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The Channel Islands California

The Channel Islands of California are less than 60 miles off the coast of Ventura, where you can view land and ocean wildlife in their pristine, natural environments with no crowds.

The waters surrounding the Channel Islands National Park are designated a National Marine Sanctuary. The five islands which are part of the park are named Santa Cruz, Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa. There are actually 8 islands in all, but San Nicholas and San Clemente Island are military reservations. Santa Catalina Island, which is the only one with a town (Avalon), is also part of the chain.

Beach And Wildflowers on Santa Cruz Island

A Day On Santa Cruz Island 

This video is made up of pictures I shot on a trip out to Santa Cruz Island. It is just over 3 minutes long, and hopefully gives you a feel of this very special place where you can truly feel close to nature. (Just imagine you are breathing fresh sea air and hearing sounds of seagulls). 

In fact, any time you are feeling stressed , you can use this as a relaxation video.

About my visit to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park:

I went in March, and a recent storm had damaged the pier at Scorpion Anchorage, so the boat crew got us all into dinghy's, a few at a time, to get us to shore and back. It certainly added to the excitement and I loved it, (though it made their job harder).

There was a naturalist who took us (optional) on a hike and told us so many interesting things about the island, past and present. It is truly a unique place.

 We saw a few  Channel Island foxes (which had once almost been extinct), unusual plants and wildflowers, and plenty of birds. There are various trails you can go on, and some are steeper than others. The best thing was walking on the trail out along the bluff, high above the sea, with no signs of civilization except for the trail. 

We got super lucky, and managed to witness a feeding frenzy on the way back on the boat. Whales, dolphins, sea lions and birds for a good 30 minutes. I was too in awe to even pull out my camera until it was too late.  Apparently, that was unusual, but the boat crew and captain know migration patterns and do their best to keep a lookout and inform passengers of any sightings.

Anacapa Island

Anacapa looks like 3 islands in one. It is long and flat, with a hump at each end. There is a large natural arch at one end and a lighthouse at the top of the hill, which romantically belts out its horn at intervals. You can hike along the top of the island and there is a small visitor center with exhibits to visit. There are no trees in sight, so you are out there with the elements and fantastic views. (bring a hat)

Before You Go

A must see before you go, or even as an end in itself, is the Channel Islands National Park Visitor's Center, just across from the beach at the end of Spinnaker Drive in Ventura Harbor.  Here you can find natural information on the islands through exhibits, a film and an indoor tide pool. There's also a bookstore. It's open every day with no admission fee.

Also before you go, check resources at the bottom of this page.

rock formation in the water at the Channel Islands

Getting To The Channel Islands California

To actually go to the islands on a day trip is a whole other experience. These islands are so well preserved, it's like stepping back in time to how coastal Southern California used to be before man came.

To get out there, you must take a plane or boat. Channel Islands Aviation has airplane service, while Island Packers Cruises has boats to take you out there amongst the birds, dolphins and blue whales. It takes about 45 minutes to get out there.

You can also take a private boat there and you can find out more about where to anchor here. You must be experienced though, due to busy shipping lanes with container ships, the currents and swells near the islands, and potentially much higher winds than the mainland. 

They have different choices available going to different islands, depending on the weather, time of year and tides. Island Packers Cruises is located at 1691 Spinnaker Drive, down the way from the Visitors Center, which is at 1901 Spinnaker Drive.

Island Packers also has a trip to Anacapa Island, which leaves from Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.

Things To Do

Things to do at this beautiful, uncrowded natural habitat include hiking, whale watching, bird watching, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, picnicking and camping. Santa Cruz and Anacapa have little museums/visitor centers you can visit.  

People on hiking trail on Santa Cruz Island with wildflowers.Three's a crowd in the Channel Islands

Tips

Dress in layers, as you can experience extremes in temperature.  The day I went, it was very hot on the hike, but later cold on the boat trip while we were watching the whales and dolphins. 

Bring binoculars  if you have them, for viewing birds, whales, foxes, boats, and whatever else you may wish you could see closer.

Bring food, water, a hat and sunscreen.

Best Time To Go

I recommend spring, when everything is green and there are wildflowers. Also, the whales are migrating in early spring, so there is more chance of sightings on the trip over and back.

But summer and fall would also be nice, especially for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking.

Further Resources

The Channel Islands National Park official website

Island Packers--trips to the islands


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