Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Catalina’s Hidden Gem

Catalina Harbor from Banning House Lodge, Photos by Dana Rebmann

There’s something about being on an island. There’s also something about being on an island when the town you’re in only has about 250 folks who call it home. No crowds, no waits. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city lining Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island is for you.

A Little Background

Santa Catalina Island, often shortened to Catalina Island or just plain Catalina, is a rocky island a little more than 20 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. William Wrigley, Jr., of the chewing gum empire, bought 99% of Catalina Island in 1919 with a vision of protecting it for all future generations to enjoy. A majority of the island is protected, with limited accessibility thanks to dirt roads and rugged terrain. It takes about an hour to drive the 23 miles between the two places people can call home on the island – the city of Avalon and the unincorporated town of Two Harbors.

Getting There

Catalina has a small airport used by private planes. Helicopter service is also available from Long Beach and San Pedro, but more than a million folks spend an hour on board the Catalina Express every year to reach the island. Boats sail to both Avalon and Two Harbors.  Avalon is where the action is. Go to Two Harbors to leave the action behind.

Two Harbors Isthmus Cove

Sunset at Two Harbors

Island Getaway

Two Harbors is a one of a kind type resort town. One restaurant, one bar, one well-stocked general store and one little red school house for kids kindergarten through 5th grade. Everything is within walking distance, so chances are, the only time you’ll see a car is when someone from the one bed & breakfast in town, the Banning House Lodge, meets you as you come off the boat to help with your luggage. If camping is your thing, there are numerous sites or rental houses are available, but a stay at the Banning House is anything but ordinary.

The narrowest part of Catalina, the town sits in the middle of two harbors (thus the name) just half a mile apart. The Banning House is perched in just the right spot to take in both seaside views. It was built in 1910 for the Banning brothers, who owned Catalina before Wrigley. The Craftsman-style B & B has no televisions and there are no phones in any of the dozen rooms. (I had a good cell signal my entire stay.) It’s the kind of place where families spend winter nights playing board games in front of a fireplace.

Two Harbors Bison

Bison out for morning stroll

Get Outside

But when the sun comes up, so do the temperatures and being outside is what it’s all about. Go for a hike and maybe you’ll meet some of the 150 or so bison that call Catalina home. Sometimes you’ll see them when you’re simply walking to the beach, the bison have a knack for finding their way into town. The bison were brought to the island in the 1920s to be in Zane Grey’s silent western "The Vanishing American." The footage never made it into the movie and the bison never left the island. Zane Grey lived on Catalina in Avalon. His former home is now a hotel, but you won’t see any bison hanging out there.

Two Harbors SUP

Paddleboarding in Isthmus Cove

Just off the beach you can rent just about anything you’d need to fill the day. Bikes, paddleboards, kayaks, snorkel and scuba gear, beach chairs, even horseshoes. Grab a paddleboard or kayak to explore nearby kelp beds and get a close-up view of the sea creatures that call them home. You could also spend the day sitting on the beach, happily doing a whole lot of nothing. One of many under-appreciated perks of being on an island.

Dana can be found on Twitter @drebmann

Dana’s trip was hosted by the Santa Catalina Island Company, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.