The West Coast Galapagos
SANTA CRUZ ISLAND | Channel islands, CA
Did you know that there's a group of magical islands just off the shores of Santa Barbara? Well, your mind is about to be blown! Our friend Silvia had mentioned The Channel Islands (aka The West Coast Galapagos) to us and we were instantly intrigued. After hours of research, we came to the conclusion: a place this beautiful must be somewhere abroad! When we discovered it was a stone’s throw from LA, we couldn’t resist and instantly booked ourselves a pair of tickets with Island Packers.
We only had one day to explore, so we decided to spend the afternoon at Santa Cruz Island. It offers numerous trails, a variety of landscapes, and adorable Island Foxes which are indigenous to the Channel Islands. Fun fact: Even though they are the size of a small dog, they're the largest predator on the islands. They seem friendly, but don’t let that fool you! They can be very sneaky in capturing your food so keep those sack lunches close or hidden away in a locked bin!
Santa Cruz Island has two different ports. We chose Scorpion Anchorage because Potato Harbor was a hot item on our list of To-Do's. After hopping on the second boat ride out at 9:30am, we arrived on the island an hour later. We were greeted by a beautiful rocky beach with people snorkeling and enjoying the majestic sea cliffs surrounding them. This is one of the few places where you can swim on the island. You can also rent kayaks there if you want to explore the island by water. As soon as our tummies had settled from the rocky ride, we hit the trail.
On our short walk to Cavern Point, we passed by a field of small bright red plants that sat in a chalk white dirt. The other islands seemed to float in a distant haze and for a moment, we could've sworn we were on another planet. At the peak, we faced a sheer drop off with a view of the island's endless shoreline. From Cavern Point we continued on the North Bluff Trail towards Potato Harbor. The hike took us through flower fields, fire roads, and open rolling hills until we reached our breathtaking destination. The quiet cliffs have three saturated layers ranging from green, to amber, to white before hitting the sapphire and turquoise waters below. The island stretches out as it curves and fades away in the distance. We felt like we had been transported to a private cove in Greece or Italy.
Since the last boat of the day leaves at 4:30pm, it was time to head back to the dock. We took a shorter route by hiking down Potato Harbor Road: a lovely trail which led us back to the campground with plenty of shade and picnic tables. It was the perfect spot to stop and have a snack before catching the boat home.
Santa Cruz Island was more dreamy than we ever could've imagined, but the best surprise was saved for last.... on our way back we encountered a DOLPHIN STAMPEDE! If you haven't experienced one, make sure to watch the end of our YouTube video to see what the excitement is all about. We were swarmed by hundreds of dolphins jumping, playing, and racing the boat. They splashed in the water as far as the eyes could see. Our captain even slowed down for everyone to enjoy this rare spectacle. Fun fact: When there's a dolphin stampede this large, there will often be whales present as well. We both got goosebumps and cried at the sight of this miraculous event. When we returned to the mainland just before sunset, we agreed that this was our favorite day trip to date.
TIPS + TRICKS
2) Book your tickets in advance, especially in summer when people are looking to camp. There are limited campsites available on the islands that are all first come, first served.
3) If you want to camp, it's a hike in campground so make sure you can carry everything in and out of the island (including food and water). Click on THIS LINK for information on when the campgrounds are open and what you should bring.
4) If you're sensitive to motion sickness, you can buy dramamine at Island Packers before you leave. Be sure to take it early to prevent symptoms!
5) Bring a trash bag because there are no trash bins and we want to keep our parks clean!
Photo taken from the National Parks Service. CLICK HERE for detailed information on all of the hiking trails!