A Visit to California

My friend, Richard Joseph, recently made a visit to Dana Point, California and visited the Laguna Beach area- here are his exploration notes and recommendations.

The song came on the radio and I couldn’t get it out of my head. “26 miles across the sea Santa Catalina is the place for me-.” It was the Four Preps singing about, “the island of romance.”

“Wait a minute,” I thought, “ we’re going to Dana Point California and isn’t that where the boats leave for Catalina Island?” We’d booked in to the Laguna Cliffs Marriott for a few days of getting away from winter and thought maybe a trip to Catalina would be in order.

I checked the catamaran rates and saw it was around $74 a person round trip to Catalina. For my family of four some quick math told me that was another $300 or so to add to the airfare, hotel, rental car, meals and souvenirs that we were already spending. So I started to think about the cruise we had taken there several years ago and checked what it would cost today to do the same.

A four day cruise including Catalina could cost as little as $250 per person. It leaves from Long Beach, goes to Catalina, Ensenada and returns to the starting point. Now of course $1000 for four is a lot more, but when you think about it that also takes the place of four nights of hotel, all the meals, rental car, although not souvenirs.

We did the cruise before and remember arriving in Avalon harbor. It was like going to a tropical island, but here we were still right in the US of A. The tender took us from the ship to the shore where the form of transportation seemed more fitting for a golf course than a town. We rented a golf cart and drove through the picturesque streets. Granted there’s not a whole lot you can do in a one day stop on a cruise. If you want to spend more time there’s plenty of hotels and Inns and a lot more to see than just Avalon. Catalina has hiking, horseback riding, scuba diving and the most obvious attraction, the Catalina Casino.

Built by William Wrigley (Wrigley’s chewing gum), the casino faces the water on three sides. It’s the equivalent of a 12 story tall building. It has a giant pipe organ, dancing and other entertainment, but not gambling (and you thought all casinos were for gambling?). The building has ramps much like Wrigley Field in Chicago home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The common thread here is indeed Wrigley who owned both the Cubs and Catalina. He combined his interests by having his baseball team conduct their spring training on the island from 1921-1951. The weather and scenery may have been nice, but the Cubs still haven’t won a World Series since 1908.

You can take a submarine trip in Avalon. The SS Nautilus is a big yellow thing that is semi submersible so you can see beneath the surface and feed the fish as well. Now that’s something to say you did.

But alas having recalled all that, we didn’t go to Catalina this trip. Having been to the island before, we opted for the rock sculptured sand of Laguna Beach. My favorite spot there was a beach restaurant called The Beachcomber caf├®, right on the sand. The waits can be long, but at least they give you a pager so you don’t lose any suntan time (not sure if the pager works in the ocean).

I also recommend a restaurant called Mozambique in Laguna Beach. The owner is from South Africa and spent some time in the former colony of Portugal. The place is dark, enchanting, has giant birds (in cages), great food and reasonable prices. Upstairs is a bar that was really hopping some nights. Speaking of bars, on the north side of downtown Laguna is Las Brisas. A great view of the beach, palm trees and town. It was a perfect place to meet for cocktails.

So ends my little sojourn to Laguna and memories of Avalon. My thoughts of this trip will hopefully be more fun and sun than the LA traffic jams.