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Return to yesteryear
It sounds close, and it is. Just twenty-two miles, a short helicopter flight or boat ride, separate southern California and Santa Catalina Island. In the time it takes a morning commuter to navigate Los Angeles’s notoriously clogged highways, one could travel to a laidback island where there’s not a single traffic light.
Avalon looks like I remember. Crayola-hued houses stack up the shrubby hillside behind town, ice cream melts down the arms of children carrying cones, and the air smells of coconut suntan oil. Crescent Avenue, parallels the main beach, and shell wind chimes and flip-flops spill from popsicle-hued boutiques. Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionery is still there, its silver-armed mechanism stretching strands of pink, waxy taffy in the front window as it has for over 70 years.
Catalina’s most recognizable landmark, however, is the red-roofed Casino built in 1929. I’ve never seen the inside and the daily tour is worth the $9.50 admission. The 1100-seat movie theater on the bottom level, with its curved painted ceiling, vintage Page organ, and perfect acoustics, shows first run films and hosts the Catalina Island Film Festival each September. Above it I can almost here the tapping heels on the wooden floor of the round ballroom where mainlanders came by steamer ship in the ‘30s and ‘40s for Big Band-fueled dinner dances.
It'd been years since I'd been back to the island, but it felt like yesterday, which is the whole point of Catalina.