How Catalinians Celebrate July 4th.

Harborside View, Avalon, Santa Catalina

We’re back from a lovely adventure on Catalina Island, and while the real world forces itself back into our lives, my memories of Catalina are still strong enough that I think it’s best that I do a post based on a few of the 400+ pics that I took while there – for those of you who wait with bated breath for my magnificent photography (you sad souls), I think I can find a few decent shots among the mass to put together something acceptable.  And if not, well, who cares?

Avalon, from the Ferry Dock

First, a little intro info – this adventure was a birthday gift from our oldest girl child, Dr. Melissa, who along with her own chosen, Geoff, accompanied us for the four day 4th of July weekend.  I’ve always thought of Catalina as a mini Hawaii, but it’s really a lot more like Baja, Mexico than Hawaii – but of course, I’ve never been to Hawaii, so ….  We stayed at the Catalina Canyon Resort, which reminds one even more of Mexico – we had a delightful room overlooking the beautiful and large interior courtyard – and I fell in love with my bed during our stay – is there a more important consideration in a hotel stay?

Entrance, Catalina Canyon Hotel

It actually was the perfect time to visit Catalina, which is only about 25 miles off Los Angeles, since we were escaping one of L.A.’s summer heat-waves with temps tipping 100 F – OTOH, on Catalina, the temp hit the low 80’s each day.  We feared we’d encounter a mad influx of touristas, but we discovered that Catalina has a natural population control mechanism in that once all rooms are taken, the ‘no vacancy’ notices serve to keep the tourist population steady – this is good, since Avalon is Catalina’s only real center of lodging for tourists, and Avalon ain’t a big place! – winter pop of 3,000.

The Waterfront Pedestrian Mall, Avalon - No Vehicles Allowed

The guy with the huge backpack is a typical Catalina visitor – he just got off the ferry, and he’ll hoof it to his chosen lodging.  Most of the town is flat, and only about 7 blocks long and 4 deep.  However, that’s where the hill starts, and several hotels are located up the hill (such as ours – but they have constant shuttles up and down).  The other commonly seen visitor is pulling a big suitcase with tiny wheels over the cobblestones which are everywhere – he’ll soon learn why it may have been wiser to get the slightly more expensive rolling luggage.

A Catalina Trolley (Shush, it's really just a bus)

And if you’ve got $2, you can get a ride all through town on the trolley – they allow you to carry almost anything on board – I saw an old lady get on with an incredibly long inflated raft -so long it would only fit inside by bending it in half- I was amazed at how helpful the driver (another old lady) was given the idiocy of the incident.  Notice the large open side window?  Well, it apparently serves multiple purposes – as we sat watching one afternoon, the trolley pulled up for a drop-off.  But the door wouldn’t open – after 10 minutes of trying everything to get the door open, the trapped passengers began to emerge out of the big open window.  And like a dummy, I just sat there laughing and gave no thought to getting a picture of the silly scene.  The only thing I could think of was how lucky I was not to be on that trolley right then, as I’m quite sure I’d break an ankle on that first big step!

Care to Guess How Almost Everybody Gets Around?

Although there are more than 200 miles of roads on Catalina, few are accessible to public transportation – the primary reason for this is that most of the island is under the control of the Catalina Island Conserve, and access is by permit only.  Avalon itself is only one mile square, and since that square mile is the only place where wheeled vehicles can go, golf carts make more sense than cars.  Additionally, the number of cars allowed on the island is tightly controlled, resulting in a near 15 year waiting list, should permanent residents wish one.  However, most residents don’t complain, they just make do with the available transportation resources, or, god forbid, they walk – and are all the more healthy for it.

“What about eating, you say?  Isn’t this a food blog?”  Well, yes it is, and I was getting to that!  What is it with some of you?  Are you always hungry?

Avalon is Very Much a Dog Friendly Town - Jack's Hitching Post

Well, if you do get hungry on Catalina, there are a couple of adjustments you’ll have to make.  First, take your cash out and count it – then figure that your food bill will be about 25-50% more here than on the mainland – and unless you’ve really done your homework, a trial and error approach may prove costly without reward.  Luckily, our benefactors have been on the Island before, and some of that work was done.  As you wander around, you notice there are no big name fast food places – this is not by chance.  Catalina is a carefully developed business place, and they simply don’t want any element of ‘cheapness’ spoiling the picture.  No McDonald’s, no KFC, no franchises at all.  I think it’s fair to say that a few of the smaller food shops can be described as ‘fast food’, but independent fast food – if that makes any difference.  About the closest they get to ‘chain’ anything is that the only grocery at all on Catalina is Von’s, one of Southern California’s major grocery stores – surprisingly, the prices in Von’s are no higher here than on the mainland.  Many cash-strapped visitors exist on Von’s reasonably priced take-out menu.  Best to keep in mind, you don’t go to Catalina for the food!

The Delightful Metropole Cafe Patio

I’ll just do a few brief comments on the best eats we had on our visit – in our most enjoyable meal, we had a delightful late lunch at the Metropole Cafe, which is in the courtyard of the Metropole Hotel (the original Metropole Hotel was Catalina’s first hotel, but burned down long ago).  Our reason for having warm thoughts for this place was that not only were the prices reasonable, but everywhere there were creative touches that indicated that the kitchen was proud of what they served.  I had one of the best tuna sandwiches ever, and Geoff had a turkey sandwich with chunks of freshly roasted turkey breast – the girls had grilled chicken salad, made with fruit and greens and dressed with a cumin vinaigrette, which they raved about.  And we ate in the shade of a delightful patio garden.  Very nice – lunch specials, soup & sandwich, $7 daily.

The Metropole Cafe's Menu

Our other positive dining memories:
Original Jack’s – Nice breakfast menu, plenty to eat, and given the territory, reasonable prices.
The Avalon Grille – I had an Ahi Tuna Burger($18), I asked for it rare, it came perfectly done!  Best food we experienced on Catalina – excellent and expensive.
Armstrong’s – This may be Catalina’s best bet for fresh seafood – not only a restaurant, but the Island’s only fresh seafood market as well – of all we sampled there, the shrimp were the best.

The Ever-present Breakfast Line at Jack's

In retrospect, were I to return again to Catalina -and I probably will- I would seek out the locally fresh caught fish.  Catalina has an active fishing fleet, but the seasonal changes bring a diverse choice – and I’d ask before ordering.  During our visit, they were catching tuna. yellowtail, and swordfish.  We’re there any restaurants that I regret not visiting?  Yup!  Pete’s Plaza Cafe – this place reminded me of the open-air beach-side places that were common once in Florida – and then the heath departments shut ’em all up.  But Pete’s not only brought back fond memories, but fond smells as well – there’s nothing like the aromas wafting from an open air restaurant that fries absolutely everything they serve – ya just can’t get any more delicious than that.

A Very Strangely Deserted 'Big Olaf's' Ice Cream

A Proper Lineup at Big Olaf's

An absolute for every Catalina visitor is one of Big Olaf’s ice cream cones with a freshly made sugar waffle cone – as you walk by, you’ll probably be seduced by the aroma of the baking cones – they really are BIG, so big that they’re called, ‘bowls’ not cones.  Additionally, it’s customary to load on a pile of the many toppings before moving on to the street or to Olaf’s delightful harborside patio to enjoy your creation.

Big Olaf's Beautiful Harborside Patio

A Half-Consumed Small Big Olaf's Ice Cream 'Bowl'

Undoubtedly, part of the mystique of Big Olaf’s is Big Olaf – often seen in his namesake shop.  Big Olaf is truly ‘big’ (my wild guess would be 400+)!  But then ice cream may be his passion, and if so, it’s a good way to make a living.  I’ve seen so many reviews of Olaf’s that say, “… what’s so great?  It’s only Dryer’s ice cream.”  They miss the obvious – Olaf is a marketing genius.  As you approach Big Olaf’s, you begin to catch the aroma of something wonderful – it’s the smell of the big sugar waffle cones baking.  And I’m sure it’s no accident that the aroma is wafting through the air everywhere within 3 blocks of Big Olaf’s.  Those misguided reviewers do not realize that the long lines of customers at Big Olaf’s are not buying ice cream, they’re buying the aroma of the cone!

So When Does it Start? Who Makes These Signs Anyway?

No one goes to Catalina on July 4th without going to the parade – and it’s a very special parade.  No big floats – no big balloons – no big anything!  This is a parade of golf carts.  Seriously.  Decorated golf carts.  What’s a decorated golf cart?  Well, I’ll show you.

The Best Seats Were Reserved Early

First job was to find a good place to watch the parade from – but we didn’t have one of these fancy fold up chairs – so we needed some place high enough to see over those in the front.

Our Future Parade Seats

See that open area on the concrete bench?  Well, we are going to squeeze in there – those folks with their backs to us are actually facing the street, and in a perfect place to watch the parade.

Himself, Getting in the Mood

But before we went to sit in the sun, they made me go buy a hat – I don’t like hats, and I thought, ‘If I have to wear a hat, at least it should be in theme!’  And this was the best theme hat I could find.  I think I resemble Uncle Sam, don’t you?  “Uncle Sam Wants You” – actually, he doesn’t so much want you as much as he wants your money!

The Beginning of the Parade (Well, whad'ya expect from a golf cart parade?)

Yup, this was the inauspicious beginning of the parade – it would end the same way – more on that later.

The U of Southern California Marching Band Arrives - the Parade is Official

See how high I am?  That’s because I’m standing on the top of the bench – but I won’t stay there, it’s not easy – and the people behind me are not happy.

More USC Marching Band

OK – this goes on for quite awhile, I’m sure you get the idea.  So, where are the golf carts anyway?

A Dandy Decorated Golf Cart

They really did a great job on this one – but I had a little problem trying to figure what the skull & crossbones flag had to do with The 4th of July?  Am I missing something?

A 'Minimalist' Parade Entry

I love it!  This one gets my vote – but not for its decorations (I think they have a flag in the rear window!), but because I think this is the best golf cart ever made – I love it!

One of the Very Few Non-Golf Cart Parade Entries

I thought I’d throw this one in – not because it’s special in any way, but just to emphasize that if you have a couple of cute kids and a giant teddy bear, it really doesn’t matter what kind of truck you have!

The Mayor's Special Entry

Oh yeah – there was one bigger entry into the parade – the Avalon Fire Truck – seems that the mayor had this big sign made, and then it wouldn’t fit on a golf cart, so ….  And anyway, he had promised a lot of his friends that they could ride with him in the parade, so ….

A Really Nicely Decorated Cart

Now, this is the idea!  I’m sure when they came up with the idea for the annual golf cart parade, this is what they were thinking of – Nice.  No, I don’t know if it won a prize or not.

A Fully Duded Out Honest Abe Attracting Local Support

This guy had so much charisma and personality that parade viewers on the sidelines jumped out of their seats to

go give him a hug – and we wonder why Abe Lincoln was our most popular president!

A 'Make-Believe' Uncle Sam Riding an Eagle?

Oh Wow!  When I first saw this float coming, I thought maybe this was Lady Godiva – and then it turns out to be some guy!  The pic doesn’t show it, but the float actually had a giant swordfish up front – and I have no idea what they were trying to convey.  But hey, that’s what makes a golf cart parade interesting.

Oh Look - Decorated Segways Are Allowed Too!

OK, let’s admit it – Segways are difficult to decorate – but wrap a flag around yourself, jump on, and Segways are now in.  Why not?  Besides, it kinda funny to watch these vehicles crash into each other like they were playing ‘bumper-cars’ – apparently, their owners didn’t have a lot of time to choreograph their routines beforehand.  Ha!

A Group of Parade Participants Who've Apparently Lost Their Golf Cart

In yet another breach of parade etiquette, this marginally decorated and otherwise undisciplined group of wanderers have somehow found their way into the parade ranks – wait, …  look, I think they’re throwing out trinkets and candy – well, I guess that explains it all – all is forgiven!

Members of The Aluminum Folding Chair Band

Believe it or not, among this lost mass of humanity were a dozen or do souls holding aluminum folding chairs, who were apparently attempting to make music with those chairs – or maybe, just noise – whatever, they were more successful with the latter.

Parade Trinket Tossers

In the grand parade tradition, these young ladies are tossing out necklaces – it’s a legitimate question whether these things have any value at all, but even so, there are always at least a dozen or so kids who seem to think so, and they weave their way through the crowds along the way, in an attempt to add to their already large cache.

Parade Candy Tossers

Much more to my liking were the candy tossers, who mostly (not all) threw out wrapped candies of dubious quality – although these were of more interest to me, I seldom even got an opportunity to secure any, since I was surrounded by very quick and eager children.

The Parade Queen?

Yes, I think this must be the Queen of the Parade – but if so, why not let the poor girl ride in something?  Oh well, she seems to be enjoying herself, even if those heels hurt.

A Noble Attempt at the Statue of Liberty

Every parade has a float or two whose idea was great, but whose execution comes up short – this effort at a super tall Statue of Liberty is just such an effort – this was one of the last carts in the parade, and my guess is that all parade long, they worked at getting its flaws corrected – but to no avail.  It was just too grand a plan -and too tall as well- but I think they deserve a prize for trying – don’t you?

Parade Finale

I loved the way this guy just seemed to bring the right note to the end of the parade – I think he may have been a parade crasher, but just the same, he brought the perfect ending – hey, when you deliver a low-key parade, you need a low-key ending – and I loved his bike.

Yes, of course there were fireworks later that night – and with the huge crowds on Catalina that day, we had to be clever to come up with a really good place to watch them from.  We showed up at one of the open-air second story restaurants at about 6:30, and asked for a table out on the open deck.  The hostess was a bit reluctant to give us one -I think she suspected our plans- but we told her we’d wait in the bar.  And after about an hour, we got a beautiful table right on the edge of the deck – perfect place.

Our Perfect 'Fireworks' Table

Here we sat for hours – many drinks – many appetizers, and a long, slow dinner.  Yes, I took a lot of pics of the fireworks – but as I’ve told you many times, this camera and I are not the best of friends – few of the photos were even worth looking at – but here’s one that I thought was interesting.

Most of the fireworks were happening rather low in the sky, and that meant that most of my shots were through this large pine tree in front of me.  Mostly, that created a poor shot, but occasionally, it made for an interesting perspective, as in this one.  Whatever, this was easily the best pic of the night.

Our waitress, who was great and  treated us quite graciously, given how we had hogged one of her prime tables, told us we had won the prize for the longest dinner that night – 4 hours.  Wow.  We double tipped her on what was a large bill already, so I suspect she was happy.

We got up early the next day, since we knew everyone would be going back that day, and we feared a mad rush on the ferries – but, no, there was in fact a very small group waiting to return.  I’m guessing the Catalina attitude is, early over/late back – so we missed the mad rush.

But it was a great adventure weekend, and a wonderful time with the kids, who we see so infrequently anyway.  Thank you, Melissa and Geoff, for a most wonderful birthday gift, and your company to enjoy it with us.

Where shall we go next time?

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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12 Responses to How Catalinians Celebrate July 4th.

  1. Frances Quinn says:

    Doc, glad you had such a great time and took some great pictures. Thanks for the best vacation I’ve had in years.

  2. Joanna says:

    Love your firework shot – never heard of Catalina Island, but I’ve had a quick look on trusty Wiki and now know far more than I need to know. I like the way you capture the chaotic and happy bustle of the parade too, and am terribly impressed by your beard 😉

    • drfugawe says:

      You are a kind person! And I love the way you always research everything. Catalina is an interesting study – it is of course controlled by rich elitists, but more and more, it is becoming a younger and younger place – but instead of defaulting to a wild party atmosphere, there seems to be an unwritten code of laid-back civility that prevails. I think your research efforts are well rewarded – it’s a fascinating place.

  3. Doc, thanks for such an enjoyable read – what a wacky place! Sounds like you had a fabulous time. Have to say, a good bed is pretty important to an extended holiday! And we just had our first ever ride on Segways today – mad things, I’m not surprised they were bumping into each other!

    • drfugawe says:

      From the looks of things, I’d guess that a few of the Segway drivers (does one ‘drive’ a Segway, or simply ride it?) were brand new to the task, which didn’t help – I’d also guess that the potential for physical harm is pretty high, even though they appear so harmless.

  4. Sounds like a wonderful weekend Doc. Segways always look really amusing to ride on, Celia I’m envious!
    …and I agree, a bed is super important and the first thing I go and sit on to see what I’m getting myself in for…along with the pillow.

    • drfugawe says:

      I’ve not yet had the experience, but I bet getting on a Segway for the first time must be a bit like riding a bike for the first time – it must be a little more difficult than it appears! I once heard the inventor of the thing describing how each one has a built in gyroscope, to keep it from going out of control. Got to be harder than it looks.

  5. Misk Cooks says:

    All the years that we lived in LA, and we never made it to Catalina. I’m thrilled to see photos of it. Not the postcard types of the harbour, or that circular white building with the red roof tiles that always appears in snapshots, but real people on a real holiday. Splendid! And that ice cream looks delish!

    • drfugawe says:

      I’m not surprised that you never made it to Catalina – compared to LA, it’s tiny size simply won’t accommodate the masses, so you’re not alone – and it’s kinda like being a guest in a gated community – and the high cost of everything keeps the crowds small too. The big round building is the old casino (‘casino’ in the old sense: a ballroom), and it has to be the most misused, or underutilized building in town. They ought to get a few of the old Indian tribe to move back so they can open it as a real casino – at least then it’ll have a purpose.

  6. Melissa says:

    I loved this travelogue of our trip! I’m so glad we got to share the island with you & mom. Thanks for documenting it, I’ll cherish these pictures & your lovely essay always since I myself was way too lazy to capture such a great diary of the experience. I’m so glad you did this!

    So where should we go next?? :o)

    • drfugawe says:

      I did take some literary license with this – but then I’m allowed, right? You can probably pick them out, but really, I only did it so it’d read better, and simpler. Yeah, good fun. How about we go to New Zealand next!

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