Channel Islands Cruise, Starring Anacapa

 You’ve never visited the Channel Islands even though they are right here? What are you waiting for?


Channel Islands National Park is one of those places about which my husband and I keeping saying “We should go there someday.” Well, I finally got to go there and trust me, you totally should.

Known as the Galapagos of Southern California because it is far enough away from the mainland that land animals have been left mostly alone to evolve and keep to themselves, the Channel Islands consists of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands, in ascending order of proximity to Channel Islands Harbor to the west, and Santa Barbara Island to the south. Island Packers offers cruises and other trips out to all five islands where you can hike, camp, kayak, snorkel, or join conservancy projects like cleanups or fish counts.



In early October I joined a group of writers as a guest of Island Packers for a Wildlife Cruise to Anacapa. This trip consisted of a 90-minute ride out to the island, and then a sightseeing tour of its shoreline, helpfully narrated by Mike, who was a font of information about the island’s history and evolution.




On the way to and from Anacapa, our boat, the Vanguard, passed through huge pods of dolphins, and some sharp-eyed passengers even sighted a whale spout out in the distance to the west. The dolphins came in several varieties, and they seemed to love having us as company.


I took a zillion pictures of them, trying to capture their graceful arcs as they playfully jumped up to say hi, but they all look just like this one! Here is a video taken by one of the other writers on the trip.

The Vanguard isn’t exactly comfortable, but there are plenty of places to sit or lean against the balcony to watch the horizon or the sea lions lounging on the oil rigs as you pass. There is a snack bar in the galley, but you can also bring a bag of your own snacks. In fact, you can bring a tent and sleeping bags and everything to survive a night on a Pacific Island, because not only is this trip great for sightseeing, but it is also a shuttle for campers and day hikers. After the long and dolphin-strewn ride out to the island it was exciting to catch the first glimpse:


That is Arch Rock to the left, the trademark of Anacapa Island and subject of many many photographs. Once we arrived at the landing cove, the boat had to be steadied next to the big pier so the people who were getting off could safely disembark. There was a group of Channel Islands eco team members going up to the island that day. One of them told me their job was to remove non-native plants. So basically, weeding.



IMG_0853The water is really this clear and blue in the landing cove at Anacapa Island.


Once the daytrippers and campers disembarked, the rest of us were taken on a shoreline tour. This lighthouse is not manned and nobody lives in it, but you can hike all the way up to it. The foghorn sounds all day and night, even when there is no fog.

IMG_0864Again, the famous Arch Rock.



Along the east-facing side of the island, there were a few places of historical interest that narrator Mike pointed out.

IMG_0903This is called Keyhole Rock.

redwood cove

Nobody lives on the islands now (and the only mammal is a small mouse), but evidence suggests that the Chumash tribe visited the island as far back as 5,000 years ago. This spot is known as Redwood Cove. The Chumash used to come here to harvest the downed trees that landed here as driftwood to make canoes.


I chose a spot on the top deck for this part of the tour to get better views.


This spot is known as Frenchy’s Cove, named after Raymond “Frenchy” LeDreau, a hermit who lived here starting in 1928 selling fish and lobster and helping people with illegal shipments of alcohol during Prohibition.

After marveling at the mostly untouched beauty of the island, we headed back to shore, passing again through the dolphins. I was so moved by seeing the island up close that I longed to join the day hikers, so I vowed right then and there to return with my family sooner than later.

The weather that day was perfect – it started off chilly and windy and overcast, but by the time we arrived at the island the fog had burned off and the sun kept us nice and warm. The water that day was fairly calm, but it does happen that the waves get too big and choppy for a pleasure cruise. Even if you buy a ticket in advance there is always a chance that the trip will be cancelled due to unsafe conditions, so keep that in mind if you go.

This particular trip is $37 for adults with lower rates for children and seniors. There is a variety of different destinations and trip lengths and types on offer, so I encourage you to explore the website and start planning to satisfy your wanderlust. Since the Channel Islands are so close, there’s really no reason to put it off any longer.

Island Packers
Channel Islands Wildlife Cruise – Anacapa
1691 Spinnaker Drive Ventura, CA 93001


Ahoy, Mateys! Channel Islands Harbor Home To Tall Ships Until January 27

Now through January 27, board the Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington ships to poke around real sailing vessels from days past. Lady Washington was even seen in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie!

Just take the 101 North to Victoria, turn left, and stop when you see the masts of these wonderful working ships. Parking is free in lots and along the street. Dockside tours are free and run from 4-5pm today through Friday (donations are suggested) and special battle or adventure sails have admissions fees on the weekend.  See details here.

Captain James, affectionately known among the crewmembers as “Shiny.”  He started sailing big ships like this when he was 19.  He’s 19.5 now.  (No, actually he said he’s 27.)

Agoura Hills Dad is an engineer, so I liked this little detail that is affixed to the underside of a hatch cover on the Chieftain. 

Belowdecks, this faux-pirate lass explained some of the wares displayed for visitors.

These bricks are made of Chinese tea.  Once America rejected the rule of the United Kingdom, American merchants looked to China for tea instead of India, where it was more commonly shipped in leaf form.

 Our little adventure took about an hour including drive time.  We stopped at The Habit on Vineyard in Oxnard, just south of the freeway entrance, on our way home.  It was a great way to get outside and spend some time together on this holiday!