A Coastal Guide for Your Channel Islands Vacation

April 26, 2017Travel Ideas
Sebastien Burel, Share the Experience

Encompassing five of the eight spectacular islands off the coast of southern California, Channel Islands National Park gives visitors an opportunity to explore a beautifully unique park with a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Whether you have a day or a week to explore the park, this Channel Islands vacation guide will help you get the most out of your visit. 

Know before you go

A distant ferry makes its way through calm blue waters towards the Santa Rosa Island pier at Channel Islands National Park.
Marlon Ignacio, Share the Experience
  • Getting there: While the mainland visitor centers in Santa Barbara and Ventura are easily accessible by car, the only way to get to the islands is by park concessionaire boats and planes, or by private boat. Once you get to the islands, there are no roads, so the only way to get around the island is by foot, private boat, or kayak.
  • Spending the night: The Channel Islands are almost completely undeveloped, with no lodging or other accommodations. Primitive camping is permitted year-round on all the islands. There is one established campground per island, but there are no amenities, meaning you are responsible for bringing all your own supplies – including food and water – and packing everything out when you leave. 

Planning your trip

Sea lions gather at Point Bennett as they take turns surfing the waves along San Miguel Island at Channel Islands National Park.
Michael Field, Share the Experience

Each of the islands that make up Channel Islands National Park offer a distinct environment and ecosystem to explore. To experience the wonders of the islands, try these activities: 

  • Kayak the sea caves (Santa Cruz Island): One of the most awe-inspiring features on Santa Cruz Island is the network of sea caves along the coast. Carved by centuries of water and accessible only by boat, the colorful Painted Cave is one of the largest and deepest sea caves in the world. Sea kayaking is an exciting way to explore during your Channel Islands vacation, but it can also be dangerous with consistently extreme weather and sea conditions. Inexperienced kayakers should always be accompanied by a licensed guide.
  • Marvel at the Torrey pines (Santa Rosa Island): The Channel Islands are home to many plants and animals found nowhere else on earth, and Santa Rosa Island is no exception. Here, hikers can encounter a special subspecies of one of the rarest trees in the world, the Torrey pine, among the last remnants of what was once a vast Pleistocene forest.
  • Visit the kelp forests (Anacapa Island): The protected waters around Anacapa Island offer opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving in a pristine underwater landscape. The deep kelp forests and shallow tide pools near the shore provide a chance to visit a rarely seen world rich in colorful and unusual marine life. 
  • See the seals (Santa Barbara Island): The smallest of the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara Island is barely a square mile in size, but it harbors a great diversity of plant and animal life. Sea lions, harbor seals, and northern elephant seals use this island's beaches as resting and breeding areas, and several overlooks provide an outstanding view of these animals.
  • Go whale watching (San Miguel Island): Guided hikes across San Miguel Island offer an incredible chance to see the numerous animals that call it home, none more impressive than the whales that reside in its offshore waters. Dolphins, porpoises, gray whales, killer whales, and even blue whales – the largest animals on earth – are often seen from shore. Take a whale watching tour for an even better view.

Bright yellow coreopsis flowers along the edge of the Middle Anacapa Island with deep blue waters surrounding the distant Channel Islands.

Bright yellow coreopsis flowers at Middle Anacapa Island at Channel Islands National Park

Aaron Echols, Share the Experience

Explore Southern California in all its natural beauty by visiting the blue waters and rugged shores of Channel Islands National Park. There's so much to see and do on the islands that it's almost impossible to fit everything into a single visit, but this guide is a great start for planning your Channel Islands vacation.


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