10 Fun Things To Do in The Channel Islands [California]

Kayaking the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands, or Santa Barbara Islands, located 12–70 miles off the Pacific coast of southern California, offer a unique blend of beauty and adventure. Whether you’re looking for adventure, history, or a relaxing getaway, the Channel Islands have something to offer everyone.

The Channel Islands National Park includes five wonderful islands, including the popular Santa Barbara and Anacapa Islands. In June, we visited Anacapa Island for a kayak tour of the Channel Islands’ sea caves.

We wanted to share some of the highlights and top tips from kayaking the Channel Islands. Here’s our guide on the best thing to do in the Channel Islands.

Fun Things To Do In The Channel Islands

Kayaking the Channel Islands is incredibly popular, as it’s one of the best ways to get up close to wildlife and experience nature at its finest. However, you can do other fun things to elevate your experience.

If you’re looking for something fun to do in the channel islands, here are some suggestions:

1. Blue Ocean Kayaking Tour

The Blue Ocean Kayaking Tour is a great way to see the islands in an eco-friendly way. The tour lasts three hours and includes a stopover at a local beach. You will be guided by an expert kayaking guide providing information on the local wildlife, flora, and fauna.

Our tour started in Oxnard Marina, where we checked in with the Blue Ocean Kayaking team. Before boarding the boat, we were given a quick orientation on navigating our kayak while on the water.

From setting sail to landing safely back at the dock, we felt safe with the Blue Ocean Kayaking team. While the groups were large (about 30 people), the team did a great job of making it feel like a very personal experience.

2. Boat Ride To The Islands

The best way to see the Channel Islands is from the water, and several boat tours will take you around the islands. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing sail or an adrenaline-filled adventure, there’s a tour to suit everyone’s interests.

The boat ride to Anacapa Island is around 12 miles and takes just over an hour. On the sail to the island, we saw pods of dolphins jumping alongside the boat and even a few whales.

Take one of the boat tours offered by Island Packers or Cabrillo Cruises to visit Anacapa Island or Santa Cruz Island. These tours include transportation from Ventura Harbor or Oxnard Harbor to the island, plus a guided tour while on land. You can also rent boats at each harbor to go on your adventure.

3. Kayaking In The Sea Caves

Anacapa Island is home to around 30 sea caves. During the tour, we were able to kayak through many of them. Our guide led the group through the caves and was always ahead of us to assess the safety of the caves before entering. The main tour group was split into three smaller groups, with around ten people per group (or 5 kayaks). This allowed us to take our time through the caves and not feel rushed.

The waters around the island are serene and easy to navigate. There were so many different colors and rock formations in the caves. The color of the ocean surrounding the island was bright blue (even with overcast skies) and incredibly clear.

A couple of waves meant we had to be careful and aware of our surroundings. We found it best to give our fellow kayakers plenty of space, especially when navigating some narrow caves. We were in a tandem kayak, which was a good test of our coordination skills. This also meant that we could take turns taking pictures and getting some video footage. We kayaked three and a half miles of the total five-quarter-mile length of the island. 

4. Visit The Kelp Forests

In 1978, the National Park Service established a marine reserve on the island. This resulted in the growth of a huge kelp forest. It’s a popular diving and snorkeling spot too.

The kelp forests in the Channel Islands National Park are home to many colorful sea creatures, including lobsters, abalone, and sea stars. Visitors can explore these underwater gardens via kayak or guided tour boat.

5. Get Close With The Wildlife

Along with the dolphins and whales, we also came across seals, sea lions, bat rays, and various birds. We even spotted the bright orange California state fish, the Garibaldi, hiding out along the rocks.

The best time for whale watching is from December through April, when the whales migrate south for breeding. If you want to see blue whales, humpback whales, or both, then visit Anacapa Island from March through April, when they are most likely to appear.

6. See The Rock Arch

The rock arch is a sight to behold; it is a forty-foot rock arch is a naturally formed bridge made of volcanic rock that has eroded over time by waves. You can swim underneath it or jump off it if they’re brave enough!

It’s also a great spot for snorkeling because plenty of colorful fish surrounds it. Since the arch is an iconic sight on the island, it is a great place to take a photo for your Instagram or TikTok.

7. Snorkel and Dive at San Miguel Island

San Miguel Island is a popular destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, thanks to its crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life. From sea lions and seals to schools of colorful fish, there’s something to see for every type of ocean enthusiast.

For those who like snorkeling a little more relaxed, Anacapa Island is a great choice because the water is shallow and warm, making it perfect for all ages. The island also has several beaches where snorkelers can rest between dives.

If you’re not a fan of getting in the water, you can still enjoy the island’s stunning scenery by taking a scenic hike or observing the wildlife from the shore.

8. Hike Through Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island is one of the smaller islands in the chain, but it packs a punch with its breathtaking views, diverse wildlife, and historic lighthouses. Take a scenic hike along the trails, which wind through the island’s unique landscapes, including its rocky cliffs, rugged coastline, and lush vegetation.

You’ll get to see various wildlife, such as seals, sea lions, and rare bird species, and breathtaking views of the surrounding ocean.

9. Explore Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the largest island in the chain and home to many sights worth seeing. The most popular attraction on this island is Scorpion Ranch, which offers a variety of tours, including guided hikes, horseback rides, kayaking trips, and camping accommodations.

Take a guided kayak tour of the island’s coastline to explore its coves, caves, and sea arches, or ride horseback through its rolling hills and lush meadows.

10. Hit Any Of The Exotic Beaches

The Channel Islands are home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot for a swim or a lively beach with plenty of water sports, you’ll find something to suit your needs.

Shell Beach is one of the most popular beaches, known for its pristine waters and stunning scenery. The beach is surrounded by towering cliffs and lush vegetation, providing a breathtaking backdrop for your day there.

So, pack your beach bag, grab a towel, and hit the shores of the Channel Islands to soak up some sun, breathe in the fresh ocean air, and relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in California.

Tips For Enjoying Your Stay At The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are a great place if you’re looking for a kayaking adventure. The waters around the islands are protected from the rough surf of the open ocean and make for excellent kayaking.

If you’re planning on taking a kayaking trip to the Channel Islands, here are some of our top tips:

1. Reserve Your Booking In Advance

We made a reservation three weeks before the trip and found a Groupon Deal with Blue Ocean Kayaking. We wouldn’t advise showing up without a reservation. The tours get booked up quickly, and there’s a risk you’ll be turned away without one.

2. Wear Waterproof Shoes

We highly recommend you invest in a pair of waterproof shoes. They are typically lightweight and won’t absorb much water, so they dry out quickly. Fiona used a pair of A Leader Quick Drying Water Shoes, which had great grip and were fairly inexpensive on Amazon.

If you don’t have waterproof shoes, it’s not a dealbreaker. I used a pair of old sneakers which worked well. Just know that they will get completely soaked.

3. Wear Lots Of Sunscreens And A Hat

Even though it was a cloudy day, the water surrounding the island was super reflective, and there was a high chance you’ll get burnt if you didn’t wear sunscreen. We were surprised as we missed a couple of spots and ended the day getting burned in places.

4. Pack A Change Of Clothes

You should assume that you’ll get soaking wet during the tour. When you get into the kayak, you step right into the water (around knee level). Also, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get splashed while out on the kayak. Packing a change of clothes will make the hour-long boat ride back much more comfortable.

5. Pack Ziploc To Protect Your Belongings

As we mentioned, you’re likely to get wet. The last thing you want is for your wet clothes to stink out of your daypack, so take some Ziploc bags to store your wet items.

6. Carry Plenty Of Water And Refreshments

Blue Ocean Kayaking advised us to pack lunch and water for the trip, as nothing is available for sale. It’s a full day out, and you’ll exert much energy while kayaking for over two hours.

We took a cooler with plenty of refreshments and snacks. We also packed our S’well insulated water bottles on the kayaks with us. They kept us well-hydrated while out on the ocean.

7. Pack Hand Sanitizer And Wet Wipes

While there is a restroom on the boat, there isn’t much clean running water. We recommend you pack hand sanitizer and wet wipes. You’ll eat your lunch on the boat after kayaking, so it’s best to stay as hygienic as possible.

8. Plan And Be Prepared

Ensure you have all the equipment and supplies for your trip, including a good pair of walking shoes, plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen. It’s also a good idea to check the weather forecast and pack accordingly, as conditions on the islands can change quickly.

9. Enjoy The Water

With its clear waters and abundant sea life, the Channel Islands are a popular destination for snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, and more. Whether you prefer to paddle along the shore or venture out to deeper waters, there are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water and enjoy the islands’ natural beauty.

10. Respect The Wildlife

The Channel Islands are home to various unique wildlife, including seals, sea lions, and rare species of birds. When visiting the islands, respecting and avoiding disturbing wildlife is important. This means staying safe from animals, not feeding them, and leaving the environment as you found it.

Whether you’re visiting the Channel Islands for a day or an extended stay, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. With its stunning landscapes, rich history, and abundant wildlife, this unique destination will leave you with lasting memories and a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature.

In conclusion, the Channel Islands are a hidden gem off the coast of Southern California that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, adventure, and history. From exploring the rugged landscapes of Anacapa Island to snorkeling the vibrant waters of San Miguel Island, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

The Channel Islands are the perfect destination whether you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the city or an adrenaline-fueled adventure. If you have any questions, comments, or additional tips, please leave them in the comment section below.

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