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Reminiscent of a laid-back Mediterranean isle, California’s Santa Catalina Island is the kind of getaway destination that calls for long strolls along the water, nature exploration and a trip (or three) to the spa. And any stay on the island — which is part of Los Angeles County and just an hour ferry ride from ports in San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point — should feature the same relaxed, intentional vibe.
For clients looking for such an experience, the newly renovated Hotel Atwater in Avalon beckons with a bright, fresh design, a welcoming staff and modern amenities. The 95-room historic hotel, originally opened in 1920, emerged last fall from a total overhaul that readied the property for a new decade while retaining its roots.
Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. opened the hotel 100 years ago after he purchased the Catalina Island Company; he named the property in honor of Helen Atwater Wrigley, the wife of his son Philip Knight. Today, Hotel Atwater nods to nostalgia with touches such as bud vases filled with fragrant carnations — Helen’s favorite — and a complimentary sparkling wine reception from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the lobby, to reflect Helen’s famous hospitality.
The lobby is a perfect starting point for any guest of Hotel Atwater: Here, general manager Andrew Allen began a property tour by pointing out to my friend and me the original Wrigley family safe, books of family history and an accordion and harp that reflect Helen's love of music. We previewed the property’s six suites — four large and two juniors — which are named after Wrigley family members. The oceanview Philip Knight Suite, for example, can hold four guests with a king bed and a double sofa bed, and features sitting and dining areas. All guestrooms showcase pops of coral and teal against soothing beige, and they offer digital concierge tablets, high-speed Wi-Fi access and smart televisions.
Our standard room with two queen beds was cozy, but we didn’t spend much time inside. Shortly after arrival, we headed around the corner to Avalon Grille. With warm wood accents, a high ceiling and a large central bar, the “elevated casual dining” spot (aka the “fancy” restaurant on Catalina) focuses on meat and local seafood. It also offers signature cocktails such as the Wrigley Martini, which comes with a pack of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum. I recommend the grilled octopus to start, followed by the pan-seared scallops or the andouille and lobster ballerina pasta. Avalon Grille’s breakfast buffet, which runs daily from 7 to 10:30 a.m., is complimentary for Hotel Atwater guests.
Late risers who miss the buffet need only roll out of bed and into the space adjacent to Hotel Atwater, where grab-and-go venue Bistro at the Atwater — open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. — awaits with coffee, tea, smoothies, breakfast burritos, muffins and more.
After fueling up, guests can choose from a number of island activities, including biking, local walking tours and off-road bison expeditions. We opted for a journey above the treetops: The two-hour Zip Line Eco Tour brought us 600 feet above Descanso Beach Club, from which a series of five ziplines took us across Descanso Canyon at around 35 mph. During the excursion, our two naturalist guides taught us about the local flora and fauna.
To unwind after the adventure, I headed to Island Spa Catalina, located centrally in Avalon. The 15,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor space is located partially within Avalon’s historic El Encanto building. Spa amenities include nine treatment rooms, soothing lounges, private suites, a Jacuzzi, a soaking pool, a dry sauna, a eucalyptus steam room and a relaxation deck with ocean views. There’s even a wellness studio with a cafe and instructor-led fitness classes. My 50-minute massage with Jennifer Lopez encapsulated my overall experience on the island: relaxing, stimulating and transportive. (While not the singer-actor, I’d argue that this Lopez is iconic in her own right as a massage therapist.)
The spa treatment finished just in time for Hotel Atwater’s sparkling wine reception. And, just as Helen Atwater Wrigley once graciously entertained guests, the hotel’s staff welcomed us back warmly, with big smiles and flutes of bubbly — the perfect end to a getaway that’s close to home but worlds away.
Unless clients want to charter a private yacht, they’ll need to book a ferry reservation with Catalina Express. Year-round, its fleet of eight high-speed vessels transports passengers in about an hour from ports in either San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point to the Catalina ports of Two Harbors or Avalon. Catalina Express offers up to 30 scheduled departures per day. Tickets run about $75 for one adult, round-trip, and $60 for one child (ages 2 to 11), round-trip. Catalina Express offers 10% travel advisor commission.
Pro tip: An upgrade to the Commodore Lounge ($15 one-way) includes priority check-in and boarding; more comfortable seating in a lounge environment; and a complimentary beverage with a packaged snack.
The DetailsHotel Atwaterwww.visitcatalinaisland.com