Catalina Island News

The Banning House Lodge


Stars twinkling in the midnight sky. A cup of tea and a good book in a cheerful nook. Peaceful solitude on a shady bench in a bougainvillea-brick-garden courtyard. A friendly game of gin rummy by the fireplace. Dusty trails that lead to somewhere and nowhere at the same time. A small village settled by the sun kissed sea. Intimate moments shared without life's interruptions. A cozy room that feels like home. Sound like Paradise? Welcome to the Banning House Lodge at Two Harbors.

If the term "rustic charm" was in the dictionary, The Banning House Lodge would be its definition. But this cliché doesn't begin to describe the serene setting tucked away on Catalina Island's secluded West End. Whether you are a solitary traveler in search of rest and relaxation, a couple who simply desires to "be" together, or a family who wants to spend some quality time, the Lodge is your place to "get away from it all."

Built in 1915 by the Banning family, as a summer retreat, the Banning House Lodge echoes with the voices of many yesterdays. A picture portrait of (dare-I-say?) dashing Phineas Banning, "Father of Los Angeles Harbor" and self made man, hangs on the wall of the Lodge room along with pictures of his wife and sons. Decades before, friends and family gathered there to play cards, partake in a cigar or a glass of port after dinner, exchange stories, and enjoy good company.

The caretakers of the Banning House have preserved the past for those of us in the present and future to take pleasure in. When you enter the Lodge room, the smoky scent of last night's fire transports you to a memory where happy times were had by all. It is easy to picture women passing time in the solarium, chatting about the day, sipping cold lemonade while the children played outside. The guest rooms have a familiar feeling; a welcoming place to set down your bags and stay a while. Which room did we stay in last year my dear?

The breakfast room is bright and cheery, with a small fireplace to chase out the morning chill and rose-print-linen-covered tables. The Banning House offers an excellent morning repast, with bagels, huge muffins, fruit, granola and yogurt, juice, coffee. The kitchen is available for guests as well, with complimentary tea and cocoa, a convection oven, a microwave oven, a walk-in cooler and storage room. Beer, wine and champagne is available on a self-serve honor system - you simply pay for what you take at the end of your stay.

The main house has guest rooms 1-6 and 11; 7-10 are separate cottages ideal for families. All the rooms are clean and comfortable, with a kind of country-gentry nostalgia. Room 11 is called "the Crow's Nest" - an ideal spot for honeymooners who want a little time alone - it is the only 2nd story room and has a private patio just for two; you can watch the sunrise through the curtained windows without leaving your bed. Another extra special room is #8 - with grand bay windows, the only room with a view of both Catalina Harbor and Isthmus Cove.

There are, however, things you will not find in any of the guest rooms - televisions, telephones, radios or clocks. Staff member Kate candidly admits that AAA will never give them a rating higher than two stars because of the lack of these simple amenities, but it is the "lack" of these things that makes The Banning House such a unique place to stay, and keeps people coming back for more. Without the rings and buzzes, babble and digital, the Lodge holds you in a timeless embrace and redirects your focus to the rising and setting of the sun, the scented ocean breeze, the sound of the waves, and each other.

Another major highlight of staying at the Banning House Lodge is location, location, location. Okay, if your idea of the perfect vacation includes spas, huge shopping complexes, dozens of eateries and bar hopping until the wee hours, well, sounds fun, but this place may not be your vacation location. But if you are into nature hikes, mountain bikes, ocean kayaks, snorkeling, fishing, strolling, or simply sitting and enjoying the moment, then you will love the Two Harbors area. You can take an introductory scuba diving class, or hop on a hummer for a wild ride on the West End.

The hills of Catalina roll gently into the sea, inviting you to wander and find your own quiet place. "Downtown" a sign shows which side of the dusty road is for feet, and which is for wheels. The General Store has more than you can imagine packed between those four walls, but if you have anything special you may need, bring it with you just in case. Grab a lunch at the West End Galley. There is also an outdoor bar, where you can unwind and have a cold beer or partake in the drinking of the traditional Buffalo Milk - a sweet alcoholic concoction that originated in Two Harbors and has gained popularity throughout the States. If you like it (watch out, Buffalos kick!), make sure to write down the recipe and bring a little of the Island to your local bartender.

Even though there is only one restaurant open for your evening dining pleasure, a pleasure it will be. The Harbor Reef Restaurant offers a wide variety of appetizers and entrees. With fresh swordfish, steaks, salads, pasta and's a place you would choose to go even if you had another choice. The bar seems a mile long (depending on how many Buffalo Milks you've had) with pool and darts at the end, a cool patio and a killer jukebox to satisfy the music lover in you.

A leisurely after dinner walk along a well-lit path will return you to your comfy room at the Banning House; take time to hold hands and gaze at the millions of stars in the dark night sky (they really do twinkle here!). If you are too tired to walk after your busy non-hectic day, the Lodge offers a courtesy shuttle that runs from 7am-9pm Sunday thru Thursday, and 7am-10pm Friday and Saturday. The shuttle also meets all the boats and brings luggage up and down the hill - it's only a one minute drive to where you are, so they run it as needed.

Hospitality is the key at The Banning House Lodge. Your hosts live on site, and, well, they love the place, its history, and the people who visit. There are some great off-season specials too. If you are arranging a week long vacation, a weekend getaway, a wedding, or a family reunion, call the ladies at The Banning House Lodge. They will help you with all that you need to make this trip to Paradise possible. The comments in the guest book really say it all - beautiful, relaxing, peaceful, heaven, magical, serene, great hospitality, never ever change. we'll be back.

Rebecca Twiss