Twenty-six 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 the surfer hit, 26 Miles, Santa Catalina still is an island of romance, unspoiled beauty and endless fun, as well as a perfect place for family vacations with something for every age. The song, a breezy ditty, took the country by storm and has been playing in our 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 like 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 in a biofuel HI Hummer; and Flying Fish Boat Trip, for nighttime marine aviators. Craving more excitement? How about 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-acrophbics, parasailing and the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour.
Start your day at Original Jack’s Country Kitchen, then head to Descanso Beach Club for an oceanside lunch or dinner. Other recommendations are The Lobster Trap, for casual dining (go early); Bluewater Avalon, for sustainably-caught fish in a stunning setting; Avalon Grille, for upscale dining with wine-country style and vintage offerings.
We stayed at the Pavilion Hotel, and loved the amenities, service and oasis of tranquility just mere steps away from the hubbub of town. Complimentary wine, cheese and continental breakfasts pamper. Other lodgings include Hotel Villa Portofino, Snug Harbor Inn, and The Inn on Mt. Ada, once the summer home of William Wrigley, Jr.
Speaking of the Wrigleys, their stewardship, vision and philanthropy 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—the redesign of the city of Avalon, the Airport in The Sky, the hillside Chime Tower and the iconic Casino, to name a few.
The family’s greatest gift, undoubtedly, is the creation of the 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, a dollar for every year of the war.
The spectacular Casino (which you must tour) never was 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 reminiscent of Hollywood royalty streaming across the Pacific in the 1920s and ‘30s, the island simply oozes nostalgia; and yes, it still is an island of romance.
We dare you to visit The Four Preps website (thefourpreps.com) 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 us in. The island lures us back.