“Are there more resident bald eagles on the island or resident gays?”
My lesbian wife, the always-sunny Mary B. of San Diego, and I are 22 miles away from mainland USA on a chunk of land known as Catalina Island.
True to lesbian cliché, we met only months ago in the GayTravel Guru finals, and now we consider ourselves wed, making this island adventure our honeymoon of sorts. We are on a tour of the vast, rugged interior with two gay residents who work for the organization that controls 88 percent of the land here, the Catalina Island Conservancy.
There is an awkward pause, and then laughs all around. “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 an island that is only 55 miles around.
"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 laughs simmer down.
Catalina Island isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind as a gay destination, but this unassuming vibe this is one of Catalina’s best traits. It’s a mixed crowd, allowing you to mold your experience on the Island.
History of Catalina Island
Catalina Island was originally developed by the Banning Brothers during the Gay Nineties, a 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 Hollywood set, and its appeal was accelerated after chewing gum czar William Wrigley bought the Island in 1919. He quickly began to develop, bringing over his Chicago Cubs for spring training until the 1950s. Famous guests included Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmueller, Mickey Rooney, sexy screen sirens and starlets, and four U.S. presidents: Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
Posthumously outed, Rock Hudson, the Ricky Martin of his era, was famous for sailing over for weekend getaways. Catalina’s historical tapestry has golden gay threads woven throughout, and the feeling permeates your stay on the island.
Today, the glamor has faded somewhat, only to be replaced with a fascinating history lingering and 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.
Looking for an adventure
“Bummer,” I think, as the raindrops assaulted my face.
It rains an average of 11.9 inches a year on Catalina Island, a whopping 34 days of measurable precipitation yearly. So it was quite a surprise when the tumultuous clouds rolled over into Descanso Canyon, bringing with them some serious winds, and instantly eliminating the last morsels of warmth from my hands.
It also didn’t help that I’m zooming down a steel wire at speeds nearing 45 miles per hour.
The Eco Zip Line is the newest activity on the Island, and it’s pure joy. Despite the perpendicular wind gusts, the piercing cold drops were refreshing, invigorating, and awesome. It added a wholly unexpected dimension to the experience of flying down steel cables 300 feet above the Descanso Canyon floor.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeeee,” I hear behind me as my head whips around to catch the smash of the stopping block on the pulley. Mary B. is grinning like a Halloween pumpkin, with a perfect set of pearly whites. I can’t help but share her enthusiasm as she enthusiastically hoots “Wow!” It’s a fun ride, a pleasurable and stress-free adrenaline rush.
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 one single stoplight on the entire island!
The numerous outdoor experiences make for a soul rejuvenating weekend escape. In our 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. And 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.
Looking for romance
Catalina Island has been a romantic’s playground from the beginning of its development in the late 1890s.
Wrigley bought the island without even visiting, dozens of movies have bestowed romantic allure, and even the city’s name, Avalon means “beautiful isle of the blest.”
The Four Preps’ 1958 hit song “26 Miles” extolled the virtues of this island of romance, 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 there are individually personalized golf carts all over the island.
Mary B. and I are getting very cozy on our journey, savoring the tranquility as well as our mutual enjoyment of each other. This is our honeymoon, after all! We 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. On our way back, we sit on the wooden beach loungers that are part of the new Descanso Beach – straight out of Miami, we could easily imagine a group of friends sipping cocktails together in the attractive cabanas that line the beach.
We sit by the blazing fire pit at our hotel, the pleasantly updated Pavillion Hotel, sipping Rusack pinot noir and nibbling on goat cheese. We laugh as we observe workers carefully placing holiday lights high up the palm trees surrounding the hotel.
The sun is setting somewhere beyond the hills, and the clouds in Avalon harbor have turned a fierce purple. Families are returning to the hotel, and couples are affectionately chatting, faces close.
Each without our significant other, we quietly miss them and turn back to the moment at hand.