Readers of Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins will be familiar with these remote California islands. Named the ‘Galapagos of North America,’ this place is home to numerous endemic plant and animal species, including a subspecies of fox on each island. With only 30,000 visitors a year, the islands are the perfect place to get away from the crowds.
Located off of the Santa Barbara and Ventura coastline, the national park includes five of the Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. Book a ticket out to Anacapa, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz islands with Ventura and Oxnard-based Island Packers. At the writing of this article, Island Packers is no longer providing day trips to Santa Barbara and San Miguel Islands. So if you’re looking to check those places out, you’ll have to charter a plane through Channel Islands Aviation.
It might seem like a bit of a trip but getting to the islands is half the adventure. Your boat will leave in the foggy early morning, and on your way out, eerily lit oil derricks will glow in the distance. Sit on the top open deck, get splashed in the face and watch the coast fade away. Keep your eyes open for frolicking dolphins and a breaching whale. For a warmer and less wet experience, sit in the lower enclosed deck and enjoy a hot coffee.
Sea Caves and Kelp Beds
Kayaking, snorkeling, and diving are all popular activities available on the islands. Kayak into one of the largest known sea caves in the world, the Painted Cave, on Santa Cruz island. Dive into the temperate and calm waters off Anacapa. From here you can swim through lush kelp beds and spot Garibaldi’s, brittle stars, leopard sharks and sea lions.
Santa Cruz Island: Scorpion Ranch to Smuggler’s Cove
Santa Cruz Island hosts a derelict sheep ranch, but it’s really the incredible vistas, bright blue waters, and wildlife that makes this island interesting. The hike from Scorpion Ranch to Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz island is one of the most isolated hikes I’ve ever done. Hike up the barren hillsides dotted with rare, endangered plants that you may not see anywhere else in the world. At Smuggler’s Cove, sit on a tree stump and watch waves pound the rock-strewn beach. You can imagine rum runners of the 1920s loading their boats in the moonlight.
Santa Cruz Island: Scorpion Ranch to Cavern Point
In the other direction from Scorpion Ranch, walk through a campground and a canyon to Cavern Point. Look over the edge and see if you can spot a kayaker entering a sea cave. Views over the Pacific go on for miles. Don’t forget to look at the ground. Small island foxes pop out of nowhere. With no predators on the island, these guys aren’t going to be afraid of you.