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Ferrying out of San Pedro to Catalina Island, the Channel Islands National Park’s most touristed spot, make sure you catch the San Pedro lighthouse at the end of the breakwater.
Catalina Island has a history of exploition by pirates, otter smugglers, and goldrushers until 1891 when the Banning brothers brought the Catalina Island and established the island’s first stagecoach. Fire destroyed their little empire in the 1920s and gum magnate, Wrigley, took over to create the now-iconic Catalina Island Casino, or meeting place. Today, many restauranteurs are proud to be descendants of these early Catalina Islanders and, on my visit, I found these funny facts about Catalina:
1. The eucalyptus trees grow backwards.
The eucalyptus trees which were imported to Catalina Island from South America where Spanish explorers found their intertwining fibers supremely strong and useful. Who would’ve known, though, that – just like bats out of a cave or water down a toilet – the fibers of the eucalyptus tree grow backwards in the northern hemisphere, rendering the wood weak and useless. Good thing that the leaves still smell so good, baking in that Catalina island sun!
2. There a one-stop shopping wedding consultant on Catalina Island!
On-the-sand ceremonies, particularly at sunset, are popular in Avalon, the main town of Catalina Island. And if this is how you want to get hitched, you should hear about Catalina Island’s one-stop wedding planner. She arranges the entire event — delivers equipment, showing up earlier that afternoon to stake out space and set up chairs and trellis, complete with a carpet of rose petals down the aisle. She makes and delivers the bouquet and boutineer, walks everyone through the rehearsal (including the fidgety 6-year-old ring bearer who was more interested in climbing the palm tree than standing at the altar). She straightens the brides train, lines everyone up, and then quickly changes her top to become the officiant.
After the ceremony, she whipped out the paperwork and delivered the new couple their certificate, and then she unpacked her SLR camera and became the offical photographer!
Oh! Did I mention that she also provided the music, via a CD player color-coordinateth the flowers?
For decades, she ran Earl and Rosie’s Seafood on the Green Dock, right in the heart of Catalina Island. Boaters would send one of their crew over on a zodiac to order and pick up these vintage dinners, always served with Rosie’s secret tartar sauce. Yes, Earl worked there too, but everyone knew it as Rosies. She always said she’d retire at 80, which she did (at which time she sold the business AND her trademark sauce). Today, she’s over 90 and just took up a walker. “I can go faster this way”, she said to our Catalina Island Food Tour gal, Desiree.
4. Food walking tour’s the latest greatest thing!
Yes, Catalina Island’s food is delicious – steak and coconut shrimp samples at Steves, a thin-crust veggie pie that you’d think came out of Naples Italy at the Arcade, and the hands-down best garlic green beans at the vintage Mr Nings Chinese Garden. (after the Rosie story, I thought it was fitting that here at Chinese Garden, it’s MRS Ning who does all the running around while Mr Ning gets the credit)
5. Where’re 3 Palms anyway?
And speaking of the arcade, where exactly are Catalina Island’s 3 palms? The new arcade wanted a name drawn from island lore, so it picked 3 Palms. It turns out, though, that only old-timers of Catalina island know the meaning of this name, since – no surprise – the palms no longer exist. Tale has it that these 3 iconic palms had waved for longer than anyone could remember on the southern cliffs above Catalina Island’s Avalon harbor. It was a locals’ meeting place (as in, let’s meet a 3 palms at 5) and a phrase sprinkled inseparably into the local history.
But in the early’s 70’s, 3 palms were chopped down by the mayor’s son, as a prank on his father. Today, it’s only 3 stumps, not 3 palms.
My sister and I did the math – this errant 18 year old would now be over 50. Think he might make restitution to Catalina Island and replant?
Story goes that the Banning brothers had boats but when they were no longer needed for commerce on Catalina Island, the brothers simply turned them into a house. In fact, this house is a melding of 2 separate boats.
7. Navy housing
In WW II, the US Navy took over Catalina Island, and the island was closed for visitors. Since the only people allowed on the island were residents, many longtime visitors simply bought their own bungalow. Navy be damned! Annual vacations to Catalina Island rule!
8. A queue for a Car
There’s a 10-year waitlist for car ownership on Catalina Island. That’s why today’s new parents apply for a car when they get their newborn a social security number. And that’s also why the streets on Catalina Island look like this:
9. Buffalo on Catalina Island are movie stars.
Zane Grey’s hollywood classic, the Vanishing American, imported buffalo to Catalina Island in 1925 and, by the time production finished, was too “in the red” to ship them off. You might think that today’s buffalo burgers were a solution to that problem but, no, they’re imported too. The solution was bison birth control!
10. Catalina Island’s light is fake.
Yes, it’s true. The only lighthouse on Catalina Island is a decorative feature of a popular seafood joint.
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