Haven Livingston
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Skip the road trip and take a boat to the Channel Islands
Words and photos by Haven Livingston

A wild stretch of pristine island coast. Photo: Haven Livingston

Want to get off the beaten path? Or better yet, get off the path altogether? Ditch the road, ditch the car and hop on a boat to California’s Channel Islands. The eight islands that make up the Channel Island are visible off the coast from Santa Barbara to L.A., but without a road linking them to the mainland, most people never consider them as a destination. Five islands comprise the Channel Islands National Parks: Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Anacapa and Santa Barbara. San Nicolas and San Clemente are military owned while Santa Catalina is open to the public and even has two small villages.

These island oases are a representation of what the southern California coast might look like without human development. They’re often referred to as “North America’s Galapagos” with 145 endemic species on the islands and surrounding waters. Unlike the Galapagos, the northern Channel Islands are a few hours boat ride away from Ventura with Island Packers or from Long Beach to Catalina with Catalina Express charter boats. Alternatively, a scenic flight with Channel Island Aviation will get you to Santa RosaIsland or you can take your own boat to any of the National Park Islands (check with Park Service for landing zones).

Each of the Islands has something unique to explore. Islands in the north are bathed in cooler water currents and are home to sea creatures and kelp forests you might see in northern CA. The southernmost (public) Island of Catalina basks in warm currents and its coastal waters are populated by California’s state marine fish, the bright orange Garibaldi. Hop in the water with a mask and snorkel and you’re guaranteed to see at least one.

Santa Cruz is the largest of the islands with about 96 square miles. Day hiking and overnight camping is the best way to get a feel for island life, but for those with sea legs, another world awaits exploration.

Charter boats will drop off you and your kayak or you can take guided trips around the rocks that make up tiny Anacapa or the other islands. Scuba diving is most popular on Catalina Island where the water gets pleasantly warm in the summer. Winter and spring hold the best chances of seeing whales and other marine mammals during the passage, with the added bonus of blooming wildflowers.

Visit the Channel Islands National Park online at: http://www.nps.gov/chis/index.htm for more information.

Cat Rock on Anacapa Island. Photo: Haven Livingston

Juvenile sea lions make close up investigations on Santa Barbara Island. Photo: Haven Livingston.

View of Two Harbors, Catalina Island. Photo: Haven Livingston.

Springtime shooting stars bloom on Catalina. Photo: Haven Livingston

A monument to explorer Jun Rodriguez Cabrillo on San Miguel Island. Photo: Haven Livingston.

Kayakers off the coast of Catalina. Photo: Haven Livingston

Garabaldi swims below a kayak on Catalina. Photo: Haven Livingstong