Aerial adventure, safari and lots of sightseeing kept family entertained on a holiday getaway
By MARLISE KAST-MYERS
MAY 23, 2019 7:28 PM
Growing up, my family took Easter seriously. We’d decorate eggs for the big hunt, dress in our Sunday best and impatiently wait as my dad stashed eggs in the garden.
In grass-lined baskets were foil-wrapped bunnies and candy-coated chocolates, both sidelined for plastic eggs filled with pennies, nickels and dimes.
More than three decades later, tradition hangs on by a thread, now with my parents hiding shelled bounty for my teenage niece and nephews. Coins have been replaced with dollar bills, and candy substituted by trail mix. Short-lived entertainment has quelled long-term anticipation, something that seems inevitable with the changing of times.
I’m partially to blame for breaking family custom, having no children of my own or much of a desire to join the big hunt. Instead, my husband, Benjamin, and I look for an easy escape from commercial holidays — somewhere close enough to San Diego, but far enough from home.
Enter Santa Catalina Island.
One hour by car and then another hour by ferry, this rocky island 22 miles off California’s coast is accessible from Dana Point, Long Beach, and San Pedro harbor. For $125, you can arrive by a helicopter flown by none other than “Falcon Crest” actor Lorenzo Lamas.
Like 95 percent of other visitors, we arrived at the island by Catalina Express ferry. The moment our feet touched land, we inhaled that travel-ready ether that hits us with every trip; it’s a readiness to discover, an openness to grow and a willingness to bend a little with the unpredictable.
And so we bent, expecting our scheduled bellman to welcome us at the boat dock, but instead, finding golf-cart taxis zipping around the loading zone. With one bag in tow, Benjamin and I decided to walk the 10 minutes to Pavilion Hotel, a midrange property that lured us with its complimentary breakfast and daily wine-and-cheese reception.
The central location made it easy to stroll the main town of Avalon, a utopian dream of leisure, luxury, and laughter built by chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr. In 1919, he paid the pioneering Banning brothers $3 million for fire-ravaged Catalina and invested millions more to transform the rugged island into a tourist attraction.
Between 1919 and 1929, Wrigley laid infrastructure with water, utilities, telecommunications, streets, schools, homes, hotels and steamships. His vision wooed everyone from Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan, to Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin.
But Wrigley didn’t build his island empire for Hollywood’s elite; He built it for the gum-chewers of the world. Catalina was his token of gratitude to those who believed in him, or as he put it, “the tired shop girl, the artisan, the clerk, and the Boy Scout.”
Despite Catalina’s proximity to Los Angeles, traffic is seldom an issue on this (almost) car-free island. Even the 5,000 permanent residents are limited to one golf cart per household. There’s plenty of room to breathe with some 200 rental cottages and 20 hotels dotting cheerful Avalon.
Although lodging was on point, accommodations took a backseat to what we experienced, starting with lunch at Descanso Beach Club. Cradled on one of the last private beaches in California, this casual beach bar was fashioned from salvaged wood from the century-old Hotel St. Catherine. From the white-sandy shores of Descanso, we grabbed a breezy bite while kayaks and paddleboards glided through our postcard snapshot.
Towering palms and water as royal blue as the American flag triggered a mental escape, and for a split moment, I forgot where we were. It’s easy to lose yourself in Catalina, with sugary sands and sprawling lawns pitched with white-tent cabanas begging for summer brides.
Backing the beach is jungle-like terrain where zip lines and an aerial course suspend between the trees. As an avid rock climber, Benjamin jumped at the opportunity to harness in with Catalina Aerial Adventure. I told him I’d watch from below. But then, he reminded me that in travel, we bend a little with the unpredictable.
Before I knew it, I was hooked into the self-guided aerial course, walking narrow planks, tunneling through barrels, and balancing tightropes. With sweaty hands and trembling legs, it was like a horrible episode of “Ninja Warrior,” where the athlete has a panic attack and can’t let go.