Staying at the Banning House Lodge in Catalina Island, California is a mystery, as far as internet research goes. An archaic website was all I had as reference prior to our stay. Even the booking site reminded me of the 1990’s. It is such a shame. The Banning House has now become one of my favorite getaway spots. It is appropriately isolated. The beautiful home has a great view perched atop a hill. The vibe is truly relaxing and the history of the house really transported me to a place back in time – one without the rush of technology and progress. I thought I’d share everything one needs to know about staying at the Banning House. Just so the interwebs can have a taste of this great vacay spot.
History on the Banning House Lodge
The craftsman-style house was built by the Banning brothers in 1910, who owned Catalina Island since 1892. It was their summer home and they hosted soirees, dinner parties, and celebrations on their large property. It took two days to get to their summer home from Avalon. The Santa Catalina Island Company was created to attract visitors to their summer house.
In the early 1919 they sold the Island (and eventually the Santa Catalina Island Company) to William Wrigley Jr, known for Wrigley gum. Over the years, the Lodge served as the U.S. Coast Guard officer’s quarters during WWII, as a private girls camp in the late 1950’s, a hunting lodge, and as employee housing. Today, the Banning House is a twelve room bed and breakfast with a historic and warm feel and beautiful panoramic views of Two Harbors.
Getting to Banning House
The Banning House lies on the Northern end of Catalina Island. It is the only bookable stay, aside from campgrounds. To get to Banning House, one must take a boat ride to Two Harbors. The only straight shot from the coast of California is from the San Pedro Harbor. Other harbors go to Avalon on the south side of the island first, before landing on the north end. A direct boat ride takes a little over hours, while pitstops in Avalon turns it into two.
About Two Harbors
The northern part of the island is quite deserted. It’s a hiker’s paradise, with a third of the Trans-Catalina Trail starting and ending at Two Harbors in a loop. The coastline is dotted with isolated beaches, summer camps for kids, and a Boy Scouts campground. In the ‘town’ of Two Harbors, there is only one restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner. A gift shop, however, had all the foods one would need, including ice cream. There is also a rental company from which to rent kayaks, SUPs, and bikes. Summer weekends typically have live weekends and the boats from Avalon arrive at Two Harbors around 11am. My recommendation is to get your rentals as early as 9am when they open, to avoid the crowds. Then again, lunch time at the restaurant is quite fun as people dance to the live music.
What to Expect at the Stay
The Banning house sits atop a hill. A shuttle will be there to welcome you as you disembark from the boat. They will offer you and your bags a ride to the top. However, the walk isn’t far. Ten minutes is all it takes to get to the check-in door. Check-in is at 4pm and check-out is at 12 noon.
The kind staff will give you a tour of the house’s amenities upon arrival. A wrap-around porch gives scenic views of both harbors. Rickety rattan porch furniture immediately imbue the right mood. This is a place for relaxation. When we landed, current guests were just sitting on the porch looking at the view. There were no laptops or cell phones to be found. Limbs were strewn over the arms of rocking chairs, feet were propped up on glass tables. Most had coffee in hand, a father and son were playing a game of chess, and others were reading books.
There is a common indoor space which also has sweeping views of the two harbors on either side. Walking into it smells like walking into grandma’s house. Actually, it felt like stepping back in time. Bison and deer heads lined the walls, firewood sat next to the fireplace and an old cob-webbed piano sits in a corner. There is a sun-room, and shelves lined with puzzles and traditional boardgames. A few soft cover books with bent spines and yellowing pages can also be found. This isn’t a fancy place, but it’s nothing short of romantic.
The rooms are also of a similar tune. The beds are a bit on the lumpy side, the wardrobe doors creak as you open them, and the curtains remind me of lace doilies. There are two chairs by the window sill with a small foot stool. A mini fridge is found in the room, along with a full bathroom. The shower spews hot water with decent pressure. The simple appointments are really humbling. It reminds me of my youth, when times were simpler and a vacation really meant idleness.
Perhaps one of our favorite parts about the stay are the complimentary meals. Every morning the Banning House hosts breakfast. Unlimited cereal, fruit, toast, muffins, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and ham make up the full line-up. Three juices, coffee and tea are also served. I loved waking up whenever my body told me to and slowly making my way to the breakfast bar. We literally sat on the porch looking out onto the water eating our breakfast for an hour. Then we would bring a book to our table and spend another two hours reading, looking out, and occasionally talking about whatever entered our minds.
Every afternoon, there would be wine hour from 5-6pm. Each person got two (very full) glasses of wine. You could choose from two Reds or a White. There would also be crackers, cheese, cured meats and honey. After a long day of hiking, we really looked forward to these wine hours. Exhausted from being in the sun all afternoon, we would unwind during this hour, before walking into the town restaurant for dinner.
Why I like staying at the Banning House
The Banning House is a surreal place. I love it for it’s ability to isolate. I mean, it IS on a deserted piece of island! Sitting atop the hill, it gives a bird’s-eye view of the world below. I have a different perspective when I am in a higher up location, which may be why I love hiking mountain-scapes. Things just make more sense at high altitudes. I can see, think, and feel more clearly. Plus the sound of ocean waves, sea birds, and breezy winds can’t be beat.
I also love it for its historic charm. Nothing about the home is modern, which means nothing about it makes me yearn for progress. It really gets me to slow down – quite a difficult feat. Usually, our vacations are laden with places to see, things to do, and foods to eat. This was different. Since the island had very few facts online about what the stay was going to be like, I made zero plans. I thought perhaps we could hike every day, but after tiring ourselves out with a 14-mile trek on day one, we pivoted and lounged all of day two.
Unlike other vacations which are strewn with schedules and timelines, there was no stress associated with this vacation. We just did whatever we felt like at that moment. I felt like a different person altogether. It reminded me of when my parents used to vacation in the Philippines. They laid about on the beach, went nowhere, ate snacks and drank beer. Their idea of a vacation was to eat dried mangoes and to sleep. That same simplicity is associated with this place. Perhaps that’s why it’s so special to me.
Who would like this stay
I definitely recommend this stay for young busybodies needing a break from incessant demands of modern life. The elderly will appreciate this quiet space. Parents looking for respite will find it here. Even families would love this place. During our stay, there was a multi-generational family staying with two grandparents, two parents and two kids younger than 8 years old. They went on hikes and had mealtimes together. I saw another family with two kids younger than five. They loved to throw rocks at the beach and swim in the ocean. And I saw a family with two teens. The son played chess with his dad at breakfast, the daughter told her mom about what she read in her book. It truly is a special place.