The Coast News Group
It's a 30-minute hike from downtown Avalon via Avalon Canyon Road to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden on Catalina Island. Idyllic campgrounds, which combine the best of the natural world with proximity to town, are situated along this shaded thoroughfare. Photo by Jerry Ondash
Columns Hit the Road

On Catalina, the climb pays off

With a trusted map in hand telling us where on Catalina Island we can venture on our e-bikes and where we can’t, we set out from Brown’s Bikes near the boat dock and head south on Pebbly Beach Road.

Riding an e-bike takes a little getting used to. We are newbies with these battery-powered bicycles, which are growing exponentially in popularity.

A Google search yielded imprecise-but-impressive numbers: In 2017, about 263,000 e-bikes were sold in the United States. Just a year later, that number was 400,000. Experts predict that by 2023, there will be 130 million e-bikes cruising the world.

Family and friends who own them love them. I’m a little more cautious when it comes to embracing e-bikes, partly because I feel guilty about riding a bicycle that requires not-so-much pedaling.

But I must admit, whizzing uphill with little effort is kinda fun.

Flying down Pebbly Beach Road, we put Avalon in our rear-view mirror (which we don’t have but could use)

This decorative arch, part of the substantial Wrigley Memorial at the gardens designed by his wife, Ada, used many local materials in the construction. The colorful ceramic tiles were made by a Catalina Island company, founded by William Wrigley, Jr., and have been popular with tourists for decades. Photo by Jerry Ondash

and ride through a tourist-free part of the island. This means little four-wheeled traffic, a good thing for two e-bike novices.

Later we cruise up Avalon Canyon Road, which leads to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden. We decide to visit the next day on foot.

It’s a 30-minute walk from the Bellanca, where we are spending two nights and three days. The 40-room, nautical-themed boutique hotel gives guests a bird’s-eye view of Catalina’s comings and goings from the new rooftop deck.

I discover that the low-grade, uphill walk to the memorial and garden requires more energy than pressing the throttle on an e-bike — which is probably a good thing.

We need to work off the lunch we enjoyed at Bluewater Grill (killer waterside views and perfectly cooked fresh fish), and we must earn our upcoming dinner at the casual, congenial Lobster Trap. The extensive menu and busy, welcoming bar make it a locals’ favorite. Both restaurants are gluten-free friendly.

Walking the road allows us to take in the details of the route, including an idyllic campground that combines the best of nature with proximity to Avalon.

Once through the garden entry, we can see the impressive Wrigley Memorial at the far end, lording over the garden’s 38 acres, which is divided into five plant zones.

The memorial pays tribute to Chicago chewing-gum millionaire William Wrigley, Jr., who purchased Catalina Island in 1919 and invested millions to make it “a playground for all.” His family still owns the property and manages it through the Catalina Island Company.

It was Wrigley’s wife, Ada, who made the garden her project in 1935. She focused on propagating plants that are native to California and the Channel Islands, but Catalina’s temperate climate makes it possible to grow plants from all over the world.

Californians will find many of the specimens to be familiar, but probably grander than what grows in home gardens. East Coasters and Midwesterners will find the collections exotic.

At the top of the memorial, made largely from materials from the island and iconic, colorful Catalina tiles, our climb is rewarded with a commanding view of the garden and beyond to the ocean.

I’m not sure why the Wrigley family decided to move William’s remains from here to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, because this seems like a suitable and celestial place to spend eternity.

We are grateful to soak in the ambiance of the landscape for something less-than-eternity and thankful that our return hike to the Bellanca Hotel is all downhill.

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