From Nor Cal to So Cal, I road tripped it 420 miles to the port of Long Beach, where I hopped aboard a high-speed catamaran that took me 22 miles across the open ocean to California’s very own island in the Pacific, Catalina. The island was once part of the Spanish Empire until it became part of Mexico and eventually the United States. In 1919, it came under the sole ownership chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr.
Wrigley’s vision for the 76-square mile island was that of a resort destination, and once again, California unapologetically delivered. With the establishment of Avalon and the iconic Catalina Casino in the early 1920’s, Wrigley strategically attracted attention to the island by making it the site of spring training for his own Chicago Cubs. The island soon became the preferred rendezvous for movie stars of Hollywood’s bygone golden era.
Stories of Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne ignite the magical nostalgia of Avalon on the island’s east side, while the mysterious and tragic drowning of Natalie Wood in the waters near the rustically beautiful westerly seaside village of Two Harbors remains etched in the town’s memory. A colorful art deco enclave of beach shanties amidst grand estates, Avalon’s charm is undeniable.
Approaching the island with the landmark casino and famed green pleasure pier in view, I suddenly felt a world away from mainland metropolis. Melodious clanking sails ringing through the harbor, quaint boutiques adorned with colorful tile, the sound of golf carts (the island’s preferred means of transportation) whizzing around town, and without fail, the sweet bronze statue of Old Ben greeting you upon arrival. Old Ben was a sea lion who appeared on the island around 1900, and took to the oceanfront drag of Crescent Avenue begging for food. He had a cameo in the 1914 movie The Sea Nymphs, and remained everyone’s favorite Avalon icon for over 20 years before heading back to sea.
With blue skies and mountain peaks framing the distant backdrop, Avalon’s Pavilion Hotel. in soft yellow with white trim was fresh and inviting. The building surrounds an expansive waterfront courtyard that is trimmed with a lush tropical landscape that screams mai tais and margaritas.
It felt like my own little slice of Tahitian paradise as I took in a pink hued sunset while being warmed by the fire. I gazed at the ocean view while enjoying my complimentary wine and cheese. By morning, I was in the hotel library of soft blue, white and rattan, taking in the sunrise while dining on freshly baked quiche, smoked applewood bacon, and fresh orange juice from the complimentary breakfast bar.
Catalina warrants more than just a day trip. The list of fun and adventure available on the island can easily fill a long weekend. For instance, at 600-feet above sea level, a zip line traverses through the canyon and hits speeds upwards of 30 mph. As your list of island to-do’s grows, you’ll want to include the rock wall, Descanso Beach Club, the Island Spa, the Catalina Island Golf Course, the Wrigley Memorial, a day trip to Two Harbors, a feature film at the casino theater, and without question, the Mini Golf Garden, the most lovely yet challenging mini golf course I’ve had the pleasure of playing.