It’s a lonely square-mile in the Pacific, 40 miles south of Santa Cruz Island and 26 miles northwest of Santa Catalina Island. A mere speck on the map, Santa Barbara Island is the forgotten volcanic slab in the Channel Islands National Park.
It’s a hard place to get to, and sometimes to escape from. I once spent 10 days windbound on the treeless island. On another occasion, while kayaking from Santa Cruz Island, I nearly missed its windswept terrace cloaked in dewy fog. The saving grace was Sutil Island, a colossal sea stack 200 yards southwest of Santa Barbara Island, which was free of fog and silhouetted in moonlight.
Blessed with toothy sea grottos, medieval, craggy archways, spewing blowholes and towering sea stacks caked in frost-colored seabird guano, kayaking around Santa Barbara Island’s crowded shore is bliss. That’s right—this ‘uninhabited’ islet is absolutely packed with life. Squadrons of hardy seabirds fill the sky, legions of raucous California sea lions torpedo through the water, and herds of rotund northern elephant seals wallow on the island’s only wet patch of sand. So in essence you’re never really alone on Santa Barbara Island. It only feels that way when the wind howls.