As we drive down the coast this fall on the frequent dry clear days, our eyes are drawn to the nearby islands. They seem so close and yet very far away. How many of us have actually visited any of the islands? Well, Catalina has the most to offer, and some incredible properties have opened up in recent years. This is the perfect time of year to visit, with great weather and subdued crowds.
Avalon is Southern California’s answer to the quaintness found in the small towns along the South of France or the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Spanish and Mediterranean-style buildings dot the rugged hills that rise up steeply from Avalon Harbor. The entire village of Avalon encompasses only a few square miles and can be seen upon approach from the sea. The famous Catalina Casino is the most noticeable landmark with the hilltop Mt. Ada coming in a close second.
There are numerous shops of all kinds to keep you busy, if so inclined. I actually like to hike the rugged terrain above town. Just walking up to Mt. Ada from the village will give you a good workout. Other trails are available for a more strenuous workout.
Santa Catalina Island Company owns and operates the best properties on the island including the well-known Mt. Ada and the newly restored Pavilion Hotel, where we stayed on this visit. Just a short walk from where the ferry pulls in, the Pavilion enjoys an ideal setting right in the middle of Avalon. The hotel is lushly landscaped in a way reminiscent of our own Four Seasons-Biltmore Hotel in Montecito. The rooms are spacious and employ a clean nautical theme with oversized bathrooms for more comfort.
The Pavilion is an easy stroll from just about anything in Avalon, including the Avalon Grille where we dined. Chef Matt was formerly with the Four Seasons Biltmore and the San Ysidro Inn. His servings still linger in my palate, especially the grilled octopus and wild king salmon. Once again the service was first class as were the surroundings with indoor and outdoor dining overlooking Avalon Harbor.
Mt. Ada is another property owned by the Santa Catalina Island Company. This hilltop bed and breakfast has always been a favorite Catalina destination and was the former Wrigley Mansion. The views of the harbor are stunning at this private estate, which would be ideal for a wedding or retreat.
The Beach Club
The Descanso Beach Club is also a new addition to Avalon and part of the Santa Catalina Island Company family. This very private facility is tucked in a cove just north of the Avalon Casino and easily accessible from the Pavilion Hotel. Take in a few hours of tranquility as you relax in a private cabana here with the Pacific just steps away.
Guests at the Beach Club can dine in the outdoor ocean-view patio area or in the comfort of their own cabana. The food and service was excellent, with a decidedly British flair as most of the employees seem to hail from the U.K. or one of its subjects.
Just behind the Descanso Beach Club is the Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour for the young and young at heart. The five lines propel guests from a 600-foot elevation including one line that is 1,100 foot long. This exhilarating tour takes two hours and offers tremendous Pacific Ocean views.
For more, go to VisitCatalinaIsland.com.
Luxurious high-speed ferry service is offered by Catalina Express with several ports served. The most popular routing is from San Pedro to Avalon with several daily options. They also service the more remote Two Harbors on the far side of the island from San Pedro, in case you are looking for more solitude. A third option is from Dana Point to Avalon if you are meeting friends or relatives and this is more convenient.
If you really want to travel in style, they offer two possible upgrade choices. For just a few dollars more you can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge with extra plush seating and better views from you elevated perch. Even more private and luxurious would be the Captain's Lounge which can seat six-eight passengers and comes with complimentary beverages. Visit CatalinaExpress.com for more details.