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A Day in the Channel Islands of California

Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

A Day in the Channel Islands of California

Paula Gaston

Our Spring break trip continued from Rancho Cucamonga to the Santa Monica Mountains and from there to Ventura on the coast. We'd made reservations to a hotel right by the beach since we'd planned a boat trip to the Channel Islands for the next day. We were so tired that evening, that I waited with the kids at the hotel while the hubby went to get us some tacos for dinner. And we didn't have to count sheep that night, we all fell a sleep faster than ever. 

The next day after breakfast, we headed to Ventura Harbor. We booked a boat trip from Island Packers, and we were supposed to check in at least 45 minutes early. For some reason, I was thinking that these trips wouldn't be so popular, but when we got to the office there was quite a long line. There was also another boat leaving before us to another island, and they also do whale watching cruises. Luckily the line went fast and we got our boarding passes. And off we went with our boat. 



The Channel Islands are an island group of 8 islands off the California coast, right by Santa Barbara. 5 of these islands belong to the Channel Islands National Park. These islands are part of one of the richest marine ecosystems of the world, and many endemic species live both in the water and on land. In the past, the Chumash and Tongva Indians lived on the islands, and later they were used mostly for fishing. Some are in military use today. The islands belonging to the national park are inhabited, but all of them can be visited by an organised boat trip. Two of them can also be reached by plane.

The main visitor center for the Channel Islands National Park is in Ventura, and you can board a boat going to the islands either in Ventura or in Oxnard. About 70 000 people visit them every year. You can see the islands from the mainland for example in Ventura or in Santa Barbara, and we have also seen them from up in the air on our way to Hawaii. You should make a boat reservation if you want to visit the Channel Islands, rather than just show up. 


We visited Anacapa Island. The most visited island is the biggest island, Santa Cruz, but at this time they were experiencing a wild fire there. In many ways Anacapa Island sounded more suitable for us, since it was easy to access even while carrying a baby. The brochures warned us about the ladder that we would have to climb to get out of the boat, and about the 157 steps that would take us up to the island. But in reality, the ladder was only one or two steps and the crew was there to help people. And the steps were not that bad when the baby was in the carrier backpack. 

It usually takes about an hour to get to Anacapa Island, but we stopped a couple of times to watch the dolphins swimming behind our boat and to spot some whales. Also, both when arriving and leaving, the boat went slowly around the island to show us what it looks like from the water. In that sense I can only say that we really loved the Island Packers for giving us what we payed for. They didn't seem to be in a rush and they really took their time trying to make sure everyone saw the whales. And note that this was not a whale watching trip. We were lucky to see some grey whales in both directions.  


Anacapa Island was beautiful and somehow I was surprised how much I enjoyed visiting there. For some reason I hadn't thought it was going to be such an awesome trip. The spring flowers had just started to bloom and the seagulls were nesting. And there were so many of them. The seagulls were everywhere! Their nests were right by the trails and sometimes they would start squawking at us if we were too close. From further away, it looked like the whole island was covered by white golf balls. We also saw some California Brown Pelicans which basically were saved by the preservation of the islands. Also the Brandt's cormorant nests here, and we saw some of them from the boat. I think the native birds were hiding from us but we did spot a few endemic flowers which I later recognised from our photos. 

Inspiration point

Inspiration point

The Brandt's cormorant

The Brandt's cormorant

We were on shore about four hours which gave us time to walk around the island, enjoy the sun, have a picknic and feed the baby. There are no services on Anacapa Island, but they do have a small visitor center opened by the ranger who travelled with us, and some restrooms. There is also couple old coast guard buildings and a lighthouse. The lighthouse is still in use, and you have to stay a certain distance from it, since the fog horn can damage your hearing. When travelling to Anacapa, you should bring enough snacks and water with you, and be prepared to take all the trash back to the mainland yourself. And don't forget the sunscreen! You can also camp and stay the night at Anacapa and just book your return for the next day. That actually sounds like so much fun! And if you are wondering wether you can travel there with a baby; yes you can! Everything went well and our baby took her naps in the rocking boat and in the backpack. Our 5 year old was excited to fill her Junior Ranger activity book on the way back from the island. 

In every possible way we had a great day!

The boat trip to Anacapa costs $59 per adult, $41 per child and the baby was free of charge. 

If you want to see more of what the Channel Islands look like, check out my Instagram profile   @paulagaston.  You can find some videos under the Highlights on the front page.