Due to the heavy marine layer, it was impossible to see Anacapa Island until we were within two miles of landing. Even then, it was a faint outline in the grey sky. It was fitting as Anacapa means “mirage.” The first island in The Channel Islands National Park, it makes for an incredible day out full of marine wildlife, breathtaking views, and birds.
The Channel Islands National Park lies off the coast of southern California. Though it is free to visit the park, the cost is in getting to the islands. For my day trip out to the closest island to the mainland, I opted to go with Island Packers, departing from their Oxnard location (boats also depart from Ventura).
Even before we cast off from the dock, there was wildlife all around. A harbor seal was swimming along the docks and birds bobbing in the water or landing on the boat above you. Right on time, the boat departed and made its way out of the calm waters of the harbor. Once cleared, it became a mini joy ride as the boat rocked up and down with the rolling waves. Standing at the bow, it was fun to watch the waves heading toward us and even catching some ocean spray on occasions. At around 6 miles out, the captain came on the speakers stating that we were now over the deepest part of the channel and that if any wildlife is spotted, they would stop (which was great as it was not a whale watching tour but Island Packers gives their passengers the full experience if the marine life cooperates).
No sooner had he uttered the words than on the horizon a small geyser of water appeared. A whale! We sped off in the direction of the geyser in hopes that by the time we got there, the whale would reappear – no guarantees. While floating silently with everyone on board eagle eyed with expectation, we were told all about the blue whale. Then, the whale reappeared! Though you don’t see all of the whale, it is still a sight to behold. Especially when the whale goes down for a final descent and the fluke appears before going under. And to top off the experience, several small pods of dolphins appeared, leaping out of the water. After the wildlife had gone their way, we continued on to Anacapa.
As the island became more visible, your eye is immediately drawn to the lighthouse on top of the volcanic rock. Approaching the landing cove, Arch Rock comes into full view, which is a beautiful feature. Hopping off the boat, it is a climb of 157 steps to get to the top of the island. Before heading up, Island Packers provided some tips for any encounters you may have with the island residents as well as offering an informed hike about the island.
As I go to national parks for nature, I opted to forgo the hike talk and headed along the 2-mile trail on the island solo. I was a bit hesitant at first due to all the birds. Hundreds, probably thousands of Western Gulls, pelicans, and Cassin’s Auklet to name a few (though the Western Gulls were the majority). They are everywhere. Think Hitchcock’s The Birds. They line the trails and swoop around above you. And the sound from them! It is not a place you go to if you want peace and quiet. Camping is allowed on the island, but I wonder if the bird population quiets down at night. As the island offers nature in its raw state, you will also see the remains of birds in their various stages of decay.
But you quickly learn that the birds do not mean you any harm, so it is an easy progress on the trail, as most of it is rather flat with a few stairs here and there. There are no trees on the island, so when the sun comes out, the only places you can seek shade is in the small Visitors’ Center or the waiting area by the landing dock. The island has some colorful plant life which add lovely spots of color along the trail.
The main reason people come to Anacapa is for the view from Inspiration Point. And what a view it is! You can spend a good portion of your time just admiring the view as it does not get old. From high above, you can see kayakers rowing above the large kelp beds. Eventually, you do have leave the spot as you only have 5 hours on the island.
On either side of the island are two look out points, Cathedral Cove and Pinniped Point. Cathedral Cove has some interesting rock formations and, if you are lucky, you may see some sea lions basking on the sand. However, if it sea lions you are looking for, then Pinniped Point is the place for you. Far below you, the beach is littered with sea lions. Their barks float upwards filling the air around you. From here, there is also a great view of the lighthouse.
The island is light on man made structures and there are no places to get food or water. There is a small Visitors’ Center with a restroom behind it and several buildings that do not appear to be in use anymore. One can walk a small trail up to the lighthouse, though you cannot enter it. One is cautioned from walking around it due to the constant foghorn emanating from the adjacent building.
The five hours fly by, yet you never feel rushed and can leisurely take in your settings and even enjoy a picnic (if you dare with all the birds around). The boat arrives promptly at 3:30 p.m. and leaves at 3:45 getting you back to the mainland around 5 p.m. Heading out, the boat takes a slight detour to a spot just around the island to take a closer look at the sea lions. Once out on the channel, though everyone was on the lookout for more marine animals, none were in sight.
A trip to the Channel Islands National Park is an easy day trip from the Los Angeles area and a long day trip from the San Diego area. But the experiences you have on Anacapa make it completely worth it.
What to Pack:
– Sun protection
– Water for the day
– Layers – it can get chilly on the boat ride
– Wet wipes