Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Hidden Treasures: Long Beach Harbor

P1020543docLong Beach Harbor is a treasure hiding in plain site.  I had done business in Long Beach, gone to its convention center, been through its airport and seen its container shipping port from above.  But who knew that beyond the commercial façade is a redeveloped harborside rivalling Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, with a miles-long bike/pedestrian path rivalling that of Venice Beach?

We stayed at the harbor by accident.  We were on our way to Catalina and stopped over in Long Beach the night before.  My Personal Travel Agent had done his usual excellent research, and we ended up at the Hotel Maya (part of the xxx chain, but don’t let that put you off.)  The Maya is an unusual collection of buildings, creatively architected so as to faintly evoke Mayan pyramids, while offering each room a view of the harbor from its balcony.  It is a bit of a maze to negotiate, but the views are great.  If you don’t like your balcony, you can take your evening glass of wine down to the beach, where a staff member is charged with lighting the fire pits in the evening.

20150322_064723webThe restaurant at the Maya exceeds all expectations, with an outdoor deck looking out at that harbor view, and some of the best scallops we ate in a decadent week of eating scallops. P1020548web

A stroll along the beach front promenade gave us a good view of the parties going on – a wedding where the bride and her maids were flaunting shapely gams through slit skirts, a black and white ball where the person we mistook for the bride was most likely neither getting married nor even female, as  the ball was sponsored by the LBTG alliance.P1020550web

The next morning we ate a leisurely breakfast and headed over to take a look at the Queen Mary docked just down the beach.  This proud lady of the seas is now reduced to being a tourist museum featuring Princess Diana, but she still looks a lot more elegant with her rakishly slanted smokestacks than the clunky Carnival cruiser parked next to her, a floating hotel complete with water slide.20150322_101952_1cropweb

Our last look at Long Beach Harbor took us to the ferry boat dock past a shopping arcade arfully crafted to evoke an old-style Playland-at-the-Beach.  The ferris wheel was real, the roller coaster was really a pedestrian bridge leading into the arcade. Sadly, our ferry beckoned.  I can hardly wait to go back to Long Beach to find out what is at the other end of that roller coaster bridge.

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Hidden Treasures: Car-free carefree Catalina

 

20150324_092816docBefore William Randolph Hearst transformed a remote family campsite into a private Gothic Dreamcastle, before Walt Disney transformed an orange plantation into a fairy-tale theme park, there was Santa Catalina Island.  In the 1920’s it was mostly scrub, used occasionally as the setting for Western movies. (Leftover bison still roam the interior).  Then William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate had a vision. He bought Catalina Island and created an art-deco enclave , added the west’s first professional baseball team as an attraction, (the Wrigley – owned Chicago Cubs came across the country for their spring training), and invited the public to come. . The island is open to anyone who can get there, by ferry, by private boat, by plane, or you can, as the Four Preps famously sung, “swim with just some water wings and my guitar.”20150323_092507web

Wrigley wasn’t the first to build a resort on Santa Catalina Island, but he had the money to buy out his predecessor after a fire leveled half of the main town of Shatto (named for the previous owner). He renamed and recreated the town as Avalon, started up a ceramic factory with produced the  omni-present tiles and ceramics which set the theme of the town, and crowned the effort by building the Casino (“gathering place” in Italian). The Casino includes a theatre whose decor was designed by the same artist who created Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. It also includes a ballroom with the largest hardwood dance floor in the US. THe whole thing is circular in shape and topped with a tiny little cupola which formerly housed a beacon guiding boats into the harbor. I’ve never seen another building remotely like it.

20150322_115128web In the 20’s and 30’s Santa Catalina was a getaway haven for Hollywood celebrities including Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Humbphry Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and John Wayne. Winston Churchill came here to fish for marlin. During the war Errol Flynn sailed here and was arrested for indecent behavior. Norma Jean Dougherty lived here with her merchant marine husband Jim, years before she became Marilyn Monroe. Natalie Wood drowned here. The little Catalina Island museum is full of cinema history,

Access to Wrigley’s island is by ferry, helicopter, or private plane. There are almost no cars on the island. Transportation is mainly by golf cart, bicycle, or foot. The resort area included a lot of what you might see in Cancun or Cabo San Lucas: kayaking, parasailing, snorkeling and scuba diving, although the beaches are skimpy and the water is chilly.   Outside of the resort area of Avalon, the island is a nature preserve, harboring kit foxes, bald eagles, and the afore-mentioned buffalo. Hiking, camping and biking in the back country is by permit. Jeep tours are available, but pricey ($72/person for a 6 hour tour.) 20150323_120629web

So, you ‘d like to visit Tuscany but you hate long plane flights? You can experience the picturesque village of Avalon clinging to the steep hillsides of Catalina. You love the desert atmosphere and beach vibe of Cabo San Lucas but your passport has expired?  Hike the back country of Catalina and take in the 360 degree views of ocean and harbor from the heights of the island.  You just want to get away, bask in the sun, and eat great food?  Avalon has lots of sunshine and chaise lounges for basking, plus excellent food from fish tacos on the pier to high-end California Fusion at the Avalon Grill.

What are you waiting for?

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