A hiking odyssey, snorkeling in a kelp forest, and camping in the wild. Luxuriating at a spa, kicking back with a cocktail in a cabana, then tucking in at a luxury hotel. These may sound like two different vacations. Happily, all these experiences and more await on Catalina Island. Here, it’s possible to tap into your sense of adventure along with a focus on mind, body, and spirit. Embrace these aspects of your personality and both sides of the island with a five-day, four-night Catalina Island Company getaway set to fulfill your heart’s every desire.
A Bit of History and Getting to Catalina
Love at first sight. The phrase could be used to explain why on a 1919 visit to Santa Catalina, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. decided to purchase the island. Wrigley’s vision for the island is still reflected today through historic sites like the 1929-built Catalina Casino. The Art Deco venue is a Catalina icon that continues to host movies (Fridays and Saturdays) in its Avalon Theatre, as well as guided, behind-the-scenes tours.
Heartbeats quicken for those traveling to Catalina when they catch sight of the Casino: they’ve arrived. Modes of transportation for said arrival can vary from the Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer ferries to personal boats. Another option is taking to the air on a helicopter or fly into the Catalina Island Airport in the Sky.
Before heading to Catalina’s rugged side, consider stowing luggage for the second half of your trip with Avalon Blueline Baggage service. Catalina Island Company’s Avalon-based hotels will also stow luggage for guests. When ready to head to Two Harbors, one can simply hop aboard Cyclone powerboat (available May to September with additional dates added throughout the year) from Avalon’s Green Pier.
That yearning to get in touch with nature, though, will likely find you lacing up hiking boots for full-throttle immersion in the adventures ahead.
The Wilds of Catalina Island
Though many take advantage of Catalina’s proximity to Southern California for a quick getaway, there are many reasons to extend a stay. Among them, hiking along the island’s 165 miles of trails. Folks sporting backpacks could be on a two-mile hike to Silver Peak or undertaking the epic 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina trail. Either way, they’re embarking into territory where it’s possible to see Catalina Island Fox, American Bison, mule deer, and bald eagles. This is the “wild side” of Catalina, otherwise known as Two Harbors.
Exploring Two Harbors located on the western side of Catalina, brings with it many rewards. Spend a few days soaking in the area’s ambiance. Several diverse options are available for accommodations. There are five campgrounds throughout Catalina, including one in Two Harbors. All are pack-in/pack-out. Two Harbors and Hermit Gulch campgrounds offer tent cabins with cots that can be booked along with packages of items like a lantern, stove, and matches. Additional supplies can be purchased or delivered through Two Harbors General Store. Though wood fires are prohibited at some sites, artificial roasting logs can be used in firepits. Book campgrounds in advance and note a two-night minimum stay is required on Friday and Saturday nights during peak season.
Prefer more luxurious trappings? Banning House Lodge is a 12-guest room Craftsman-style lodge all about enjoying Isthmus Cove views, so there’s no internet to distract. Continental breakfast and a nightly wine and cheese reception are available daily. Villa Rosa and Villa Santa Cruz accommodations are ideal for families or groups looking for bonding time.
When ready to commune with nature, Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center has rentable gear for everything from SCUBA, snorkeling, and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) to kayaking, cycling, skiff boating, bocce ball, and horseshoes.
After working up an appetite, head to the Harbor Reef Restaurant for a bite. Something that will excite seafood fans—when a swordfish flag is flying on Isthmus Pier, this means freshly-caught swordfish fillets are on the menu.
Later, grab a palapa on the white sand beach of Harbor Sands to meditate, accompanied by the sound of waves. Visions of spa treatments may come on. It’s time to head to Avalon.
Tuning in Via Avalon
When returning to Avalon from Two Harbors aboard the Cyclone, several landmarks welcome, among them, the iconic Catalina Island Casino and the Catalina Chimes Tower. As if signaling a meditation practice of their own, the Deagan Westminster chimes play every fifteen minutes, sounds first heard on the island in 1926. Get a closer look by hiking up to the Spanish-style tower, where panoramas of Avalon Harbor unfold below. Where better to contemplate the rejuvenating days that stretch ahead?
Where to stay while in Avalon? Looking for solitude coupled with opulence? The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mt Ada sits on a hilltop with endless Pacific vistas. Once the home of William and Ada Wrigley Jr., the six-guest-room property reflects an era of timeless sophistication. Ushering in romance are rooms with fireplaces and balconies. Making it easy to pop down to Avalon are guest golf carts. Other amenities that may see guests staying put– daily breakfast, lunch, and an evening wine and cheese plate. Added to the mix is access to a complimentary butler’s pantry stocked with fruit, nuts, popcorn, ice cream, and a wide variety of beverages.
Two other Catalina Island Company properties to consider are in the heart of Avalon. The 1920s-built Hotel Atwater was renovated in 2019, the “island deco” elements of which still have folks buzzing. Special touches, like two splits of sparkling wine on arrival day, welcome, “Stay a while.” A third option that warms hands with its firepit and hearts with its 14-step proximity to the beach is the Pavilion Hotel. A sense of camaraderie is present here, especially on the patio lounge during the nightly wine and cheese reception. An apt description for the hotel: downright friendly.
After check-in, if wistful memories of the wilds of Catalina surface, several Catalina Island Company expeditions can serve as touchstones. The two-hour Ridgetop Eco Adventure whisks travelers to Catalina’s rugged backcountry in an open-air biofuel Hummer. The ultimate destination: 1,500 feet above sea level atop East Peak. Hoping to catch sight of more American bison? The two-hour Bison Expedition winds through some of the buffalos’ favorite haunts in Middle Ranch and up Cape Canyon to Black Jack Mountain.
Appealing to the adventurer’s soul is the Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour. Five lines set guests aflight through a grove of eucalyptus trees en route to the Pacific. Upon landing back at the Descanso Beach Club, there’s still an adrenalin rush to be had at the Catalina Aerial Adventure’s courses featuring rope ladders, balance beams, zip lines, and log bridges. Also causing heartbeats to hasten is the Catalina Falconry Experience, through which participants learn about the island’s birdlife and don special gloves for a lesson in holding and casting raptors.
Cap off the perfect day at Avalon Grille over Wrigley Martinis and harbor views. Savor seasonal dinner entrees, like the Hamilton Cove Cioppino with Cajun shrimp, scallops, octopus, clams, and andouille sausage with this thought… Tomorrow’s going to be even better.
Greet the sun at Island Spa Catalina. A day of pampering awaits. Start with an 80-minute Harbor Scrub & Body Wrap, where exfoliation and cocooning occur. Follow with the 50-minute Catalina Trail Massage geared for releasing well-gained tension in all the right spots. Conclude with an 80-minute Hi-Tech Facial replete with non-infusion, micro-current lifting, and red-light therapy.
Afterward, flit between floating in the pool and time in the dry sauna and eucalyptus steam room. Happily, it’s possible to purchase day passes for these spa components if you choose not to book a service. Not to be missed is the memorable ocean-view relaxation deck, with healthy bites and fresh-pressed juices from Encanto Café delivering sustenance.
Reveling in the seascape may trigger the urge to plunge toes into the sand. Reserve a cabana at Descanso Beach Club to close out the day. Highly recommended during this time—sipping on Catalina’s official cocktail, Buffalo Milk. A little crème de cocoa, Kahlua, crème de banana, vodka… Island deliciousness.
How to bring the perfect Catalina stay to a close? Something magical that speaks to this island destination, a nighttime Flying Fish Voyage (50 minutes, available June through September). Step aboard the Cyclone and cruise under the stars. Joining them in the sky, the Cheilopogon Pinnatibarbatus Californicus, aka California Flying Fish. Of course, fish fly in Catalina. This is, after all, where hearts take flight.