Alison Elizabeth Wrigley-Rusack took a historic and worn El Encanto shopping and dining complex in the city of Avalon on Catalina Island, and turned it into a luxury spa and community hub for residents.
She is the daughter of the former president and chief executive officer of the William Wrigley Jr. Company, the chewing gum manufacturer in Chicago, and former president and chief executive officer of the Santa Catalina Island Company. Alison took on the project and kept the integrity of the building, while installing an outdoor salt water swimming pool and whirlpool.
Recently I was offered a “Day at the Spa” Package that included a round-trip ferry aboard the Catalina Flyer, departing from Newport Beach, choice of a 60 minute massage or facial, complimentary treatment enhancement, $30 credit at Encanto Cafe, 25% retail discount at the Spa Shoppe and complimentary access to all spa amenities. Since I live in the Los Angeles area, they arranged for me to cruise to the island on the Catalina Express from Long Beach.
Cruise passengers have the option to pay an additional $15 for a seat upstairs in the Commodore Lounge. Guests receive a sweet or salty snack, alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage, early entrance onboard and the first to leave and step foot in Avalon.
Since the town is only one mile wide and one mile long, I walked to Island Spa Catalina admiring the storefronts, long green Pleasure Pier and colorful architecture dotting the hills.
Taking a tour inside the 15,000 square feet Mediterranean design facility with Spa Director Zach Thomas, he told me that Alison’s attention to every detail includes keeping the iron gate that once secured El Encanto and now hangs as a decorative piece near the entrance of the Women’s Locker Room and Lounge.
She also acquired the first Hot Sand Therapy table layered with heated, warm quartz sand. Lifting up the mattress, Thomas showed me how this table can be positioned into ergonomically positions to envelop one’s body to deeply relieve muscle, arthritic and joint pain.
During the renovations, Alison took out the local Solomon’s Landing restaurant on the second level, and built an ocean view Vista Deck, featuring comfortable lounges, removable sun shades and breathtaking Avalon harbor views.
She kept a small cafe and named it Encanto Cafe to serve spa fare to guests before, during and after a treatment. Guest can enjoy fresh made fruit smoothies, wine or champagne while sitting by the pool on a lounge chair under an umbrella or upstairs at the Vista Lounge. The cafe provides a few salads, wraps, and pita and hummus plate.
After my tour of the women’s locker room featuring a mosaic tile steam room in Pacific Ocean colors, spacious cedar sauna, showers and makeup tables, Thomas offered me Sea of Life Facial treatment.
Alison had nine state-of-the-art treatment rooms and two couples suites built, offering a selection of island-inspired treatments. Each suite is named after a favorite cove or bay along Catalina Island that includes Emerald Bay, Starlight and Salta Verde.
Entering one of the quiet rooms, I slipped into a warmed massage table covered in fine linen sheets to receive a one-hour tingling facial.
After my relaxing experience, I showered and dressed to make my one hour, 22-mile smooth cruise back to Long Beach. Before leaving, I stopped by the Spa Shoppe for a little retail therapy.
Since Thomas has been Spa Director he has added new wellness experiences to Island Spa. On Friday’s from 5 to 8 p.m., locals and the public can enter Island Spa for beverages, beer, wine bites for purchase up on the Vista relaxation deck. He also scheduled un-WINE’d at the Spa on Mondays and Wednesdays in September starting at 5:30 p.m. After a 1-hour yoga class in the Wellness Studio, participants receive a complimentary glass of wine and access to the spa’s sauna, eucalyptus steam room, Jacuzzi, soaking pool and ocean view relaxation deck for $40 per person. Reservations required.
Thomas partnered with REI in a Trans Catalina Trail Expedition hiking through the rugged island interior while camping next to pristine beaches. Participants will cover 38.5 miles in four days and end the trip with a BBQ lunch and drinks at Harbor Sands. Roundtrip transportation on the Catalina Express from Long Beach to Avalon is included.
There are two Yoga and Cardio Days where participants hike up to the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden and beyond on a three-mile hike for dramatic views of both sides of the island. Afterwards they take a yoga class and enjoy the spa facility.
There is a day-long yoga and kayaking adventure that begins at Descanso Beach for a 1.5-hour paddle tour to coves and headlands along Catalina’s coast. Participants paddle through giant kelp forests teeming with sea life that may include dolphins, seals, pelicans, bright orange Garibaldi and other marine animals. After the paddle and a lunch is a personalized yoga class at Island Spa Catalina, and dip in the relax pool before returning to Long Beach.