Spring break on Santa Catalina Island

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of October 10-16, 1996
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Spring break on Santa Catalina Island
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Spring break on Santa Catalina Island
Question: My girlfriend and I are hoping to get away over what's typically spring break time. She works at a school so that's the only time we can get the time off from our jobs. We'll be staying in the continental United States and by then will undoubtedly be needing some warm weather. Where can we go and not be overwhelmed by the undergraduate throngs? Thanks in advance.

Randy Hofferbert
Columbia, MD
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Well, let's eliminate Daytona Beach and Moab right off the bat. That said, there's really only a couple of frost-free, wine-cooler-swilling-teens-free destinations suitable for a low-key spring break alternative. Consider booking your vacation at the Banning House Lodge on Santa Catalina Island, about 26 miles off the Los Angeles coast. I know what you're thinking, Randy: "Los Angeles? That smoggy hell? The Adventure Adviser must be nuts!" But cars are actually banned on Santa Catalina (!) and what the island lacks in bumper-to-bumper traffic, it more than makes up with its secluded, kayak-friendly coves, meandering hiking trails, and herds of resident bison.

Banning House is a rustic, 11-room inn on the isthmus between two harbors on the island's western end, within walking distance from the Catalina Express ferry dock. Most rooms have expansive views of the Pacific, with the hazy wash of mainland way off in the distance (squint hard and you can almost see the big HOLLYWOOD letters). When you get tired of lounging around on the porch, head down the hill to West End Dive Center for single boat dives ($15-$65 per person; 310-510-2800) or certification and refresher courses. There's great diving among sea kelp, orange garibaldi, and harbor seals right off the dock. They also rent sea kayaks (singles, $8 per hour; doubles, $11 per hour). There's no shortage of hiking trails, thanks to the Catalina Island Conservancy, which has saved more than 85 percent of the island from the developer's backhoe. Double room rates at the Banning House are $78-$140 weekends, and $54-$98 midweek, including breakfast.

Their six-night scuba program ($489 per person) includes five two-tank boat dives and lodging. Or go budget at one of their seaside campsites ($8 per person per night) or a rustic cabin ($39.50 per night). Call the folks at Banning at 310-510-2800 for more details. For other warm-weather ideas, check out "Frost-Free and Easy" in Outside's 1996-1997 Winter Travel Guide, coming online soon.

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