Close to the mainland, yet worlds apart, Channel Islands National Park has come to be known as “the Galapagos Islands of North America.”
With more than 100 species of flora and fauna unique to the five volcanic, windswept isles, visitors are virtually guaranteed a memorable experience. To get the most of your time, join a kayak tour of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary to explore remote coastlines, especially those of Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island. The two neighboring islands alone possess more sea grottos than anywhere else in the world. Share the crystal clear waters with harbor seals and California sea lions, cormorants, gulls and dive-bombing California brown pelicans. Observe the peregrine falcon — the world’s fastest flying bird — chasing 12 species of seabirds, and keep an eye on your belongings where crafty ravens and the tiny, endemic island fox are ever present.
Santa Barbara Island and Santa Rosa Island are equally stunning and won’t disappoint. Day trips are available to all, but for a truly immersive experience, make it an adventure and spend 3 days exploring any of the islands in the park, one of the best-kept secrets in the national park system.
Don’t forget to bring a snorkel and mask to dive into the underwater world of giant bladder, elkhorn and feather boa kelp. After all, half of the Channel Islands National Park is underwater. In fact the teeming waters surrounding the rugged archipelago were listed as one of the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau’s top 10 cold-water dive locales in the world.
However, if you’re a land lover, great hiking opportunities abound. Santa Barbara Island is only 1 square mile in size and can be hiked in a couple of hours. On Anacapa, don’t miss out on the walk to Inspiration Point. You can’t go wrong trekking out to Potato Harbor on Santa Cruz, and the Torrey Pines Forest on Santa Rosa is in a world all its own.
The bonus attached to island hopping on the Channel Islands is some of the best whale-watching in the world. Over 20 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been documented in the channel, so keep your eyes open while crossing the Santa Barbara Channel to one of the most extraordinary chains of islands on the planet.