The Channel Islands are a 160 mile-long archipelago sprinkled amidst the sprawling Pacific Ocean. In 1938, five of the 8 islands, positioned just off the Southern California coastal city of Oxnard, were established as a National Monument, then later in 1980 were designated as the Channel Islands National Park. They are a sight to behold and part of one of the richest marine biospheres in the world. From Los Angeles, an easy hour’s drive north will deliver you to a picturesque and thriving land that took Mother Nature thousands of years to engineer.
If you’re looking for a special outing that will create long-lasting memories for the entire family, a Channel Island’s Wildlife Cruise is one to add to your list. After 17 years of Southern California living and countless visits to national parks all over the world, I found it astounding that we had never made it to this National Park. A few months ago, as luck would have it, an invitation to do a wildlife cruise fell into our laps and excitedly, the whole family piled in to the car and up the coast we went!
On that Sunday, we arrived at the Channel Islands Harbor early, which was our luck because there was a quaint little Farmer’s Market steps from our cruise’s launching dock. We decided that would be the perfect place to buy some snacks and lunch to bring with us! The vendors offered a great variety of perfectly ripe, organic fruits and veggies and we snagged some to-die-for homemade hummus and pita chips, too!
The cruise out to the Channel Islands National Park is a half day affair spent skating across the wide open ocean, meandering about the islands and witnessing awe-inspiring beauty at its best; a day full of exploring, discovering and learning that was fascinating, not only for our 2 1/2 year old, but for the adults as well.
About half way out to the islands we were greeted by a pod of dolphins. Even the crew and captain of the boat commented that it was one of the largest pods they had ever seen in their 20 plus years doing charters. We watched them as they surfed our wake, swam sideways to get a better look at us and jumped for joy at the chance to play with us.
The entire boat was so enthralled that when the captain killed the engines to allow us to float with them for a while, no one on board even seemed to notice. The perfect escort for the beginning of a perfect day.
As we approached the island of Anacapa, we were welcomed by Arch Rock, its arresting natural trademark looming 40 feet above the ocean.
The islands are full of breathtaking natural features such as rock bridges, plunging cliffs, sea caves and tide pools. On this particular cruise, we weren’t allowed to disembark, but next time we go we are getting off the boat and you can bet that we will give ourselves even more time to explore the islands from land.
There certainly was no shortage of California sea lions and harbor seals and we had the best time mimicking their raucous manifestos and counting them perched out on the rugged cliffs sunbathing.
Due to the remoteness of the islands, its many secluded beaches and the abundant food of the surrounding waters, you have the opportunity to witness one of the world’s largest congregations of pinnipeds anywhere, representing more species than any other single place on Earth. In the winter months, you may even have the opportunity to spot the occasional Pacific Grey Whale as they migrate between summer feeding grounds in Alaska to their breeding areas in Baja, California.
These protected islands also provide a much-needed sanctuary; vital feeding and breeding grounds for 99 percent of Southern California’s sea birds. 99 percent!
More importantly they are the sole breeding ground for the California Brown Pelican which was only recently taken off of the endangered species list. We watched a brown pelican do laps around our boat for a good 20 minutes. He (or she) was having the time of his life, gliding past the side of the boat, then circling back around. To say it was a joy to watch would be an understatement. Needless to say, we too, were having the time of our lives.
Given its isolated and hard-to-reach location, The Channel Islands are one of the least visited National Parks in the Nation and that’s what makes it even more special to visit. Offering a wide array of exciting activities at your fingertips, the Islands boast world class kayaking, snorkeling, diving, hiking and camping or you can simply enjoy a little well-deserved peace and solitude. I can’t wait to adventure back, hiking boots on and ready to discover the Channel Island’s secret treasures hidden deep in the recesses of the islands coves, beaches and trails!