Something Different In Southern California

TRAVEL TALK

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Most of us who live in Arizona are very familiar with travels to Southern California, visiting the San Diego area as well as greater Los Angeles and its many attractions. Have you ever considered driving or flying into Long Beach for a stay of two or three days, then taking the boat over the Catalina Island for a couple of nights?

With gas so expensive you might consider flying U.S. Airways from Sky Harbor into Long Beach. They have six flights a day. The airport is pretty much like the old days with not a lot of traffic and it's easy to get around. Here you can rent a car and be on your own in the Long Beach area.

I suggest staying at the famous Queen Mary Hotel. It is a major tourist attraction so why not enjoy the famous ship in its second life as a hotel and tourist destination. You can tour the ship, dine and shop aboard. This ship is a legendary in maritime history.

While in Long Beach consider taking a guided tour downtown. Some years ago it went through a renaissance and can be a lot of fun, especially at night, with fine dining, interesting watering holes and jazz. Cultural arts are available and this is a great place to enjoy a different Southern California.

If you have never visited Disneyland or Universal Studios, they are about an hour's drive away.

After exploring Long Beach, take the Catalina Express over to the island just about 28 miles away. You'll pay $54 for the round trip. It takes about an hour each way. Catalina Express offers up to 30 round trips daily.

Perhaps a little history is in order. Juan Cabrillo discovered Santa Catalina island in 1542. He found it to be the home of some 2,500 Indian villagers perusing life as seal hunters and fishermen. It was left alone until fur traders discovered it was abundant with sea otters in the earlier part of the 1800s.

The last Mexican governor of California deeded to island to a American cattle rancher in 1846 and who in 1887 sold it to a developer of a sport-fishing tent village, later called Avalon. William Wrigley, Jr. spent many years with his wife developing conservation. They built a mansion overlooking Avalon in 1921 and sold lots for new-home construction in the little town.

Mr. Wrigley also funded the 1923 construction of the steamship "Catalina" that brought tourists from Los Angeles harbor to the island. He was also responsible for the 1929 construction of the world-famous Casino ballroom, which hosted the most-famous big bands of the time.

It is not actually a Casino, but rather a large-dance ballroom and theatre, having one of the better Wurlitzer pipe still around.

You'll fall in love with the island as your boat nears the Bay of Avalon, working its way through the anchored private boats. Then you'll disembark and the village of Avalon is your s to explore. Avalon is pretty much a walking town. The entire island population is around 4,000.

Consider staying at the former Wrigley mansion which is not the Ada Inn Bed and Breakfast. The view of the harbor and town is worth every dollar. Summer rates run $375 and up per night. There are other nice hotels too: the Best Western Catalina Canyon Resort and Spa or the quaint Saint Lauren on Beacon Street.

Events are still booked at the Casino ballroom. There are interesting cafes, boat and land tours and bicycling. You can rent a golf cart and roam the village and area, or just walk around.

Glass-bottom boat tours, scuba diving, and exploration of the island's interior which is comprised of steep mountains and rugged valleys with unique flora and fauna are great options for the outdoorsy visitors.

Catalina has been the backdrop of many Hollywood films. Pirate sagas, Westerns, sea adventures and so on have been documented in cinema over the years. Buffalo, brought to the island in the 1920s by movie companies, still wander the outback.

Catalina covers about 75 square miles and has 54 miles of coastline. Fishing is a big sport here. You can be a part of a fishing party for half- or full-day outings. They supply all the equipment necessary to catch a big one.

The most popular time to visit Catalina is during the summer. These days are usually sunny and warm with cool evenings.

Be sure to have breakfast at Sally's Waffle Shop on Crescent Avenue.

Here are some travel number to get you started: U.S. Airways, (800) 482-4322; Queen Mary Hotel, (800) 437-2934; Catalina Express, (800) 481-3470 and Ada Inn, (310) 510-2030.

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