A Palos Verdes writer discovers adventure and admiration on an evolving Catalina Island.
“There is Catalina!” I uttered those words for decades while curiously gazing at Santa Catalina Island, a mere 22 miles away from the South Bay. Finally curiosity trumped misguided perception, and I made a virgin voyage to Avalon by boat organized 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 that a developmental refresh button has been pushed for the year-round personal and corporate destination. Instrumental in the relaxed-meets-sophisticated ongoing rejuvenation of the 102-year-old city of Avalon is Santa Catalina Island Company. With a business culture that balances growth, historical reverence and environmental stewardship, the company is the island’s forward-thinking leader of change.
CATHERINE’S TERRACE & DESCANSO BEACH CLUB
One of the most notable additions to Avalon 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.
“There is no place in southern California where you can have a board meeting or wedding reception that literally looks down on the waves breaking on the beach,” says Randy Herrel, CEO of Santa Catalina Island Company.
A short walk from the stunning setting of Catherine’s Terrace through beautiful native plants and drought-friendly landscaping (designed by South Bay resident Deborah Richie-Bray) 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.
“Everyone is welcome at the Descanso Beach Club and Catherine’s Terrace, from a CEO and his or her board of directors to a wedding party or a couple who just wants to relax and have a burger,” says Randy.
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 and transformed it into 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. “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 and nostalgic, world-class 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 (often booked by bridal parties), a café, salon, courtyard soaking pool, wellness studio and a shop that offers resort wear, artisan gifts and a custom skin care line made with island botanicals.
A LOOK AHEAD
At press time, Santa Catalina Island Company was putting the pre-opening finishing touches on Latitude 33—a new, luxurious retail store with high-end apparel brands. The organization’s recently approved five-year development plan also includes a four-diamond hotel with 100+ rooms, a new waterfront restaurant, upgrades to the Hotel Atwater (also completed last year at the popular Pavilion Hotel) and adding unique restaurants from the mainland to offer a broader array of visitor dining experiences.
Randy adds, “Our goal at the Island Company is to reposition hotel properties, new dining and new retail to offer more activities and venues for individuals and corporate groups while respecting the environment and history.”