It took us more than 50 years before either of us made it to Santa Catalina Island, and now we have been there twice in barely more than one year. Our cruise last fall made us long for the beauty (and margaritas!) this island paradise has to offer, and so we decided to spend a couple of nights in Avalon. Photo by Roni.

Return to Avalon

October 30, 2018: Wanna get away? That’s the question that Southwest Airlines is always asking in its commercials, and lately we’ve been asking it ourselves as we trudge through day after day of kitchen remodeling and work routines. Last year we dubbed the Year of the Vacation, as it seemed we took several of them — a weekend at Calaveras Big Trees, a family gathering at Sea Ranch, and a blissful cruise to Mexico. This year, however, the travel gods have not smiled upon us so much. It hasn’t been all bad, given the work we have accomplished around home, but sometimes you just need to put it all aside and… well, get away.

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.

Pasadena, famous for its Tournament of Roses Parade, is somewhat lesser known for its splendid rooftop views, This one, complete with a Southern California sunset, is what we got to see Sept. 30 from our upper-floor room at the Sheraton near the city's convention center. Photo by Glenn.

It's the following morning and we are eating breakfast at Russell's in Pasadena before setting out for Hemet. Glenn is signing his autograph for one of his legions of fans. Um, actually he's writing a postcard to Ben. Photo by Roni.

Our Grandma Sorenson is celebrating her 100th birthday and the party is already going strong by the time we arrive in Hemet at noon. Roni supplied the party hats for our crazy crew. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn, his dad and sister Jenny pose for a picture while enjoying their pizza. It was a family reunion, of sorts, as Dad has been in Hemet for a couple of months. Photo by Roni.

Ben couldn't come down to Hemet for the birthday party, so he called in on a video chat. Sean holds the phone for Grandma, who was trying to place the face of her eldest great-grandson. Photo by Glenn.

Still working on that video chat with Ben. Grandma is still not really sure who she's talking with. Sean's arm is probably starting to get a bit tired holding the phone. Photo by Glenn.

Ah, no wonder Grandma can't place who Ben is — he is wearing disguises. Not a good trick to play on someone with a shaky memory, but she indulged him. Photo by Glenn.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Grandma's looking fly in those shades, thanks to Sean figuring out how the phone's software works. Photo by Roni.

Oh yes, and there was cake. Allen supplies the lung power to snuff out the candles, which thankfully were limited to far fewer than Grandma's 100 years. Happy birthday, Grandma Rose! Photo by Glenn.

Grandma's loving all the attention. Jenny provided her with the commemorative birthday Kewpie figurine. Photo by Glenn.

The party heads outside as Sean takes a spin on Grandma's old three-wheel bike, which he unearthed from her garage. Allen waits for his turn. Photo by Glenn.

Jenny, Tom and Dad look on as Allen pedals off for a journey around the neighborhood with his Uncle Sean and Denise. Photo by Glenn.

Our intrepid explorers Sean and Denise return from their walk, Allen still tall in the saddle of Grandma's bike. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn's turn to relive his childhood as he takes Grandma's bike for a spin around the block — something he first did about 37 years ago. The bike is a little creaky for the years of deferred maintenance, but then so is its rider. Photo by Roni.

Our brother-in-law Tom is running for Hayward City Council this November. If he's going to win, it can't hurt to get the senior vote. Probably won't help much if the voters don't reside in Hayward. Should we consider this Grandma's endorsement? Photo by Glenn.

The birthday party is just about over. Time for some family portraits before folks need to hit the road for the airport. Grandma's number one! Photo by Roni.

We were not only late to arrive at the party, but we were also the last to depart. Glenn gets the last hug with the birthday girl. She looks a little tired after all the excitment. What a great day. Photo by Roni.

We're chasing another beautiful SoCal sunset as we head east on Highway 91 for Long Beach. Photo by Glenn.

The morning of Oct. 2 finds us speeding across the ocean to Santa Catalina Island, courtesy the Catalina Express. The Long Beach skyline recedes in our wake as the boat hits open water and pushes to full throttle. Photo by Glenn.

Roni enjoys her hour on the top deck of the Catalina Express, scanning the water for dolphins. We saw a few of them. Looks like the island is coming into view off the bow. Photo by Glenn.

The Carnival Inspiration is anchored just outside the bay as our ferry arrives at the dock in Avalon. Last year we were passengers aboard that huge cruise ship, but this visit to the island has us looking at it from the outside. Photo by Glenn.

This is the view we'll enjoy for the next two days from the balcony of our room at the Hotel Metropole. We were upgraded to this splendid room when we arrived early for our reservation after getting off the boat. Photo by Glenn.

Below our hotel balcony is a quaint brick courtyard lined with shops and restaurants. We're looking out from the spa area; our room is just out of view to the right of this photo, but the balcony looks like the rest with a small table and metal chairs. Photo by Glenn.

One of the funny signs available for purchase from Latitude 33, one of several gift shops that line the plaza surrounding Avalon Bay. We didn't walk 5 miles every day of our visit, but feet are the best mode of transportation in pedestrian-friendly Avalon. Photo by Glenn.

Two's Co. of Avalon is a boutique where you can find a number of handcrafted art items and unique gifts. We made the mistake of walking inside. Well, it was a mistake for our checkbook. Photo by Glenn.

We fell in love with this heron, one of two ceramic accent tiles we found at Two's Co. of Avalon that we thought would work well in our kitchen remodel project. We debated for a couple of days, then purchased them on our way back to the boat for our return to the mainland. Photo by Roni.

Street performers such as this bubble blower come to the island each morning in search of tips they collect from willing tourists. This guy had the kids mesmerized with his giant bubbles. Photo by Glenn.

Catalina is famous for its locally produced tiles, many of which can be found throughout the streets of Avalon embedded in the walls of businesses and as part of public art projects. This mural depicts the landing of a seaplane in the bay across from the Avalon Casino. Photo by Glenn.

Remembering the fun we'd had on Catalina during our cruise last year, Glenn couldn't wait to check out the margaritas at Maggie's Blue Rose. He probably could have drank both of these, but fortunately one of the glasses is Roni's. Photo by Roni.

Our lunch at Maggie's Blue Rose has arrived — enchiladas and nachos. Mexican cuisine is in abundant supply on Catalina Island. Photo by Glenn.

Storm clouds are brewing as the cruise ship departs Catalina at the end of Tuesday afternoon, leaving behind a mostly deserted downtown for us to enjoy. Spending the night in Avalon — a town that lives for daytime tourism — will be a new experience. Photo by Glenn.

There is a light chill in the air, although the weather is still pleasant for an evening stroll through Avalon. Roni poses for a picture on the promenade across the bay from the Avalon Casino. Photo by Glenn.

The lights are on at the Avalon Casino as dusk descends on Catalina Island. We spent a lot of time looking at the casino on our first visit to the island, so we didn't get there on this trip. They play first-run movies in the theater most nights. This week's selection was "White Boy Rick," which we weren't particularly interested in seeing. Photo by Glenn.

Ice cream looks like dinner to us. It's been a long day and we're actually still full from our lunch earlier at Maggie's Blue Rose. Lloyd's of Avalon is definitely one of the island's sweet spots, and at this hour it's the only one still open. Photo by Glenn.

We eat our ice cream and enjoy the harbor lights from the Pleasure Pier. Everything is calm before the storm. Photo by Roni.

The Metropole Marketplace is open for business, but you'd never guess it from how empty the place is on Tuesday night. We headed over to the arcade for another margarita before retiring to our room. Photo by Glenn.

No rain yet, so we decide to make the most of a dry Wednesday morning by renting a golf cart. They've got a special deal at Island Rentals where they give you the third hour free when you buy the first two. Wonder if they'll have a cart available today. Hmmmm. Photo by Glenn.

We take our cart on a loop around the hills of Avalon. There are precious few places to stop where you're out of the way of other vehicle traffic. This was one of those spots, overlooking Avalon Bay. Roni didn't want to drive, but she sure looks cool behind the wheel. Tourist. Photo by Glenn.

This view makes the drive up the ridge worth it. What a beautiful day. Hard to believe that we'll lose our sun and be dodging raindrops in just a few hours. Photo by Roni.

The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden is one of the few attractions on Catalina that is easily accessible without a guided tour. It is about half a mile outside of Avalon, nestled deep in the hills, and features numerous specimens of the island's desert flora. Photo by Glenn.

The Wrigley Memorial towers above the botanical garden and was build to honor William Wrigley Jr., who used the fortune from his chewing gum business in part to improve and preserve Catalina Island. The garden was donated to the community by Wrigley's heirs. Photo by Glenn.

The Wrigley Memorial features approximately a dozen functional gargoyles along its upper walls. Each one is a bit different, and most include a metal spigot protruding from the mouth. This one looks like it's sticking its tongue out at us. Photo by Glenn.

The ceiling inside the Wrigley Memorial makes use of tiles produced on the island. William Wrigley Jr. was entombed here following his death in 1932, but his body was later relocated. Photo by Glenn.

A sculpture in the Metropole Marketplace honors Old Ben, a sealion that found its way to Catalina Island in the late 19th century and was a regular attraction there for more than two decades. One day in 1921, Old Ben swam out to sea and was never seen again. Photo by Glenn.

The legend of Old Ben the sealion is the inspiration behind Ben's Bakery, a cozy cafe tucked inside the Shops at Atwater, where you will also find Avalon's post office. What a great place to grab some brunch after our golf cart ride around town. Photo by Glenn.

Roni appears to be lost in though while she enjoys our treats from Ben's Bakery. Perhaps she is contemplating heading over to the post office afterward so she can buy stamps to mail another postcard to Ben (our son, not the sealion.). Photo by Glenn.

You might think that we did a lot of drinking on Catalina, but the truth is we had three drinks each, these being the last of them. It was happy hour at Catalina Cantina and looked like the perfect place to escape the rain. We were going to order the cheap house special margaritas, but Roni instead decided to get a strawberry margarita and so Glenn went for the Buffalo Milk. They look prettier than they tasted. Photo by Glenn.

We didn't let the rain spoil our full day of fun on Catalina, and once back in our hotel at the end of the afternoon we were treated to a double rainbow. Photo by Glenn.

You have to appreciate the sense of humor on display at Antonio's Pizzeria and the Catalina Cabaret, where we ate dinner Wednesday night. The restaurant has two locations in Avalon, and it was at the sister store we found a similar sign that read, "Yes, we're closed." Photo by Glenn.

Our final morning in Avalon finds us at Original Jack's Country Kitchen for breakfast. The place is set up like a '50s diner, its walls lined with Hollywood and Western memorabilia. The Portuguese French Toast is one of the house specialties. Photo by Glenn.

Mother Nature decides it's time to hit the showers once again as we are waiting in line to board the Catalina Express for the ride back to Long Beach. We hadn't dressed for rain and got pretty soaked, but we were glad the weather had mostly cooperated for us during our two-day visit. Photo by Roni.

Heaven sheds its tears for our departure from Catalina Island. Yeah, we're sad to be leaving too. Photo by Glenn.

This unusual sculpture at the corner of Rose Avenue and Main Street in Venice is known as the Ballerina Clown. Its right leg was designed to move, but because of the noisy machinery it sat inoperable for nearly 25 years before it was refurbished for its silver anniversary. Hated when it was first unveiled, this piece of public art is now a treasured local landmark. Photo by Glenn.

We've arrived in Pismo Beach just in time to watch the sunset from our hotel balcony. The public pier is still closed for renovations and was scheduled to reopen in time for the annual Clam Festival, a couple weeks after our departure. You can still see the cranes, silent for the night, staged for the final bits of construction work. Photo by Glenn.

Pismo Beach and its public pier take on a much different appearance in the dark. No late-night strollers out this Thursday evening. Photo by Glenn.

After dinner we returned to the downtown to photograph some of the many neon signs that line Pomeroy Avenue. We dropped in at the Cool Cat Cafe for ice cream sundaes. Photo by Roni.

The Sandcastle Hotel on the Beach (formerly the Sandcastle Inn) has long been one of our favorite places to stay at Pismo Beach. But its spectacular view of the ocean is being encroached upon by construction of new luxury hotels nearby. Our partial-view room was along Stimson Avenue across from a new Mariott Hotel set to open next spring. Roni still delighted in her morning tea and an ebook on the patio. Photo by Glenn.

We take our morning walk along Pismo Beach, passing beneath the newly renovated pier where we can watch the waves roll in between the pilings. Photo by Glenn.

It's just Glenn, the waves, and hundreds of yards of empty beach. Okay, so there were a few dozen other people out enjoying the beautiful weather with us, but we didn't put them in this photograph... Photo by Roni.

...We put them in this one. It looks like they are all walking out of the mist. Photo by Glenn.

At the north end of the beach there are several small caves. This section of soundwall we found inside one of them at first glance appears to be somewhat random, but however it got here someone took great pains to mortar it to the native rock. Photo by Roni.

Six days and more than 1,000 miles later we are nearly home. Roni has been doing all the driving, and no words are necessary to describe the effect that has had on her. We're at Dad's Cafe in Brentwood to grab some dinner, because once we hit the door at home we won't be going back out tonight. Photo by Glenn.

Sadly, our dismantled kitchen was still waiting for us when we returned from our Catalina trip. We removed the sink and tore out the old counters in late September, and it has been almost a month without a place to wash our dishes. Here we see the repair to the floor of the sink cabinet, which had received severe water damage. The cabinet also had to be modified to accept the larger farm sink, so on the left note that the wall has been removed next to the dishwasher. Photo by Glenn.

We've got the new sink installed for a dry fit. Looking good so far. Now we need to start building up the countertops. Photo by Glenn.

Our cats love sitting on the kitchen counters, but a cardboard box makes a reasonable substitute while the countertops are under construction. Or maybe Phyre is inspecting our sink cabinet repairs. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn applies a layer of thinset mortar to the plywood subbase of our kitchen counters. This will bond the concrete backer boards that will go on next. Then he'll be ready to cut and lay tile... eventually. Photo by Roni.

Glenn makes a cut with his new tile saw he bought just for the kitchen project. We'd talked about renting one, which would initially have been cheaper, but he didn't think he could make all the tile cuts in an afternoon and would need to keep the rental for several days. Owning the saw has allowed him to work at his own pace — which is a good thing, because he is slow. Photo by Roni.

Not that you ever need a good excuse for a vacation, but we actually had one in the form of a birthday celebration for Glenn’s Grandma Sorenson, who was set to turn 100 on Oct. 1. We had last visited her in Hemet a year ago, following our Mexico cruise, and told her then that we’d do our part to come see her on her turn of the century so long as she did her part to make it there herself. There have been times in recent months when we wondered if we’d all get to follow through on our promises.

Afflicted with dementia, Grandma’s health has been deteriorating this year. Glenn’s dad, who had already been making frequent trips from the Bay Area to help her with her affairs, drove down to Hemet in July and has been there ever since, rotating care duties with Hospice workers who come in a few hours each week to provide him with a respite. Given the unpredictability of her condition, he was none too comfortable with the idea of all the family coming down for a big party. Would she be overwhelmed? Or would we?

Plans were left in limbo as we all waited for last-minute confirmation from Dad that the party was still a go. That included our vacation itinerary. We had decided months ago that we would head out from Hemet after the birthday celebration for a few days of travel around the southland — maybe even catch another cruise. The thought of sipping margaritas while enjoying a Mexican sunset or partaking in endless buffets on the Lido Deck was growing on us. We looked into the details and considered how we could make it work given our party plans, but in the end we couldn’t commit.

That didn’t mean we couldn’t still enjoy a nautical adventure, just one that offered a little more flexibility with sailing dates and times. And that is how we decided to return to Santa Catalina Island.

* * * * *


HE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION was scheduled for Oct. 1, a Monday. Most members of the family planned to fly down Sunday afternoon on Southwest — an option we had considered when we thought that Ben might be joining us, but for a variety of reasons he decided against it. Our indecision left us too little time to book a reasonable airfare, so we stuck with our own transportation to make the 400-mile trip down the Central Valley. Despite departing Oakley at 9:30 a.m., we still managed to just barely reach our destination before nightfall. We chose to stay in Pasadena because it was still reasonably close to Hemet and meant that Roni wouldn’t have to drive in the dark, something neither of us likes to do when we’re in the L.A. basin. We stayed at the Sheraton Pasadena Hotel next door to the convention center, a comfortable upper-story room overlooking a bunch of rooftop air conditioning units. No one ever said you pick a convenient place for its spectacular views.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a nearby restaurant called Russell’s and then trekked out through traffic for the hour-and-fifteen-minute drive to Hemet. We arrived at Grandma’s house just about noon, where the rest of the family had already gathered and were preparing to enjoy a couple of pizzas Dad had picked up in town. Grandma was awake and excited for all the attention, wanting to bask in the moment as cameras flashed and stories were shared. Glenn’s mom had thoughtfully provided name tags for everyone, to make it easier for Grandma to identify all of us, yet there were still names and faces she couldn’t remember, including Ben’s.

We had arranged to call Ben on video chat so he could say hi to Grandma in person. It turned out not to be so much of a conversation as it was of him exploiting his phone’s software to give himself goofy costumes that only added to Grandma’s confusion. “Who is that?” she asked. “Ben. Glenn and Roni’s son, Ben. BEN.” She’d remember for about a minute until someone had to remind her once more. And so things went, but there was no question Grandma was enjoying the spotlight as she blew out the candles on her birthday cake (with a little help from our nephew Allen) and opened a few gifts that people had provided.

The time flew by, as it always does, and the party broke up around 4 as Glenn’s mom, sister, brother and others had to head out for the airport to catch a flight home. We lingered a few minutes longer for a final round of goodbyes before we also got on the road, bound for Long Beach. Roni had booked us into the Best Western Plus downtown so that we would be close to the port for our voyage to Catalina Island the next morning.

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UR BOAT FOR Catalina was scheduled to leave at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. We had seen forecasts for rain in the area and Roni worried it would spoil our visit, but this day was splendid if not bordering on uncomfortably warm, so naturally Roni wanted to sit on the top deck with its open roof to enjoy the scenery. Our Carnival cruise last year took all night to sail the 26 miles from Long Beach to the town of Avalon, but the Catalina Express doesn’t mess around and had us there in a little more than an hour — more than enough time to hear the life stories and financial details of a couple of hipsters seated behind up who were on what we assumed to be a first date. We were more entertained by the several dolphins we spotted in our boat’s wake.

Coming into port at Avalon was like deja vu. The Carnival Inspiration, the same ship we had cruised on a year ago, was anchored outside the bay for its half-day stopover. The only difference was that we wouldn’t have to race to get back to it by the end of the afternoon as its visiting passengers would. We had scheduled three days and two nights for our mini vacation here and were anticipating having the island mostly to ourselves once the cruise ship and the commuter ferries departed.

Because we were hoofing it on the island, we made sure to bring only a couple of small travel bags and our camera gear. Still, we didn’t want to lug them around longer than necessary, so our first stop would be at our hotel. It was close to noon and check-in time at the Hotel Metropole wasn’t until 3, but we thought we’d try anyway just in case we might get lucky and our room would be available. Not only was a room ready (whew!) but they gave us a free upgrade that probably made the difference between a nice visit and a great one. We wound up on the fourth floor in one half of a suite with a balcony overlooking Avalon Bay. Below us was a quaint brick courtyard lined with small shops and cafes and an arcade. Three rooms in the place had such a view, and we probably had the second nicest of those.

Bags unloaded, we ventured downstairs to explore more of the town we had only received a taste of on our first visit last year, heading back to gift shops we remembered that we liked and investigating our dining options. One of the stores we stopped at was Two’s Co. of Avalon, a boutique offering handcrafted art, jewelry and other unique gifts. We realized we hadn’t completely escaped our kitchen remodeling project when we found ourselves drawn to several large decorative tiles and began considering how they would look incorporated into our soon-to-be-tiled walls. The tiles were beautiful, but we’d have a couple of days to think about buying them and how we would get them safely back to the mainland in our crowded bags.

What we wanted more was a good place to eat lunch, and by good we really meant one that also served adult beverages. We don’t drink very often, but neither of us was driving and we remembered the great margaritas we’d had last year, so we looked around until we found one of the plentiful happy hour deals at a place called Maggie’s Blue Rose. In all honesty we chose the restaurant not because of the menu — we’d just had Mexican food in Long Beach the night before — but because their happy hour started earlier than the other places we’d seen. Our house margaritas were a bit watered down but still plenty tasty. Glenn had an enchilada while Roni ordered nachos and tortilla soup. In the end it was way too much food and unfortunately not all that good, so we scratched that place off our list and hoped we’d have better luck with our next pick.

It turned out that we were both so full from lunch that all we wanted for dinner was dessert, so after relaxing back at our hotel for a couple of hours we eventually went in search of ice cream. Meanwhile Glenn caught a nap while Roni updated her social media accounts on the balcony and watched the late afternoon sun stretch across the bay. We waited until around 5 p.m. when the last of the cruise passengers had returned to the Carnival Inspiration and the ship slowly disappeared around the island’s southern hills to continue its journey to Ensenada, Mexico.

We expected things to quiet down after that, but we had no idea just how dead the island becomes once the day-trippers are gone, and now we were fully appreciating our decision to spend the two nights. Because tourism is Avalon’s stock and trade, most of the gift shops and boutiques close up early. Some take Wednesday and Thursday off because there is no cruise traffic those days. A few of the tour companies and excursion boats that inhabit the Pleasure Pier offer cut rates for anyone they can muster in the late afternoon. The restaurants remain open longer, but even those offer little in the way of nightlife. Once the sun sets, you are pretty much on your own if you aren’t one of the locals. We grabbed our ice cream cups from Lloyd’s of Avalon and strolled through the downtown photographing night scenes at the deserted tourist spots.

* * * * *


EDNESDAY WAS OUR lone full day to enjoy the island, but unfortunately the forecast called for rain in the afternoon. So when Roni awoke before 8 a.m. to find mostly blue skies, she took a proactive approach to the situation and decided we couldn’t waste time lounging around the hotel, regardless of how comfortable the accommodations or the fact that it was the only day of our trip that we would be able to sleep in. We grabbed breakfast in the hotel lobby and then set out to take advantage of what nice weather we had.

Normally when we travel we avoid dropping money on guided tours or extreme sports opportunities. Catalina is loaded with both — from parasailing to ziplining to Jeep safaris to check out the bison that inhabit the far side of the island. There are fishing charters and glass bottom boats that take visitors to see the brilliant yellow Garibaldi fish, dolphins and other local sea creatures. For a reasonable rate you can board a boat that will ferry you to Two Harbors and campsites beyond. We looked into all of that, and ultimately decided to take a chance on renting a golf cart.

There are a few cars and trucks on Catalina, but for most the vehicle of choice is a golf cart. For tourists, they are about the only way to get out of the downtown area. We strolled over to Island Rentals Golf Cart Rentals, one of at least three places in town where you can pick up a ride for a few hours. Being a non-cruise ship day, they were offering a three-for-two deal where you got the third hour free for an $80 two-hour rental. Ample time to visit all the spots we might want to check out. We were the first customers of the day, so we got the 2-minute crash course in golf cart operations and safety and were soon on our way, Glenn behind the wheel.

There are only a few places golf carts are allowed and they are well marked, so despite being given a map of the entirety of Avalon with its multitude of hillsides and backroads, there was little chance we would get lost. We headed east on Pebbly Beach Road past Lover’s Cove and about a mile until we were forced up onto the twisting Wrigley Road that carried us to some spectacular views of the ocean and looking down into Avalon Bay. The golf cart was not particularly peppy, and going uphill we never came close to hitting the speed limit, even putting the pedal to the metal.

All was fine until we decided to park on the shoulder for a photo opportunity and Glenn set the parking brake. When it was time to get on the road again we couldn’t remember what the rental clerk had told us about releasing the brake! We sat there for a few moments checking the steering column and beneath the dash for a brake release, feeling foolish until at last Roni thought to step on the gas pedal. That did the trick, and the cart lurched into drive as the brake popped off.

The map led us to Avalon Canyon Road, which heads farther back into the hills to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. The place is named for chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., whose legacy left an indelible stamp on Catalina Island. The garden and memorial site are today operated by the Catalina Island Conservancy, which received the land in trust from the Wrigley family heirs. We were glad we had the free hour on our cart rental, for now we got to park outside the garden and take some time to stroll its unpaved pathways to enjoy specimens of the island’s desert flora. The main attraction was the art deco memorial nestled in the hills at the end of the garden. Its granite spiral staircases lead up to a rotunda and balcony that looks across the valley to the sea. The building was the original burial site of Wrigley Jr., who died in 1932.

We probably could have stayed longer in the gardens, but we were on the clock with our rental cart and rain clouds were starting to threaten. We had only traveled about half of the scenic route and still wanted to see the Catalina Chimes Tower on the opposite end of town. We ground our way along the hilly streets, ever alert for trucks or cars heading the opposite direction. And when at last we emerged at the roundabout back on Crescent Avenue, we realized we had completely missed the chimes. Hadn’t we followed the map correctly? We backtracked uphill to a fork in the road we had seen and discovered that the route to the chimes tower was blocked by construction vehicles. Catalina Island is the one-time home of legendary Western author Zane Grey, and the now-closed Pueblo Hotel that bore his name is undergoing some sort of work, so the road to the tower was inaccessible.

We decided that we would have to enjoy the hourly chimes from afar instead, and we finished up our scenic tour with nearly half an hour to spare. We returned our golf cart and headed back to the downtown, stopping for lunch at a place called Ben’s Bakery. We had been searching for a gift to take home to our son, so when we found souvenir mugs with the Ben’s Bakery logo on them we just had to get one for him. The bakery is named for a sea lion known on the island as Old Ben. The story is that Old Ben swam into the harbor one day in the late 1890s and took up residence, feeding on the fish that were caught by local fishing boats. He was a familiar figure until one day in 1921 when he swam out to sea and was never seen again. There are several memorials to Old Ben throughout Avalon, including a small park along Pebbly Beach Road that bears his name. As for the bakery, it is a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike, and a great spot for coffee in a town that has just one Starbucks.

The bakery is located inside a mall called the Shops at Atwater, right next door to the island’s post office. We ate our snack of scones and frozen drinks, then walked over to buy stamps for another postcard we had picked up to send to Ben. We figured we would probably make it back home before the postcard arrived.

No sooner did we return to our hotel than the rain began to fall. We were thankful we’d had the opportunity to take our golf cart ride earlier while the weather was still pleasant. It was never more than a light drizzle, however, and when at last the clouds parted we were treated to a rare double rainbow that stretched from one end of Avalon Bay to the other.

* * * * *


ONSIDERING THAT WE had looked forward to Catalina Island for its culinary opportunities, our dining experiences to this point had been lackluster, save for the drinks. You’ll be in heaven there if you like Mexican fare. Not that we have anything against it, as it is one of our favorite things to eat back home, but variety is important to us when we travel. We’d had a late lunch that Wednesday at a snack stand at the corner of the Metropole Marketplace, where our hotel was located. It was basically a walk-up fast food place that serves hamburgers and hotdogs, so we got a couple of kraut dogs and fries to take back to our room and wait out the rain. But when night arrived we were on the prowl for something more substantial.

We wound up eating at an Italian place just across the way from our hotel called Antonio’s Pizzeria and the Catalina Cabaret. They serve roasted peanuts as an appetizer and encourage you to toss the shells on the floor, similar to what Texas Roadhouse does, although without the urban cowboy pretense. Maybe we were just really hungry or perhaps it was the cool atmosphere, but this place turned out to be the best restaurant we’d been in since a stop over at Denny’s on I-5 the first day of our trip. (Yeah, it was that disappointing since then.)

The restaurant has an impressive collection of Americana and weatherbeaten advertising signs from some of the island’s businesses that go back perhaps to the 1940s. And the menu prices seem to harken back to simpler times as well. Despite wanting to get away from Mexican food, Roni nonetheless managed to order a taco salad. Glenn went with the “day-old spaghetti,” a lasagna-like creation built on top of a bed of chopped spaghetti noodles that was both delicious and filling.

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HURSDAY ARRIVED ALL too quickly, and it was time to head back to the mainland. But not before we had breakfast at a family diner called Original Jack’s Country Kitchen. Afterward it was time to make our decision about the decorative tiles we’d been admiring at Two’s Co. of Avalon. We’d given it a lot of thought as to whether the tiles would work with our kitchen design, and deciding that they could we accepted the cost of them at $60 each. We went back to the store around 9 a.m. and picked out the two we liked best — the one of the heron standing in a marsh, and the other of a lighthouse, both of which seemed representative of our Delta environment.

The clerk boxed up our purchases while we chatted her up about the local economy. With so many service-based businesses tied in with tourism, how could people afford to live and work there? How did cars and trucks get to and from the island if there are no vehicle ferries? How does mail get delivered? How about groceries for the local Von’s store and all those restaurants? She had the answers:

People besides the rich and famous actually do live on the island, but housing is in tight supply and rents are averaging around $2,000 a month for a small apartment. (“You don’t just decide one day you’re going to move to Avalon and expect to find a place to live,” she said.) There are some vehicle barges that come over from the mainland, and that is how Von’s gets its trailers to stock its grocery shelves. Mail is flown out by helicopter, so maybe there was a chance Ben’s postcard would get home by the time we did.

Considering that she also said it was tough to make a living on the island, we didn’t feel too bad about supporting her gift shop with our tile purchase. No cruise ships were due to arrive until next Monday, so our sale might have made her whole day.

We returned to our hotel long enough to pack up our things and figure out the best way to transport our tiles home. They came in slim cardboard boxes surrounded by Styrofoam, which we hoped would be enough of a cushion in the event they got dropped or crushed. Just to be sure, we planned to keep them with us on the ferry boat rather than leave them in the baggage area with all the heavy suitcases folks would deposit there.

Our Catalina Express boat was scheduled to arrive at 11:45 a.m. We got to the dock about half an hour early and spent part of the time chatting with an elderly man who was born and raised in Avalon and was waiting for the arrival of former classmates for his high school reunion that weekend. He remembered what Avalon was like before the cruise ships started porting there, before there was a tourist industry. It was a sleepy fishing town that got sleepier each fall once the summer pleasure boats stopped arriving from the mainland. Restaurants closed for months until spring.

We lingered on his conversation while we waited in line with the other ferry passengers, trying to imagine what it must have been like to live and go to school in this remote town back in the 1960s. But our thoughts were interrupted when the skies opened up just as the line was beginning to move. It was a real rainstorm, not just a few sprinkles, and by the time we were on board the boat we were pretty drenched. No sitting above deck for this ride! We sat at a table near the starboard windows, clutching our bag with the tiles and watching the raindrops snaking down the glass. And then the boat pulled away from the dock, spun about, and Santa Catalina Island disappeared behind us in a rainy fog.

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E PAID OUR car’s exorbitant bail to the parking lot attendant in Long Beach and made a hasty retreat north out of the Los Angeles basin. Roni was driving and had no interest in getting trapped on the L.A. freeways during rush hour. Or any hour, for that matter. What she really wanted was to take the coastal route home, thinking it would be more scenic and avoid traffic. Scenic, it was. Less traffic? Not so much. We endured the 405 for as long as we could stand until we reached LAX and jogged west to the coast, paralleling the massive airport complex. We passed the ghost town of Surfridge at the end of the runways and then followed Highway 1 up through Venice Beach and Santa Monica.

We had this silly notion that we would stop for lunch at the Santa Monica Pier, maybe take a break from the driving to stroll through its amusement park and enjoy the beach. We had no clue how utterly crowded the area is, so when we did arrive there we couldn’t find a place to park and had to continue driving. The extent of our time at the pier was, “Hey look, it’s the ferris wheel,” before it was gone from our rearview mirror.

Starving, we finally stopped for lunch quite some time later in Malibu at a roadside dive called Country Kitchen. The only place to eat was some small tables outside, so Roni suggested that we could take our meager meals up the road to one of the many beaches and watch the waves come in while we dined. So we drove… and drove… and soon we realized that what few beaches weren’t on private property were mostly inaccessible to us because they were on the wrong side of the highway. So finally we pulled over at a gas station and parked along the curb of a side road to eat our lunch. Yes, we could sort of see the sea — at least a sliver of it beyond the highway and fences.

Fortunately where we were headed we knew there would be a true ocean view — Pismo Beach. We knew we would be returning from Avalon late enough that we wouldn’t want to drive all the way home in darkness, so Roni chose for us to stay at Pismo as a midpoint. It was a good plan, because we arrived in town just in time to catch the sunset. She picked the Sandcastle Hotel on the Beach, where we have stayed many times over the years and was always a favorite spot until the prices started spiraling about 10 years ago. We didn’t book our usual beachfront room, but instead got a partial-view room with a balcony from where we could see the famous pier. The room came with a discount because most of the view these days is of the new hotel going up next door, and our desk clerk advised us that it would get noisy early in the morning once the construction crews began for the day.

We didn’t mind the accommodations at all, and after watching the last rays of the sun dip below the horizon we headed into town to grab clam chowder bowls at the Splash Cafe, happy to be there late on a weekday evening and not have to wait in the usually gigantic line. By the time we had finished eating it was dark and all the neon signs along Pomeroy Avenue were lit up. We grabbed our cameras and enjoyed taking photos of the night scenes for a bit before hitting up Cool Cat Cafe for ice cream and heading back to the hotel room.

Friday morning we did the tourist thing for a couple of hours before getting on the road. We strolled along Pismo Beach for a couple of miles and then went into town to look for souvenirs and a bit of lunch. We would of course have loved to walk on the pier, but it remained closed for renovation work that was scheduled to wrap up in a couple of weeks, just in time for the annual Clam Festival.

It was still a long drive home from Pismo, but we reached our neck of the woods around 8 p.m., stopping long enough to eat a proper dinner at Dad’s Cafe in Brentwood so that a very tired Roni could rest up. We knew there was nothing in the cupboards waiting for us at home, and there was no way either of us was going out to find food once we were in the driveway.

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OU PROBABLY THOUGHT with all our travels this month that you might escape reading about our kitchen overhaul. Alas, you aren’t that lucky and neither are we. If there is anything we have learned about this project, it neither progresses quickly nor how we often anticipate that it should.

We’ve been without a kitchen sink for more than a month. We thought by now that we’d have it installed along with out granite tile countertops, but it’s the little things that have gotten in the way. Like plumbing supplies and mortar and tools. Just when Glenn thinks he is ready to proceed to the next step, there is something he discovers missing that he needs, so it is back to Home Depot to cruise the aisles. The good news is that at least we have all our tile.

The final replacement box of blue pearl granite arrived at the pickup desk just before our vacation, so collecting it was one of the first things we did once we returned home. This batch of 10 tiles, while passable, still was lacking in quality, but by now we were willing to accept about anything just to be done with the back and forth of the return process. The next step was to finalize our countertop design and figure out how to cut all the pieces.

Last month we finished the demolition of the former counters and removed our old ceramic sink. Before vacation, we managed to repair the rotted bottom of the sink cabinet and modify the walls to accept our new, larger farmhouse sink. With the stainless steel sink test-fit for the new space, Glenn moved ahead with the counters. We bought a 4x8-foot sheet of ¾-inch plywood that we had cut into 2x4-foot lengths — enough to cover all of our counters and the problematic windowsill. Glenn got the sheets cut and test-fit before our vacation, and when we came home he refined them and nailed them into place. Next he cut two sheets of Hardibacker cement board to go over the plywood. This he mortared onto the plywood then screwed down to provide a secure bed to lay the tile.

Meanwhile, we kept looking at our countertop design and refining it. Our original plan was to turn all the tiles at a 45-degree angle to add some visual interest — basically a bunch of diamonds. But we soon discovered this wouldn’t work the way we hoped, mainly because the window and sink are off center to each other and it would be very obvious with a diagonal tile pattern. Doing a traditional layout of 12-inch squares wouldn’t work either, because the window counter is an odd shape that doesn’t lend itself to an attractive display of large squares. There would have to be some odd-shaped cuts that would spoil the effect. So we came up with a hybrid of the two approaches and incorporated diamonds into a field of squares.

The advantage of the hybrid design is that it makes all the lines on the countertop look intentional and artistic. The disadvantage is that it requires a ton of cuts and wastes a lot more tile. But we had three cases plus the three freebies that the Home Depot clerk had given us for our troubles, so we hoped 33 tiles would be plenty. It was, but just barely. Our original designs would have used approximately 23-26 tiles; this new plan gobbles up closer to 31.

Just to be sure we liked our latest design, we went to Hobby Lobby and picked up a package of 12x12-inch construction paper — the exact dimensions of the tiles — and cut them into the shapes we would need, then taped them together and laid them out on the cement board. Now we had to figure out how to cut the real tiles. Home Depot has tile saws for rent starting around 30 bucks a day, but that entails you can make all your cuts quickly enough that you don’t need the saw for longer, negating any advantage of renting over buying. Knowing how he works, Glenn decided it would be better to own the saw so he wouldn’t feel rushed to make cuts and could work at his own pace. He picked up a small Ryobi tile saw for about $110.

The tile saw is a no-frills piece of equipment that comes with a basic diamond blade but gets the job done. It made short work of the thick granite slabs Glenn fed it, and within a few days he had all the straight cuts completed, the individual pieces spread out on the counters and spaced about 1/16-inch apart to allow for grout lines. That was the easy part; he still had to make the diagonal cuts and fit the diamonds into place, and with most of the tiles already spoken for there was little room for mistakes. It took a lot of planning and patience, but the saw did its job and Glenn finally finished with the diamond cuts on Oct. 28.

The edges of the counters will be finished off with an aluminum profile called Rondec made by Schluter Systems. The pieces come in 8-foot sections and are designed with space to lay 1-inch-wide accent tiles along the edge of the cabinets. We had to special order the ones we wanted at Home Depot, and they came to us shipped in a long tube. Glenn didn’t know his miter saw blade could easily cut aluminum, so he made the mistake of buying an abrasive disk designed for metal saws, thinking that was the thing to do. Yes, the disk cut through the soft aluminum, but it tore the edges to heck, leaving an ugly finish that we didn’t want on the finished counters. Once Glenn realized he could use his regular wood blade, which is carbide-tipped, the Rondec cuts were much simpler. He put the profiles in place on the countertops and made sure the tiles fit inside them.

Which brings us to where we are today. We are set to mortar the granite on the sink and stove counters sometime this week, once we make some more adjustments to the sink basin. We tried to get the height correct before we knew how tall the tiled counters would be, and we have since discovered that we overestimated. So now Glenn has to reposition the supports inside the cabinet to make them lower so that the sink top sits flush with the finished counters. Just one more piece of the puzzle as we look forward to the day when all of this will be finished.

Well, time to go and get ready for Halloween fun. We didn’t get as much decorating done this year as we have in the past, but hopefully the trick-or-treaters will still be able to find us.


Glenn, Roni and Ben