Fly to Avalon, the historic oasis of Catalina Island – Orange County Register
Was it a dream?
Have we really escaped our busy schedules and incessant emails for an entire day? I think it’s a beautician gently exfoliating my forehead during a facial at Island Spa Catalina.
We needed a getaway. But how did we escape the realities of motherhood and full-time work – especially when it feels like the world is dependent on us all the time?
But ask and the universe will listen.
In May, the Coast team – editor-in-chief Samantha Dunn, art director Karen Kelso and I – were invited to a working retreat at Avalon on Catalina. Set among the Channel Islands of California, Avalon looks like a movie set in a lifetime movie or a romantic town drawn in a melancholy novel. Even his name – “Avalon” – sounds like a storybook. Island tradition says that the town was named after a line from a poem by Tennyson titled “The King’s Idylls”. The poet imagined a mystical place where King Arthur found solace and recovered after an uphill battle. Like Arthur, we had also found our refuge in Avalon.
That morning our team of three boarded a Catalina express ship. When we pulled out of the port of San Pedro, blue waters splashed below. Our trio clung to the handrail and let the salt-kissed jets of seawater sprinkle our faces. It is as if we are cleansed. Demands. Homework. The chore. Yet in barely an hour we were transported. (If we had flown by helicopter it would have taken us 10 minutes.) We left our realities on the mainland and took a dip in the seaside oasis of Catalina.
With an array of hotels, activities and other attractions owned and operated by the Catalina Island Company, space remains a closely maintained business. The main priority of the Catalina Conservancy is the protection of the island. As the rest of California rushes to tear down and modernize, Avalon is refreshingly laid-back, comfortable with its historic undertones. Golf carts remain the primary mode of transportation. Hobbies involve long periods of time outdoors with nature – hiking the hills to Two Harbors, snorkeling in the blue ocean, spotting Garibaldi fish as they soar to the surface, followed by buffaloes and other carefree and seemingly lost ways of getting through the day. That’s the beauty of Catalina. You just slow down because that’s what the locals are doing. Everyone is friendly like the residents of a Mayberry by the sea.
Town hairstylist Lolo Saldana, 90, cuts hair in his shop just steps from the promenade. He spends his days talking about history. The decades spent on the island are swirled in the memories of Saldana. On its walls, photos of Hollywood stars turn brown in their wooden frames. Baseball memorabilia line the shelves – bobbleheads and signed balls, Opening Day flyers and Cubs jerseys. For 60 years he has been cutting hair on Avalon. During this time, Saldana gathered the history of the island. The locals stop to chat. Others sit down for a quick cut. They all bask in his presence.
Just outside the barber shop, our team board an air-conditioned bus for the 125th Anniversary of Catalina Island Co. The hour-long tour takes you to the main historic sites of Avalon. Immediately, the Wrigley family’s bond with Catalina is evident. The chewing gum mogul and baseball club owner treated Avalon like his dream home. It was the site where Wrigley’s Chicago Cubs held spring training for three decades (1921-1951). During the visit, you pass through the cultivated field. A shuttered bird sanctuary and exotic botanical garden illustrate how the company preserves nature through experiential education.
Mt Ada, the former Wrigley Mansion, is now a 4-star Forbes Travel Guide hotel. The quaint family home has been converted into a Bed & Breakfast with stunning views of Avalon and beyond. Lunch is served on the outdoor terrace, which offers the most picturesque harbor views imaginable.
As the past is deeply rooted in Avalon, changes emerge. A newly renovated Atwater Hotel will open this summer. the Catalina Island Museum hosts community events and summer movie nights. An exhibition of Elizabeth turk (a 2018 Coast women honored), which chirps into sculpture birds, opens July 13 and is expected to attract a large group from the mainland. Turk’s art, much like the museum itself, plays with Catalina’s relationship with wildlife. How can we preserve and still enjoy a place like this? How do you avoid destroying the wonder in the marvelous?
Annual events such as The original Catalina wine mixer (September 6-7) and Conservation Ball (April 25, 2020) which is held in the historic Casino building responds to this by attracting new visitors. They illuminate the beauty and the community of the island. As we left for the mainland, nature bade us farewell with a light show. The sun’s rays bounced off the surface of the water. Sparks of gold and fuchsia twinkled on the horizon. As the vessel gained speed, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. Our trio laughed as we recapped our wonderful day. By the time we got home it was dark. But we were happy. Next time we will take the children. ■