen and living space, and an electric golf cart to get around. There is a law which only allows a certain number of regular cars on the island, which means there is a waiting list to have one. So most people have a petrol or electric golf cart, which suffices for getting around the town, to the grocery store and so on. It was very welcome, because it’s quite a hilly place – as you’d expect from a rock rising out of the ocean. There were many different styles of cart – regular Yamaha and Club Car models, as well some amusing custom jobs. In addition to the golf carts were many scooters and mopeds, and I noticed there were no regular sedan/saloon cars, only pickup trucks and SUVs. I guess every vehicle has to really earn it’s keep, so no single-purpose stuff here.

The first afternoon on the island we just had a quick look round the house, then set off down the hill in the cart to find food. There are a few places along the main drag on the seafront, and it was lovely to relax on the dock with a drink and take in the bay. Because it was the off-season, things were pretty quiet, and it wasn’t the hottest weather either. It was beautiful though, no question. Click on the photo above for some photos on Flickr.

The second day we rode inland to the Wrigley Memorial Gardens, a horticultural attraction dedicated to William Wrigley Jr, the chewing gum magnate who was so instrumental in the development of the island. The memorial at it’s center, built by his widow, was a striking monolithic thing, with even more great views of the valley leading down to the bay. The garden was full of native and exotic plants, with the cacti catching my eye as usual. Catching my ear were a few woodpeckers, which you could see hopping up and down the palm trunks.

We also went for a tour of the Casino, which has a fascinating history of big band dances, and no gambling whatsoever, due to it being a casino by the original Italian, meaning “place of entertainment”. It had rich decor, innovative internal structure for the time (excuse the enthused engineer), and a huge dancehall above a grand old movie theatre, both still in use. It’s a real icon of the island, and a real landmark of the bay.

Later that evening we took a night-time semi-submersible boat ride out into Lover’s Cove, where the kelp forests cover the rocks. We sat in the belly of the boat, looking through the underwater windows, while the flood lights illuminated the nocturnal community. Spiny lobsters by the dozen, bright orange Garibaldi here and there, and even a couple of lumpy-looking horn sharks. On the way back they switched the floodlights off and you could see the tiny flashes of light as the boat disturbed the bioluminescent plankton. Apparently the hotels on the seafront use seawater to flush the toilets, and if you turn the bathroom light off you can see the flashing lights in the bowl. I’m sure cocktails could have the same effect.

Talking of which, Cassie had her birthday while we were over there, so we celebrated with goldfish bowls full of booze, followed by driving around in a golf cart while giggling.