One of the easiest ways for a visitor to fall in love with a place is by exploring its restaurants and trying local food. In Avalon, that means spending an afternoon with Taste of Catalina Food Tours, which offers a couple of delicious ways to get to know the island.
We recently took the Food Tour (there's also a Happy Hour Tour), spending three fun-and-tasty hours sampling dishes and iconic drinks at local restaurants.
Don’t worry, it’s not just about stuffing yourself silly. Your leisurely walk around this vibrant area takes you through the picturesque village of Avalon, with oceanfront stops here and there while a guide tells you a little about the community and its quirky history. You'll learn about the pirates, bootleggers, entrepreneurs and celebrities who lived and loved here.
You'll also learn about the places locals dine. And find out about the town's interesting restaurateurs, such as Steve Bray, who, with wife Margaret, own a couple of excellent places to eat, Steve's Steakhouse and Maggie's Blue Rose, both at 417 Crescent Ave. Steve's is upstairs with a bay view; downstairs you'll find Maggie's, with great margaritas and contemporary Mexican food.
Steve is a fourth generation Islander who has been serving up his signature surf & turf since 2001. Our tour began at Steve's, with hibachi steak, marinated for 24 hours for melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, caramelized onions and coconut shrimp in a sweet and spicy sauce. Wow. We were off to a great start.
From there, we walked a few blocks to Mr. Ning's Chinese Garden, 127 Sumner St. This tried-and-true island favorite, opened by Leonard and Jan Ning in 1984, is a family operation and mainly serves traditional Chinese dishes. A bonus: it has some of the lowest prices in town, both for lunch and dinner. We tasted ginger noodle soup, cream cheese wontons and fell in love with the savory green beans.
By this time, we had burned a few calories with our stroll through town, but not nearly as many as we were ingesting, and there was a lot more in store for us.
We stopped next at Coyote Joe's, 113 Catalina St., to try chips, salsa and potato tacos; at Catalina Coffee & Cookie Company, 205 Crescent Ave., for sweet-and-spicy tea, dark chocolate pistachio bark and handmade cookies (this place has sinfully delicious baked goods); and at Bluewater Avalon, where we toasted our afternoon with a lovely glass of 14 Mile Pale Ale, made specifically for the restaurant.
Last on our afternoon itinerary was C.C. Gallagher, 523 Crescent Ave., where we tried a beer float: salted caramel gelato and ginger beer. It drew oohs and aahs from almost everyone in the tour group and was voted an incredible finale to a super foodie afternoon.
Taste of Catalina Food Tours is held daily at noon; tickets are $89. Info: 424.226.9443,