Located just off the Southern California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel, the series of islands that encompass Channel Islands National Park are sparsely visited, especially given their incredible natural beauty. Tide pools, kelp forests, and rugged mountains provide a habitat for unique flora and fauna.
The pristine Channel Islands seem made for adventure, and the activity menu here includes hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, whale watching, and camping on remote beaches. Five of the eight islands fall within the national park, including Santa Cruz Island—home to the Painted Cave, one of the world’s deepest sea caves—and Anacapa Island, a favorite among campers and hikers due to its remoteness and tranquility. Outside the park borders lies Santa Catalina Island, the only Channel Island with a permanent human settlement and a favorite day trip from Los Angeles.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Channel Islands are a must visit for nature lovers and adventure travelers.
- Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
- Dress in layers; the ferry ride over can get chilly.
- Bring a wet suit if you plan to spend time in the water—it’s cold even in summer.
How to Get There
The Channel Islands are only accessible via ferry. Boats depart from Ventura Harbor and Santa Barbara Harbor daily for the national park, while boats to Catalina Island depart from Newport Beach, San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point.
When to Get There
Not very many people make their way to the Channel Islands, so there isn’t really a bad time to visit. The dry months in summer and fall make for ideal camping. Whale watchers will want to plan their trip between late June and early September for humpback whales or December through March for gray whales. Late spring is the best time for viewing seabirds and wildflowers.
The “Galapagos of North America”
The Channel Islands have earned the nickname the “Galapagos of North America” thanks to their biodiversity; the islands provide a habitat for 145 species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. The nutrient-rich Santa Barbara Channel attracts even more marine life, including 30 species of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. The scuba diving and sea kayaking rank among the best in the world.