As late-autumn snows swirled above the mountains around Backbone headquarters in Carbondale, account managers Elinor Fish and Mavis Fitzgerald escaped to Catalina Island, 22 miles off the Los Angeles coast for a media trip co-hosted by the Santa Catalina Island Company and Smartwool.
On the RIB Boat, headed to the island
They met with freelance journalists Ben Cramer, Ali Carr and Cindy Hirschfeld, Adventure Sports Journal editor Pete Gauvin and Smartwool’s Molly Cuffe at the Catalina Express terminal in Long Beach for the start of our Santa Catalina Island adventures.
After arriving in Avalon, which is the island’s only city and resembles a Mediterranean village thanks to its narrow, winding streets, whitewashed villas and palm trees. We hopped aboard a RIB boat (from Catalina Expeditions’ Ultimate Land and Sea Adventure) and zoomed along the Catalina coastline to Two Harbors, spotting playful sea lions and diving dolphins along the way.
In Two Harbors, a village home to less than 100 residents, we settled into our rooms at the historic, Craftsman-style Banning House Lodge (home to the island’s original owners, the Banning brothers, before they sold it to the Wrigleys of the Wrigley Chewing Gum empire) and enjoyed a fresh seafood dinner and bottomless glasses of boozy Buffalo Milk at the Harbor Reef Restaurant.
At sunrise the next morning, we met our trail-running guide, 22-year-old Natalie Foote, a fourth-generation Two Harbors local and state HS cross-country running champion, for a refreshing five miler.
Enjoying a refreshing run with Natalie
Following breakfast, we hiked with Catalina Island Conservancy naturalist Andrew Hobbs to Ballast Point, from which we enjoyed endless views over the Isthmus between Cat Harbor, Isthmus Cove and the rugged, undeveloped West End of Catalina Island.
Our group with one of the largest bison heads we’ve ever seen
That afternoon, we drove up to the Catalina Airport near the island’s center, where Bike Catalina equipped us with bikes and helmets and sent us on our way from the Catalina Airport for a 10-mile ride to Avalon (riding past grazing bison herds (a herd of 150 bison live on the island today, descendants of bison brought to the island decades ago for a film shoot). That night we enjoyed an amazing feast at the Avalon Grille, Avalon’s premier restaurant, where Executive Chef Paul Hancock prepared exquisite buffalo steak, salmon, lobster and other delicacies, paired with glasses of the limited-batch, first-edition Rusack–Santa Catalina Island wine, made from grapes grown on Catalina Island.
After dinner, we took in Avalon’s nightlife – with Ali taking the mic and rockin’ the house at a local karaoke bar – before retiring back to our rooms at the Pavilion Hotel. Despite the late-night fun, we were all up early the next morning to participate in Catalina Eco-Marathon or 10K. Molly and Pete were the most ambitious, tackling the relentlessly hilly off-road marathon course while the rest of us enjoyed a sun-kissed, eucalyptus-scented 10K through Avalon’s gently sloping streets.
We don’t have photographic evidence of karaoke, so here’s a shot of the Hummer used for open air tours of the island.
The rest of the day we indulged in delicious food, starting with lunch the M restaurant catered by Zest, featuring locally sourced, fresh ingredients. That evening, we enjoyed a specially prepared seven-course dinner at the Catalina Country Club, highlights of which included quail served with asparagus and polenta, baby abalone prepared in red wine, poached egg served with Oestra caviar, ending with orange caramel rice pudding.
We capped our Catalina adventure with swing dancing at the Casino, Catalina Island’s historic landmark that which was used in the 20 and 30s for Hollywood movie premiers, then later for Big Band concerts. Today it used for weddings, private events and special events such as the Catalina Island Swing Dance festival.
Flying over the island, we caught our last views of Catalina from the sky
All things considered, it was an incredible trip and we want to thank our clients for making it possible!