Discover Spectacular Beauty at the Channel Islands in CA

The Channel Islands are just off the Southern California mainland, making a tropical oasis that’s within your grasp while still feeling like it’s exotic and remote. Perhaps the most striking feature of these islands are their ecological diversity; since the islands are so isolated, you’ll discover unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth. Learn more about the Channel Islands in CA below!

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What Are the Channel Islands in CA?

pennants in blue sky with words "download our santa barbara vacation guide" on topFive ecologically rich islands make up the beautiful protected archipelago of Channel Islands National Park: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz.

San Clemente Island and San Nicolas Island are owned by the U.S. Government and used for military activity. The government also owns San Miguel Island, though the National Park Service now manages it as a part of the Channel Islands National Park.

The final Channel Island in CA is Santa Catalina Island, which is the only island that has a city and town that people occupy.

For a map of the Channel Islands National Park, take a look at their website.

How to Get to the Channel Islands in CA

Three services offer recreational services and transportation to and from the Channel Islands: Island Packers, Channel Islands Aviation, and Truth Aquatics. If you’re traveling to an island requiring a permit, they’ll provide the forms for you. The Channel Islands National Park ferry, Island Packers is probably the cheapest way to get to the Channel Islands, as most of their day trips are under $100.

The Eight Channel Islands in CA

San Miguel Island

As San Miguel Island is the westernmost of the Channel Islands, the weather can be rough and unpredictable here. There isn’t a visitors center, goods, accommodations, or water on the island—as with the other islands, you must be prepared.

You can only visit the island if you have a permit, and a ranger must accompany you if you venture beyond the ranger station. However, these restraints ensure that the island is preserved (and it guarantees your safety, as the island used to be a bombing range).

Besides, how often do you get the opportunity to visit a remote island miles from civilization?

You can explore Cuyler Harbor beach, Nidever Canyon, the Cabrillo Monument, and the Lester Ranch site without a ranger by your side, and the hiking trails lead you through beautiful landscapes. Plus, the rangers can take you on a guided tour to Point Bennett or the caliche forest.

Santa Rosa Island

Guided hikes and hiking trails allow you to explore the diverse terrain of the island, ranging from sandy beaches to mountainous treks. One of the best beaches of the Channel Islands, Water Canyon Beach, is found here.

Anacapa Island

Among the attractions at Anacapa Island are a small visitors center, hiking trails, the last major lighthouse built on the West Coast, and of course, spectacular views and diverse wildlife. You can explore tide pools at Frenchys Cove, though you’ll need to be lucky enough to catch one of the few excursions to the cove as it is only reachable by boat.

Santa Barbara Island

Santa Barbara Island offers some of the most spectacular vistas of the Channel Islands, and you can experience them while hiking the miles of trails that are available. Visit during wildflower season for incredible displays. Santa Barbara Island is also ideal for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and diving.

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the easiest to get to, enjoys the best weather, and offers the most recreational opportunities. Go sea kayaking with Channel Islands Adventure Company, learn about the island’s biodiversity at the visitors center, take a spectacular hike, or visit Scorpion Beach for world-class swimming, diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.

San Clemente Island

San Clemente Island supports several native and rare species, including some that are found nowhere else in the world. While some brave adventurers visit the coves surrounding the island to see the wildlife via snorkeling and diving, keep in mind that some areas are restricted to military personnel only, including Navy Seals in training.

San Nicolas Island

A woman lived alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island, the most remote of the California Channel Islands as it is 61 miles from shore. Named the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, she was relocated to the Santa Barbara Mission when a fur trapper discovered her. This story was the inspiration of Scott O’Dell’s novel “Island of the Blue Dolphins.”

Today, the island is mostly used by the U.S. Navy, though there is a conservation effort underway to protect its native species, particularly a subspecies of fox found nowhere else in the world.  

Santa Catalina Island

As Santa Catalina Island is developed, there is plenty to do. However, keep in mind that you won’t get the same experience as you will on the other Channel Islands, as it is not as remote.

Where to Stay When Visiting the Channel Islands in CA

view of march hare roomThe Cheshire Cat Inn in Santa Barbara is the perfect place to stay during your visit. Santa Barbara is one of the closest cities on the mainland to Channel Islands National Park, and there’s a wealth of things to do when you’re not exploring the islands.

Our inn offers a beautiful, quiet place just blocks from the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, replete with luxury and comfort. Choose from 18 gorgeous guest rooms, suites, and cottages, decorated with English charm and a touch of whimsy.  

What are you waiting for? Your exotic retreat awaits you!

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