Faded but still fierce, Catalina oozes tropical romance just off SoCal’s coast
NICK VIVION | Contributing Travel Writer
“Are there more resident bald eagles on the island or resident gays?” my traveling companion asks a gay resident of Catalina, who works for the Catalina Island Conservancy, which controls 88 percent of the land here.
“Definitely gays,” exclaims Shaun, the knowledgeable biologist tasked with removing invasive plant species on the island.
It’s a fair question. There are a whopping 22 bald eagles living on the island, and there can’t be too many gays on a spit of land only 55 miles around. Catalina Island isn’t the first place that comes to mind as a gay destination, but this unassuming vibe is one of its best traits. It’s a mixed crowd, allowing you to mold your experience.
“I don’t think many gay people realize that other gays come to the island often. It is gay-friendly, relaxed and comfortable,” Shaun elaborates after the laughter simmers down.
Catalina was originally developed by the Banning Brothers during the period of prosperity in the late 19th century that brought the newly moneyed set to the island in droves, ready to party politely in their modest, fully-clothed bathing gear.
As Hollywood developed, so did interest in Catalina. It quickly became a glamorous getaway for the Tinseltown set, and its appeal was accelerated after chewing gum czar William Wrigley bought the island in 1919, bringing his Chicago Cubs here for spring training until the 1950s.
While the glamour has faded somewhat, Catalina’s historical tapestry has golden gay threads woven throughout, and the feeling permeates your stay on the island. And there’s still a fascinating history magnifying the romantic aura of the island. This place has a distinct whimsical appeal that combines with top class amenities and attractions to become a perfect gay getaway for those in Southern California and beyond.
Catalina Island has a growing and well-deserved reputation as an adventure destination. For those who crave an escape from the concrete gridlock of Southern California, there is not a single stoplight on the entire isle.
It has its modern perks. The Eco Zip Line is the newest activity on the island, and it’s pure joy. Strong winds on add a wholly unexpected dimension to the experience of flying down steel cables 300 feet above the Descanso Canyon floor.
The numerous outdoor experiences make for a soul rejuvenating weekend escape. In a two-day visit, we explored a botanical garden, avoided rattlesnakes as we hiked a portion of the 37.2 mile Trans-Catalina Trail, checked out one of three scenic and remote campgrounds, parasailed high above the ocean and went zip lining from mountain to sea.
There is also an incredible Marine Preserve called the Lover’s Cove, calm and ideal for snorkeling amongst the scintillating orange Garibaldi and spotted opaleyes. Several extensive wrecks are accessible for walk-in SCUBA diving on Casino Point, and you can tackle the challenging trails on mountain bike or by foot. Last but not least, exploring the island’s perimeter in an ocean kayak is an unparalleled way to get out onto the legendary crystal-clear waters along the Catalina Coast.
Catalina Island has been a romantic’s playground from the beginning of its development in the Gay Nineties. Dozens of movies have bestowed romantic allure, and the Four Preps’ 1958 hit song “26 Miles” extolled the virtues of its romantic side, which is now a perfect soundtrack to the quaint, timeless aesthetic on the island.
Development is strictly limited, so the architecture remains consistent. There is a 15-year waiting list for conventional cars on the island, so personalized golf carts dominate transportation. Walking’s not bad, either. Take a leisurely stroll from Avalon around the point past the stunning, 12-story Art Deco Casino, and onwards to the tidepools past Descanso Beach. Then end the night sitting by the blazing fire pit at the pleasantly updated Pavillion Hotel, sipping pinot noir and nibbling on goat cheese as the sun sets somewhere beyond the hills, and the clouds in Avalon harbor turn a fierce purple. Romance, indeed.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.