Close to Santa Barbara, yet worlds apart, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary encompasses the ocean environment surrounding five of the eight California Channel Islands – Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. In a remarkably small area, the sanctuary harbors thousands of species of marine animals, more than 100 historic shipwrecks, and strong indigenous cultural connections to the Chumash people. It’s a special place just waiting for you to explore and experience an unforgettable adventure.
Through education, conservation, science, and stewardship, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary provides protection to its extraordinary natural and cultural resources so that nature can thrive, historic shipwrecks and artifacts remain respectfully in place, cultural connections remain strong, and careful public use and enjoyment can be sustained. Designated in 1980 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the sanctuary encompasses 1,470 square miles surrounding five of the Channel Islands, which make up Channel Islands National Park.
There are many ways to enjoy the sanctuary, including world class SCUBA diving, snorkeling, kayaking, boating and sailing, viewing whales and other wildlife, and fishing. More information about some of the Santa Barbara-based tour options, such as kayaking, whale watching, sailing and diving, is found here. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s website and Facebook page are also excellent sources to learn about current events and volunteer opportunities in and around the islands, and you can learn more about the sanctuary through some fun videos here.
The sanctuary is home to an extremely rich and diverse array of marine mammals, including humpback whales, making it one of the best places in the world for viewing whales and other wildlife. While in Santa Barbara, hop aboard one of the local commercial vessels that can take you out to sanctuary waters for a whale of an adventure! Look for Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers aboard these trips and feel free to ask them lots of questions!
More than 150 historic ships and aircraft have been reported lost within the waters of the sanctuary, although just 25 have been discovered to date. SCUBA divers can enjoy viewing some of the protected wrecks within the sanctuary – check with local dive vessels for available trips and remember to please look but don’t touch. While visiting Santa Barbara you can also learn more about sanctuary shipwrecks and other fascinating sea stories by visiting the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
The northern Channel Islands have been home to the Chumash people for millennia, with the earliest known human remains dating back more than 13,000 years ago. The Chumash community continues to celebrate their maritime heritage through cultural events, such as crossing the Santa Barbara Channel on traditional plank canoes known as tomols.
Beautiful waters and pristine anchorages make the sanctuary a popular year-round destination for recreational boaters. Chartered sailing adventures are available out of local harbors, including in Santa Barbara.
Kayaking in the sanctuary is a great way to explore the coastline of the Channel Islands and spot wildlife. Guided trips as well as rentals are available at the Channel Islands National Park’s visitor services page.
The sanctuary is a popular destination for recreational fishing, with many chartered trips available out of local harbors. Know before you go: the sanctuary also has a network of Marine Protected Areas with 11 marine reserves that prohibit all fishing activities, and two marine conservation areas that allow limited take of lobster and pelagic fish.
Looking to go ashore out at the islands? You’ll want to arrange a visit to the Channel Islands National Park to enjoy hiking, camping and other activities. For more information, click here.