They say you can never go home, but can you drop in for a vacation?

Taking in the view of Catalina Island's tranquil Cat Harbor.

Taking in the view of Catalina Island’s tranquil Cat Harbor.

An Oakland mom takes her family to Catalina Island to relive the memories of her own childhood vacations.

Words and most images by Amy Omand

Growing up, Catalina Island was a favorite vacation spot for my family. My dad was an avid boatman and we had a mooring at Emerald Bay located on the island’s ‘West End’ (that’s the official designation by locals). I had fond memories of long, lazy summer days spent there and now that I have a family of my own, I wanted to go back to Catalina to show my girls what summer vacation meant to me.
We chose Two Harbors, just below Emerald Bay, as our Catalina destination. It’s close to my dad’s old mooring spot and much more remote and rustic than the bustling city of Avalon, located at the other end of the island.

Two Harbors is where the mountains of Catalina dip down to sea level to create a natural isthmus. Here at this half-mile strip of land, you can walk from one side of the island to the other in about 10 minutes. On one side there’s Isthmus Cove which faces Southern California and is always full of recreational boaters. The other harbor, Catalina “Cat” Harbor, faces outward towards the Pacific and is calmer, with less boat traffic.

Boarding the Catalina Express ferry at San Pedro we settled in for ride trip to Two Harbors. Crossing takes little over an hour. That day the sea was a bit rough, making for some wobbly tummies on the boat but luckily nobody lost their lunch. Heading over, we were distracted by the sight of a family of dolphins playing in our wake and the way back we saw a pod of whales from afar, emptying their blowholes. It certainly beat a cramped plane ride any day!

Two Harbors prides itself on its small village feel and rustic qualities. As our hostess at the Banning House, the B&B we stayed at described, when you travel to Two Harbors, it’s like visiting old friends. People spending the night at Two Harbors either bring a tent to camp, have their own boat in the harbor, or are staying at the Banning House which was originally built in 1910 by one of the founding families of Catalina. We were incredibly comfortable in one of the family rooms (one queen bed and two twins), and the outdoor courtyard as well as the common room were great places to hang out, play a card game or take in the views. It’s perched on top of a hill, so getting to and from town is about a 10 minute walk, but they operate a shuttle each hour.

The view from the Banning House into Cat Harbor.

The view from the Banning House into Cat Harbor.

We quickly settled into a wonderfully slow-paced vacation routine: After a leisurely breakfast, we’d pack up our beach stuff and walk down the hill to the beach for the day. Around lunch we’d head to the one restaurant in town which has counter service for lunch and full service at dinner. There’s a large outdoor patio and bar that plays Tom Petty and John Mellencamp on heavy rotation. It’s a great place to get out of the sun for a bit and people watch as the boats come and go. There’s also one little market in town, where we stocked up on snacks and we were regulars at its walk-up ice cream counter.

After dinner we’d take advantage of the lingering daylight and cooler temperatures, often taking our time by stopping at the little playground  or walking to the Cat Harbor side and playing on an old tree swing. Eventually, we’d wind out way back to the Banning House and head in for books and bed.

Over the course of our stay, we rented kayaks, snorkeled (saw some amazing underwater wildlife!) and took a few hikes. My older daughter particularly loved jumping off the dingy dock and swimming back to shore.
The spectacular snorkeling and scuba off the coast of Catalina is one of the West Coast's best-kept secrets as this underwater shot taken at the Italian gardens reveals.

The fantastic snorkeling and scuba at Catalina is one of the West Coast’s best-kept secrets as this underwater shot taken at the Italian gardens reveals.

I was so happy that the area had preserved the fishing village charm I loved and remembered; not much has changed at Two Harbors over the past 20 years. This trip made fans of another generation and we all made promises to come back soon to make more memories. ‘Till we see you again, Two Harbors!

It was the Omand's first, but certainly not last, trip to Catalina.

It was the Omand’s first, but certainly not last, trip to Catalina.

Aerial Catalina island photo courtesy of Catalina Conservancy