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Catalina Island Free Birthday Trip

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It was nearly 95F on my birthday so I decided to take advantage of the extended Catalina Express Birthday promotion. Free round-trip boat transfers from the mainland to Catalina! You must leave on your actual B-Day but can return at any time. The procedure is to sign up ahead of time and get a promo code to make the reservation. A Birthday Pass is emailed back to you. The website suggested making reservations, but I did not, just got to the Catalina Express about 30 minutes before sailing. As a result I found out that general seating was sold out outbound from Long Beach, but I was able to upgrade to the "Commodore Lounge" for $15. That gets you first boarding, a drink (try the Bloody Mary with a pickled string-bean) and snack. Parking in downtown Long Beach is $15 directly across from Catalina Landing. After I paid I was given a Birthday Ribbon and a list of all the other Birthday Freebies on the Island. Many are buy one/get one free but there are a few with no strings attached.

The Santa Ana winds were blowing and the ocean was like glass the entire way, very unusual. Commodore seating is two facing two across a table. Our table was a group of similar age, and two were frequent visitors to Catalina with lots of tips (like the happy hour at the Sand Trap restaurant).

I decided to walk up to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, slightly uphill about 1.5 miles. You pass the old Bird Park which when built was the world's largest aviary. It is rundown and posted No Trespassing but you can see a few of the Catalina Tile murals from the road. You also pass the Sand Trap, the golf course, and the Nature center. There were a few water fountains and restrooms along the way. The last time I was in Catalina I don't recall needing to pay to enter the Memorial, I sort of recall driving the golf cart right up to the steps? There are a few nature displays and videos that you can watch there. If you want to hike farther, ask at the Nature Center about the need for permits, and if I recall they are also tacking on a $3 fee for that too. The Botanic Garden is small and honestly not really all that great. But it does label the island endemics(the Trask's Yerba Santa was flowering). It was an easy place to tick off a few birds (endemic "dusky" orange-capped warbler, yellow warbler, many Western tanagers, Pacific slope flycatcher, and acorn woodpeckers).

I was done a bit after 1 pm, just as the Trolley showed up. Fare is $2 for one way trip and there is also a day pass. Off season the trolley does not run every day, schedule and map here http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/activities-adventures/catalina-casino/movie-theatre
Alternatively you can also find taxis and there is always the pricey but fun golf cart rental (starting at $40 per hour, and I think one must bring cash!)

In town I got my birthday freebie of an ice cream from Luau Larry's and a coffee from the shop near the Metropole Hotel. Then I walked over to Descanso Beach and the Casino. The tour is free on your birthday and there is one starting at 2:15 pm, finishing around 3 pm in time to catch the 3:45 Ferry back. The tour takes you inside the Art Deco movie theater with its gorgeous murals: http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/activities-adventures/catalina-casino/movie-theatre They show an approximately 10-minute video about Catalina, and then up the ramps to the ballroom and out on the balcony. An interesting fact is that the ramps meet current codes for slope, and are based on the success of the Wrigley Field ramps in moving people in and out more quickly than the original Otis Elevators. Even if you don't take the tour, the murals outside the building are also beautiful. If you spend the night, the Avalon Theater charges $15 for a current release. The acoustics of the theater are famously excellent, and were studied for application to Radio City Music Hall. The Museum in the Casino building is closed, other than a gift shop and a film.

After that, a quick walk along the old pier and then back to the ferry station (on the far side of Avalon, about 20 minutes easy walk). All in all a nice quick getaway. Remember to bring sunscreen and a hat!

More information on the Birthday Special here:

http://www.catalinaexpress.com/birthday_promo.php

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