Channel Islands National Park Is California’s Most Exotic Off-Shore Destination

Often called the ‘Galapagos of North America,’ this description could not be more accurate of these incredible islands.

California’s Channel Islands have often been called ‘the Galapagos of North America’ but we prefer to call them something else: paradise. This collection of islands just off the coast of California includes San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Tours out to these islands can be found year-round through the Island Packers tour company, which offers extensive views of this unbelievable landscape.

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The islands truly live up to their nickname, given the sheer amount of wildlife and plant life that exists across all five islands. Boat tours allow visitors to observe everything these Pacific islands have to offer in an entirely new way, while hiking and kayaking allow visitors to be fully immersed. The islands are not far off the coast of Los Angeles, which makes it all the more surprising when visitors realize just how rural, remote, and truly stunning they are. The two places could not be more like night and day, and if you weren’t familiar with the geography of the islands, you would definitely think that they were part of an entirely new, undiscovered country, rather than off the coast of L.A.

What Visitors Can Expect To See And Experience

There’s really no preparation for something in nature as beautiful as the islands that inhabit the Santa Barbara Channel, especially for those who are used to the hustle and bustle of a California city. However, statistically, visitors can expect to sail to islands that are home to more than 2,000 species of plant and wildlife, and out of that, 150 are found nowhere else in the world. If that’s not staggering enough, the islands are also home to 30 different species of marine life, including whales and dolphins, and also things you won’t necessarily see, such as sea stars and anemones. Those who join a whale tour might even be lucky enough to see a blue whale – the largest whale species, and animal, in the entire world.

seals at channel islands national park
via Shutterstock

To see the Channel Islands up close is to also witness a piece of archaeological history. It’s estimated that these islands were first settled 13,000 years ago, and they’re also home to the oldest human remains in the world. Researchers believed that the dwarf wooly mammoth once called these islands home, as well, up until 11,000 years ago, also known as the period of the last Ice Age. According to Visit Ventura, the islands were once settled by the Paleo Indian peoples, and the sites of 148 villages have been discovered since, spread throughout the islands. While the beauty of the islands is truly breathtaking, they’re also the location of some of the world’s oldest, and most fascinating, histories.

The Best Times To Go And What To Do

As with any national park, the summer months are the best times to visit. This is especially true for those who are keen on watching sea lions sunbathing on rocks or seeing whales on one of the popular whale tours around the islands. With the weather at its prime in the summer, tourists have a chance to witness humpback whales and blue whales during their northern migration, an opportunity that few people have the chance to experience. However, that’s not to say that the winter and spring seasons aren’t just as magical.


channel islands seals
via Shutterstock

During the winter months when the weather is mild, visitors can see harbor seal pups, elephant seals, and gray whales as they swim through on their way south to warmer weather. In the spring months, the islands are just coming back into full bloom, making for a spectacular sight as visitors take in blooms of green and varieties of wildflowers.

hiking on the channel islands
via Shutterstock

This is also when the best bird-watching can be had, as gulls and seabirds begin nesting for the season. It’s also not uncommon to see newborn animals in the spring, which always makes for an emotional sight.

cathedral cove
via Shuttersock

Depending on what a visitor is interested in, they might find that one island is better suited to their personal adventure than another. Any number of activities, from kayaking to hiking, are permitted on certain islands. Visitors have access to snorkeling, camping, day hikes, and birding, as well as having access to the beaches and permissions for multi-day hikes. Santa Rosa can be visited from March until October, and both Anacapa and Santa Cruz can be visited all year-round. For those seeking a quiet getaway to go hiking or camp, Santa Rosa is a great option, while those looking for shorter hikes might consider Anacapa. Those who are truly adventurous will find excitement in visiting Santa Cruz, with options for kayaking, long hikes, snorkeling, or sea cave exploration.

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