Discovering adventure and admiration on Catalina Island amidst its transformation from sleepy, touristy town to world-class destination
There is Catalina!” I uttered those words for decades while curiously gazing at Santa Catalina Island, a mere 22 miles away from my home in the South Bay. Finally curiosity trumped misguided perception, and I made a virgin voyage.
I traveled to Avalon by boat, an expedition arranged by Redondo Beach-based Elite Resorts & Spas. Delighted and intrigued by my short visit, I went back a few months later on a quick Island Express helicopter flight to further explore.
Beyond the tourist activities that Catalina is renowned for (zip-lining, hiking, boating, scuba diving, kayaking and wild buffalo sightings, to name a few), I discovered the island is flush with development in an effort to become a year-round personal and corporate destination. Instrumental in the rejuvenation of Avalon is Santa Catalina Island Company, known for its ability to balance historical reverence and environmental stewardship.
CATHERINE’S TERRACE & DESCANSO BEACH CLUB
One of the most notable additions to the 102-year-old city is the newly constructed Catherine’s Terrace—a magnificent, early California revival architectural design.
Perched above Descanso Beach at the site of the former Hotel St. Catherine (a getaway for Hollywood’s elite from the early 1900s until it was torn down in 1966), its name pays homage to its glamorous past and is a must-see wedding, corporate meeting and special events venue.
A short walk from the stunning setting of Catherine’s Terrace through beautiful native plants and drought-friendly landscaping is the new Descanso Beach Club—another salute to history and the former hotel’s original beach club. Whether renting a private cabana, swimming in the pristine ocean water or enjoying a cocktail with your feet in the sand, it is the perfect place to escape from the world.
ISLAND SPA CATALINA
In contrast to the new construction of Catherine’s Terrace, Santa Catalina Island Company renovated the nearby El Encanto historic landmark on Crescent Avenue. It is now Island Spa Catalina—the island’s first destination spa, which has garnered national and international accolades since opening late last year. The original footprint of the 1930s-built Paseo del Encanto was meticulously preserved even after discovering mid-construction that 70% of the structure was built on dirt instead of a concrete foundation.
“Normally the project would have been a tear-down because it would have been less expensive to rebuild,” says Randy Herrel, CEO of Santa Catalina Island Company. “But we did not do that because the Wrigley family tradition is to preserve history while looking to the future. So we jacked up the building, poured a new foundation, reset the building and then restored it.”
The exquisite spa is a unique blend of historical architecture and contemporary, island-inspired design. A short walking distance from the heart of Avalon and steps from the beach, it boasts ocean-view treatment rooms, a rooftop relaxation deck, two spa suites (available for bridal parties), a café, salon, courtyard soaking pool, wellness studio and shop with resort wear and artisan items.
A LOOK AHEAD
Santa Catalina Island Company is currently putting finishing touches on Latitude 33—a new retail store with high-end apparel brands. The organization’s five-year development plan also includes a 100+-room, four-diamond hotel, a new waterfront restaurant and adding more restaurants.
Machu Picchu is a family-run Van Nuys restaurant that’s a longtime favorite for Peruvian comfort food. Count Chef Phillip Frankland Lee among their fans.