SANTA CATALINA . . . AN ISLAND FOR EVERYONE Avalon Casino Celebrates 80th Birthday during 2nd Annual Flying Fish Festival by Bonnie Carroll
The 2nd Annual Flying Fish Festival provided four days of family fun that included night boat trips to see the flying fish dance on the top of the sea, a parade with fish costumes, a sand sculpture that was amazing, a “Taste of Avalon” that offered guests samplings of the islands best eats, and last but not least the 80th birthday celebration of the iconic Catalina Casino.
The Casino was built by Mr. Wrigley, owner of the island. It was built as a place of entertainment, where guests arrived on boats to dance to the music of greats like Benny Goodman and his orchestra. Live radio broadcasting of these performances made the Casino known throughout the country and attracted tourists by the thousands. The dance floor in the casino held 3,000 couples who enjoyed the extraordinary beauty of the trendy art-deco building. Wrigley’s intention was to provide an entertainment center for everyone to enjoy.
The 80th birthday celebration included a huge birthday cake and an evening of dancing to the music of the “Good Vibrations” band who played all the old “Beach Boy” hits. Generations of families showed up to celebrate the birthday of the “Grand Dame” by the sea in Avalon, and a good time dancing to songs like “Daddy Took The T-Bird Away” was had by all.
Visitors to the island may now go on a “back scenes” tour of the Casino, and see the rooms used by the Wrigley’s to enjoy films in the movie theatre from a private area. The room contains artwork and furniture not seen by the public previously, and the original projection camera equipment used to show the current films can be viewed in an adjacent area as well. This is an informative and interesting tour that offers views from the upper area of the Casino of Avalon that cannot be rivaled.
Traveling from Long Beach to Catalina includes a short ocean voyage on the Catalina Express, which is a very comfortable way to travel for the entire family. The walk from the Catalina Express boat departure ramp to the Casino is a magical journey through Avalon past and present. The museum in the Casino offers detailed historic information on the development of the island before and following the opening of the Casino in May of 1929. Looking up you can see the bell tower that was installed in the memory of Wrigley’s mother, and beneath it the home of writer Zane Grey. Across the harbor from the Casino is the original family residence of the Wrigley’s, which is now a six bedroom bead and breakfast that overlooks all of Avalon.
The Hotel Villa Portofino has always been a favorite hide-a-way for vacationers and celebrities visiting Avalon. On one of my first visits I sat next to Robert Wagner during dinner in their charming restaurant. The hotel was recently renovated, and remains a select venue to enjoy beautiful views and delicious food. Gregory Wenger, managing partner and award winning executive chef, keeps guests and visitors happy and satisfied with his authentic Italian culinary delights.
Descanso Gardens is a fairly new beach area where surfers, scuba divers and snorklers gather to enjoy the best in their sport and the best seafood appetizers, huge burgers with delicious fried onion rings and drinks with neat sounding names. This area was formerly just a garden area overlooking the sea. The Santa Catalina Island Company brought in new sand to create a permanent beach, established a restaurant/bar and equipment rental set-ups, and turned it into a ‘beach blanket bingo’ heaven for locals and tourists. Lunch by the sea is simply wonderful at this scenic destination.
The strange thing about Catalina Island is that it has been described as an ‘island for lovers’ and it is. But, it is also the perfect destination for a family vacation, with attractions of interest for all ages. In the next few weeks the Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Catalina Island Company will premiere a new miniature golf attraction, advanced hiking trails, and the SeaTrek walk on the bottom of the ocean. Combine all this new activity with the submarine, glass bottom boat, underwater boat adventure, a bevy of fishing opportunities, a great golf course, unending dining options, blissful spa services, great hotel properties and you have Avalon, a perfect escape destination for a weekend of fun. For information please visit: www.catalinachamber.com,
www.visitcatalinaIsland.com or www.catalinaadventuretours.com.