I've often said that, as much as I love to travel, that I love shooting in what is, essentially, my backyard. Southern California offers some amazing opportunities. The recent entries on Joshua Tree and Calico bear that out. Hop in the car, gas it up, and hit the road.
But what do you do if driving isn't an option? What do you do if you want to go somewhere to which no road goes?
Well, you get on a boat, that's what you do.
In this case, the destination was the Santa Catalina and the City of Avalon, roughly 81 miles northwest of downtown San Diego.
Now, because of the distance, there is no ferry service from San Diego to Catalina. It was discussed back in 1986, but a moratorium on business expansion in the City of Avalon stood in the way of that service being offered. Besides, it would be a solid four to five hour trip, and that's just silly. Instead, a quick 45 minute drive north provided us the boarding point for the Catalina Express, which only had to make one hour and twenty minute trip from Dana Point to Avalon Bay.
I've made the trip to Catalina, from either Dana Point or Newport Beach (which is about 15 miles north of Dana Point) a number of times and, usually, it's an uneventful trip. Every once in a while, though, nature happens. In this particular case, "nature" took the form of the largest school of dolphins I've ever seen. It was enormous, and they were playful:
Once on the island, you have two choices: You can either rent a golf cart, or you can walk around wishing you had. We opted to rent one, as it would afford us the ability to not only see a lot more of the island, but would also get us to those higher points where the vistas are truly inspiring. Thank you Catalina Limos:
|The first one they gave us didn't run, so they gave us this brand new one... Cool...|
One of the cool things we discovered about the golf cart was that it was actually well-suited for a photo caravan. Check this out:
|From left to right: Quantaray 19-35mm, Canon G12, Canon 100mm macro, a bottle of water. |
In the space at far right, out of focus, is an iPad...
Now, as I said, the main reason for renting a golf cart is to get you to those vista points; those points you would be loathe to walk to. Now, you might suspect that a golf cart rental isn't cheap and, at $80.00 for three hours, you would be right. But, once you get to those vista points, any concerns over what you paid just evaporate:
|A view of Avalon Bay from high above...|
|A sailboat off the coast of Santa Catalina Island...|
|Homes overlooking Avalon Bay...|
This is, without question, a tourist destination. The calm, warm waters are outstanding for diving, and the beaches are about as pristine as you could hope to find anywhere in southern California. Relatively few people live here (less than 4,000), and there are very few motor vehicles. Everyone drives a golf cart and, if you want to bring a car or truck over, you need to get a special permit and actually have a reason for having it on the island.
Tourists come by the literal boatload, every day, though. In fact, if you don't buy your ferry tickets well in advance, you may not get to the island at all.
The most imposing feature of Avalon Bay, without question, is the Catalina Casino, which was built by William Wrigley in 1929 (Catalina has actually played host to the Chicago Cubs spring training camp way back when). It houses a theatre, a ballroom and a museum. The theatre alone seats over 1,100 people, and has a single move screen.
|I hear the theme from James Bond every time I look at this picture...|
|The box office at the Catalina Casino. Currently showing ? "Taken 2"...|
|One of the entrances into the Catalina Casino...|
Catalina is home to various species of wildlife, including both bison and deer. While I can't speak to the issue of bison, the deer on the island are very comfortable; probably too comfortable, in fact, around humans. You don't have to approach the deer. They will approach you:
|Deer on Santa Catalina Island...|
Unfortunately, given the time of year, we didn't have a lot of time on the island. We arrived at about 11:15am (after taking the first ferry out of Dana Point at 9:50am), and had to board the ferry back to Dana Point at 4:10pm. There are more ferries, leaving earlier in the day, in the spring and summer. Just be sure to book well in advance, since these ferries fill up quickly. It's worth it, though, to get more time to explore the island.
Unlike the trip from Dana Point, the trip to Dana Point didn't enjoy the presence of an enormous school of dolphins. There was one here, one there, but nowhere approaching what we saw on the way over.
That was perfectly okay, though, as we were, photographically speaking, spent, and wanted only to relax on our trip back to the mainland...