Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 10:13 am | A Few Clouds 71º

 
 
 
 

Judy Crowell: Santa Catalina, the Island of Romance

South of Los Angeles, the island is perfect for family getaways, with unparalleled beauty and something fun for everyone

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of Santa Catalina.]

“26 miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me
Santa Catalina, the island of romance
Romance, romance, romance.”

Fifty-five years after The Four Preps introduced this first-ever surfer hit, Santa Catalina is still an island of romance, unspoiled beauty and endless fun. It's a perfect place for family vacations with something for every age.

The song, a breezy ditty, took the country by storm and has been stuck in my head ever since booking our hour-long Catalina Express ferry ride to the gorgeous harbor and sweeping hills west of Los Angeles.

Only 150 “real” cars are allowed in the town of Avalon. “Autoettes,” no bigger than a Mini Cooper, furnish transportation for Avalon residents. Golf carts, owned by locals and rented by tourists, are everywhere, creating an ideal place for guided tours: Avalon Scenic Drive to get your island bearings; Glass Bottom Boat Voyage for undersea marvels; East End Adventure for spectacular views of the island backside, seated in a biofuel HI Hummer; and Flying Fish Boat Trip for nighttime marine aviators.

Craving more excitement? Try scuba diving and shipwrecks to explore in this premier dive site; kayaking; stand-up paddling; snorkeling; marlin fishing in the deep waters; and, for non-acrophobics, parasailing and the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour.

Start your day at Original Jack’s Country Kitchen, then head to Descanso Beach Club for oceanside lunch or dinner. For the Lobster Trap, casual, go early. Bluewater Avalon offers sustainably caught fish in a stunning setting. Try Avalon Grille for upscale dining with wine country style and vintage offerings. We loved the bar with videos overhead, one for die-hard sports fans and one for a riveting show of island photography — either inspiring you to grab your camera and do likewise or causing you to run back to your hotel and delete the earlier day’s shots.

We stayed at the Pavilion Hotel, loving the amenities, service and oasis of tranquility mere steps away from the hubbub of town. Complimentary wine, cheese and continental breakfasts pamper.

Other lodgings include the Villa Portofino Hotel with a rooftop deck, Snug Harbor Inn for Cape Cod ambiance and Inn on Mt. Ada, once the summer home of William Wrigley Jr.

Speaking of the Wrigleys, their stewardship, vision and, of course, generous endowments date back to the early 1900s when chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. took over ownership of the island, bringing his Chicago Cubs along for spring training. The Wrigley family stamp is evident everywhere on the island: the redesign of Avalon, the Airport in the Sky, the hillside Chimes Tower and the iconic Catalina Casino, to name a few.

Their greatest gift undoubtedly is the creation of the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, deeding 88 percent of the island to be protected in perpetuity. With the onset of World War II, the U.S. government requisitioned the entire island for security and training purposes. Residents had to leave, and all tourism came to a standstill. At war’s end, a blank check was offered by Uncle Sam to reimburse the Wrigleys for all they had given in time of war. The family requested a check for $4 — one dollar for every year of the war.

The spectacular casino (which you must tour) was never a gambling hall. Alive with grand shows in the beautiful art deco theater, the sounds of the Big Band Era in the circular ballroom and Hollywood royalty streaming across the Pacific in the 1920s and ‘30s, the island simply oozes nostalgia and, yes, it is still an island of romance.

I dare you to go onto the Four Preps website for just 40 seconds and see if that catchy, carefree song doesn’t get stuck in your head. Just like the spell of the island.

The song lured me in. The island lures me back.

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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