26 miles across the sea

catalina island museum's outdoor theatre

A few weekends ago Chuck and I headed over to Catalina Island to attend the annual Silent Film Benefit. We actually went over because we won a free night at the Hermosa Hotel in Avalon when we were at the 2017 Scuba Show so we decided to take advantage of the free night and have a fun getaway in Avalon. Of course, to take advantage of the free night, we had to stay for two nights and pay for one, but c’est la vie. So we took the Catalina Express over early Saturday morning so we’d be in time for the movie at 1pm. We got there so early that we had time to see the new Catalina Island Museum, relocated from its former really cramped digs in the Casino to a lovely new building in town on Metropole Avenue. The museum houses a fascinating collection of island history, with an emphasis on the island’s connection with the movies and movie stars and, of course, the Wrigley family and the Chicago Cubs. It’s absolutely worth a visit – we were so impressed we joined the museum. They currently (through December 11, 2017) have a Dale Chihuly exhibit that is both indoors and outdoors and includes pieces that haven’t been shown before. There is also an outdoor theatre where they show movies and can do live events as well. In fact, this summer they will be showing several movies – we plan on trying to get over for one or two. The museum is WELL worth a visit!

The Silent Film Benefit takes place at the Avalon Theatre in the Casino and each year a different silent film is featured. The first time we went they showed Wings, with live musical accompaniment on the amazing pipe organ. This year the movie was the 1924 version of Peter Pan and there was a live orchestra accompanying the movie. The special guest was Cathy Rigby, an Olympic gymnast (1968 Mexico City Olympics) who went on to have a career as a stage actress. She has performed the role of Peter Pan over 3,000 times and couldn’t have been nicer or more interesting. After the movie, she went over to the Zip Line Eco Tour and did the last zip line in her Peter Pan costume, much to the delight of those of us who were at the movie and the complete confusion of the zip line employees who hadn’t been told ahead of time that this was happening and had no idea (at least at first) who this crazy person was and why she was dressed in a green leotard-like outfit. We’ve done the zip line and it is enormous fun – Cathy Rigby felt a bit gypped that she only got to do one of the 5 zip lines.

While were at the movie, they mentioned that there was going to be a silent film premier that evening at the Catalina Island Museum – the first silent film produced on the island in 93 years! It was a student film, written directed and produced by students at the Avalon School. The price was right (free) and it meant we could get to see the museum’s Chihuly exhibit at night. The movie was scored by Michael Mortilla (who also wrote an original score for the Peter Pan showing). It was lots of fun – the young filmmakers talked about their process and Mortilla talked about writing film scores. All in all, it was a really fun day – we’d anticipated having a great time, we just hadn’t anticipated how MUCH of a good time we’d have!

Sunday was our bonus day – we had no plans so decided to start the day off with a hike. Ambitious as ever, we started out in Avalon and headed toward the Garden to Sky trail via the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, which is a loop that is part fire road and part single track trail. Note: to get to the trail and avoid having to pay to get in the garden, just catch the trail that starts to the left of the campground right below the garden entrance. The weather warmed up but we brought water and had hats so did’t suffer too much. We encountered several other hardy hikers, including some who were doing the Trans Catalina Trail, which goes around the whole island (and is 37.5 miles long). We did about 6.5 miles, and felt pretty darned virtuous at themed, so stopped by the Sand Trap for a beer. We rested a bit after that, then headed out for dinner and a movie – the Catalina Island movie theatre was showing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2.

We headed back to the real world Monday morning, reminded once again of what a treasure lies 26 miles across the sea from the mainland!

Note: I don’t think we’d stay at the Hermosa Hotel again. it’s an okay place (and if you’re with a dive group I bet the rates are fab), but we thought it felt old and dated and was overpriced given those factors. No breakfast or evening happy hour is offered and the wifi is very spotty – okay in the lobby but poor in the rooms. All in all, there are better deals to be found in Avalon.