Canal Zone

Romantic gondolas bring the spirit of Venice to the Golden State.
Writer Jacquelyne Froeber

A gondola glides through the bay toward Naples, the Italian flag on its stern flapping in the breeze. Soon it passes under a span, a thrilling moment for couples. “It’s tradition to toast, or kiss, under the bridge for eternal love,” says Joseph “Giuseppe” Diminutto, the gondolier. Never mind that the overpass carries Southern California traffic. For now, at least, we’re in the heart of Italy.

Gondola Getaway takes couples, friends, and even wedding parties to sightsee or smooch in canals surrounding the islands of Naples (California, that is). The company’s owners, who researched gondola designs in Italy, strive for authenticity. Joseph wears a black-and-white-stripe shirt, brimmed straw hat, and red scarf. So far, spot on.

The fleet comprises 10 wooden gondolas, two imported from Italy. Gondoliers train to perfect Venetian-style rowing—given the water’s depth, they can’t pole off the bottom. The ride first crosses Alamitos Bay and then cruises the canals of Naples, taking in views of gorgeous homes fronted by palm trees and docked vessels. Late-night tours, which include lanterns and blankets, promise an intimate experience. The boats drift under twinkling stars and swaying trees, while Spanish mackerel jump in the moonlight. A gondola ride is perfect for proposals, Joseph says.

The three man-made islands of Naples were carved from marshland in the 1920s to create a California interpretation of Venice, Italy, “the city of water.” Today, the community boasts million-dollar residences with private dock space. Joseph says the waterways can’t be seen from roads, so many people don’t know this part of Naples exists. “Seals follow me through the canal, and they are so quiet—it’s like they know it’s a secret,” he says.

Slowly turning in circles under the final bridge, Joseph says it’s the last chance to guarantee eternal love with a kiss. It’s also last call for an Italian love song. A few of the gondoliers are classically trained singers who can give Andrea Bocelli a run for his money. But even if your gondolier can’t quite hit the right notes, everything sounds sweeter in Italian.

GO GONDOLA

A one-hour cruise for two with Gondola Getaway is $75. Price includes a photo, a basket of French bread, cheese, salami, and an ice bucket in case you choose to bring a beverage. Call 562/433-9595 or visit gondo.net.

(Originally published in April 2008)