The Channel Islands sit just off the coastline of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles counties. From San Miguel to San Clemente, each of the eight islands in the chain contain a special piece of history. Five of them are, in fact, their own national park and receive about 30,000 visitors a year.
Each island attracts a certain type of traveler, whether for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, or just sharing exceptional views with its visitors. However the islands are not particularly close together, and depending on sea and weather conditions, can vary in their ability to accept those visitors eager to explore multiple islands.
Depending on activities and resources, there’s a good chance there is a particular island that will reach the expectations of a day, weekend, or weekly visitor. Choosing between Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, and Santa Catalina isn’t easy, but 10Best is here to help.
Scorpion Beach at Santa Cruz Island — Photo courtesy of Tori Bodin
Anacapa: Children, Families, and Tide Pool Enthusiasts
Anacapa Island is popular among families and tour groups because of its flat land and educational resources. Just eleven miles from the Visitors Center in Ventura, the island is a short boat-ride away for those who may only have one of half a day to visit. There is an easy two-mile trail is on the island and a lighthouse from the 1930’s visitors can explore. By the water are several tide pools teeming with life and there are even live dive cameras to watch what divers see as they explore the surrounding kelp beds…in case you aren’t prepared to do it yourself!
Farming Equipment on Santa Cruz — Photo courtesy of Tori Bodin
Santa Cruz: A Taste of History and Adventure
Just next door to Anacapa is Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz offers something for every visitor, whether they enjoy hiking, snorkeling, wildlife, or history. Hikes around the island offer spectacular views and Scorpion Beach provides easy access for swimmers, kayakers, and snorkelers. For those interested in island history, Santa Cruz has preserved remnants from its ranching era, including an adobe ranch house, barn, winery, chapel and blacksmith’s and saddle shop. Most spend an entire day or the weekend on Santa Cruz, enjoying the scenery and accessible activities. Kayaks are even available for rent on the island.
Santa Rosa: Flora and Wildlife Lovers
Santa Rosa Island is a haven for archeological history and ecological virtue. Since turbulent weather doesn’t make the island an excellent choice for water activities unless you are a skilled surfer, most visitors look forward to exploring the island in search of rare plants and wildlife. There are about 500 plant species within nine communities, including six species that can be found no where else in the world. The island is also home to several mammals, including the endemic Channel Island fox, as well as birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Remnants of the pygmy mammoth have been found on Santa Rosa and the archeological sites of the Chumash Indians that once inhabited the island can be found in the form of fishing camps, buildings, equipment, and more.
California Elephant Seals — Photo courtesy of Tori Bodin
San Miguel: Endurance Hikers (Who Like Seals)
San Miguel Island receives its fair share of hard winds and weather, but on pleasant day, offers one of the most rewarding hikes among the islands. The all-day ranger-guided excursion is an a 16 mile hike to Point Bennett, where the prize for reaching the finish line is a view of over 30,000 pinnipeds among the beaches. The seals and sea lions stretch out on the island’s 27 miles of coastline and its not rare to catch a glimpse of their ocean neighbors either: dolphins, porpoises, and gray, killer, and blue whales. And if the hike wasn’t enough, visitors can also explore ancient vegetation, fossils, and even shipwrecks!
Santa Barbara: Campers and Kayakers
The smallest of the National Park islands, Santa Barbara Island, is often overlooked as a swimming destination because of its lack of accessible beaches. There's also limited transportation to the island so those who make the trip often choose to camp for about three days. Campers enjoy the pristine quality of Santa Barbara, often pronouncing that its reputation is far under-valued. With blooming flowers, elephant seals, and endemic bird species, the island offers a great amount of scenery despite its small mass. The five miles of coastline is a favorite among kayakers who enjoy Arch Point or the Sea Lion Rookery, famous for its wildlife, sea caves, and arches.
Catalina Harbor — Photo courtesy of Tori Bodin
Santa Catalina: A Resort Getaway
Last, but certainly not least, is Catalina Island, the only island that has been developed as a tourist destination. Functioning as a city and popular cruise port, the port of Avalon on Catalina has grown to accommodate tourists looking for all the amenities of an island resort. About a million people visit the island each year, taking advantage of the same sea life and water activities found on other islands while also enjoying restaurants, hotels, shops, bars, and even a casino.
Two Harbors is a smaller resort village on Catalina, with less developed amenities and greater camping advantages than Avalon. Nonetheless, there are opportunities to view wildlife, historical features, and plant life among the infamous ice cream shops and passing golf carts.
Catalina Island — Photo courtesy of Tori Bodin
The islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara are all accessible via Island Packers in Ventura. Catalina is accessible via ports in Los Angeles County, as well as by plane. Information on rates and schedules can be found on their websites.