Catalina Island Birthday
September 26 - October 4, 2007
Warm memories and cherished experiences describe our visit to the west coast to celebrate Bill’s 70th birthday with family and friends.
Our trip began in Burbank with a visit with dear friend Martin, whom we met on our African safari. Many famous people live in Burbank, and Martin is acquainted with most of them, as his veterinary practice was located right in the heart of the entertainment industry in “beautiful downtown Burbank.” Much of Burbank's economy is based on the entertainment industry. While Hollywood may be a symbol of the entertainment industry, much of the actual production occurs in Burbank. As Martin drove us around the city, he pointed out many of the companies who have headquarters or facilities in Burbank, including ABC, NBC, Dick Clark Productions, Nickelodeon, Walt Disney Company, and Warner Brothers. We stopped to enjoy drinks before dinner at the Castaway Restaurant, located high in the Burbank Hills and appropriately called “The Jewel on the Hill” for its breathtaking view.
The next morning, Martin drove us to the train station, where we boarded Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner for San Diego. We arrived in time to meet grandson
Will as he got off his school bus. After spending the night with Bill and Shirley and our grandsons at their home in Santaluz, we all arose early Friday morning and drove a couple of hours north to Dana Point in Orange County. Here we boarded the Catalina Express high-speed Catamaran for the 90-minute ride to beautiful Santa Catalina Island. Located about 25 miles from the California mainland, Catalina Island looked like a set of mountains floating on the Pacific Ocean as we gazed toward the west, singing The Four Preps hit of the fifties...
“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me; Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance.”
As we approached the island and its main town of Avalon, we felt as if we were nearing a Mediterranean coastal town. The shoreline of Avalon Bay was gorgeous with colorful and charming houses, shops, and buildings in various architectural styles. It seemed to be aptly named, as Avalon was the name of Paradise in Arthurian legend.
We checked into the Pavilion Lodge on Crescent Avenue, which was, as advertised, only “14 steps from the beach” and then embarked on a walking
tour of this romantic city. Just one square mile large and filled with friendly charm, beautiful coastline, shops, and points of interest, Avalon is easy to navigate on foot because everything is in the vicinity of Crescent Avenue, which runs along Avalon Bay. We walked to Lover’s Cove at sunset and watched the cruise ship depart and then closed the day with a wonderful dinner at Armstrong’s Seafood Restaurant.
A visit to Catalina Island wouldn't be complete without renting a golf cart to tour the island, which we did the next morning. It’s easy to understand the appeal of golf carts in Avalon because automobiles, buses, and trucks are severely restricted on the island, and golf carts are the primary motorized means of transportation. Most island residents themselves own only golf carts for transportation, which explains the oddly-tiny driveways at most homes in the residential areas. While putting around in our golf cart, we enjoyed the dramatic vistas and native wildlife (ground squirrels and deer) we encountered in the hills surrounding Avalon.
Situated in a private cove a few hundred yards up the bay from Avalon is the Descanso Beach Club, where we enjoyed drinks, lunch, and entertainment in an
open-air bar overlooking miles of Pacific Ocean. A visiting “good-will” dance group from Japan entertained us on the beach, with Will and Henry joining in.
Cyndie and John arrived later in the afternoon, and the eight of us spent some time at a children’s playground so Will and Henry could release some of their energy. Another fantastic dinner at Armstrong’s closed out the day.
The next day began with a kayaking trip around the harbor for the kids and grandkids. Bill and I watched from Avalon’s Pleasure Pier as they paddled along the picturesque shoreline on the crystal-clear waters.
Lunch was a birthday celebration for Bill at the premiere dining facility on the island, the Catalina Country Club. The outdoor fountain terrace provided a lovely atmosphere for a relaxing afternoon with fine gourmet food. Bill and Cyndie had collected stories and memories from other family members, which they shared…sort of a “This is your life, Bill Burch.” We all enjoyed listening to and contributing our favorite Bill Burch stories. Will and Henry presented “Grandpa” with a plaque they had signed that said, “World’s Greatest Grandpa.” In recollection of Bill’s years with drum corps, he received a Santa Clara Vanguard tee
shirt and video, and later he was presented with a stunning watch. It was a perfect birthday celebration!
Later in the afternoon, we all enjoyed an undersea tour in a semi-submersible watching Catalina’s abundant marine life and undersea gardens. We came face to face with a wide array of undersea dwellers: bright orange garibaldi, spotted calico bass, opaleyes, halfmoons, rockfish, jack mackerel, and a forest of golden kelp. The clarity of the water surrounding Catalina Island is the best in Southern California, with visibility often exceeding 60 feet.
For dinner, we enjoyed the warm Tuscan décor and delicious regional Italian specialties of the Ristorante Villa Portofino, located opposite the waterfront with a dramatic view of Avalon Harbor. Afterwards, we walked along the harbor to an icon of the island and the focal point of Santa Catalina entertainment and culture since William Wrigley built it in 1929, the Catalina Casino. Surrounded on three sides by water, it gets its name from the Italian language, where “casino” means a gathering place. There is no gambling; rather, the massive twelve-story building is divided into a spectacular grand ballroom and movie theater. The theater, a masterpiece of art deco itself, has been completely restored
to its original glamorous style with an arching fifty-foot ceiling covered with silver leaf and inset with tiny twinkling lights to evoke nighttime stars, five Tiffany chandeliers, art deco murals by John Beckman, and the original pipe organ that provided musical accompaniment during the last days of the silent-film era. Movies are shown here every night with the latest projection and sound systems available; this weekend the movie happened to be DIE HARD 2, which we watched in this glamorous ambiance.
After breakfast the next morning, October 1, we boarded the Catalina Express for our return high-speed ferry ride to the mainland. This time, we had reservations for the private Captain’s Lounge. Amenities included pre-boarding privileges, complimentary champagne, juices, snacks, and plush seating.
We spent the evening with Bill, Shirley, Will, and Henry at their home in San Diego, and I left the following morning for Houston because I had to get back to work. Bill flew on to Portland, Oregon, for a two-day visit with nephew Wade and his family before returning home on October 4 after a very enjoyable 70th-birthday trip.
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