Channel Islands National Park


View from Santa Cruz island.

View from Santa Cruz island.

This post, day trip to Channel Islands National Park, comes after a hiatus of a year, a year during which my most significant achievements were finding a job, finishing my PhD, and relocating. Clearly, I have been busy writing things other than my travel memoirs- my dissertation, research papers, and my CV. Given how less I write here, I was still surprised to find my name in the list of top 20 authors.

I was on house arrest most of the time, but there were some interesting travel experiences.Notable were a trip to Kashmir, a brief layover at Dubai, and visiting Delhi and Agra. More about that later. This park had always fascinated me for two reasons, one, because it is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, away from the coast, and two, because I did not see many people traveling there.

When people visit California, I see pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the seacoast of Los Angeles and San Diego, Universal Studios, Disneyland, Lake Tahoe, or Yosemite. When I looked at the map and read up more, I was all the more intrigued. I was going to be in San Diego for a conference in August, and this place seemed near enough to make a daytrip. I needed no further nudging.

Channel Islands National Park (located in California, United States) is a cluster of five small islands- San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz, varying in area and distance from the mainland. Although close to the shores of Southern California, they are isolated for many reasons. There is no way to reach there unless you take a park concessionaire boat, plane, or private boat.

You carry your own food, and bring back your own trash. Overnight camping needs prior permission. Even riding the boats need advanced booking, and are totally sold out during the weekends in summer. Given the amount of planning that goes into reaching there, I am not surprised that it is somewhat less crowded, and rightly so.

That morning, Ventura was cold and cloudy.

That morning, Ventura was cold and cloudy.

I chose to go there on a Monday, because the weekends had totally sold out. When I visited the website for Island Packers, Santa Cruz was my only option. A roundtrip cost me $60, where the boat would leave Ventura at 10 in the morning, and would head back to Ventura at 4:30 in the evening. A good 7-8 hours sounded perfect.

They asked me to check in 45 minutes before the trip. So I started from San Diego before dawn, drove up to Ventura, parked my car for the day (car parking is free), and collected my boarding pass. The boat are nice and spacious, with clean restrooms and food services (they only accept cash). It was a cloudy and cold morning in Ventura, and I wondered how much I would be able to see in the cold. They oriented us to the ride, clearly telling us that the one hour boat ride would get bumpy and if any of us had a history of seasickness, we should sit in the lower deck.



I was already feeling brave for a day of adventures, and I had no experience riding a boat in the middle of the ocean. Most of my ferry rides were limited to taking one to Howrah from Calcutta, or the ones that go to Bainbridge Island or Vashon Island from Seattle.

Even the one in Outer Banks in North Carolina hadn’t been that bad. Needless to say, I headed straight up to the upper deck to get a better view of the ocean. They promised us seals and dolphins and whales if we were lucky. The first thing I did when I went up was put a thicker jacket on. It was cold even at ten in the morning, and we had not yet started.

On a side note, if you are used to Southern California weather, you will know that morning does not show the day despite the popular adage. Sometimes the mornings are cloudy and gloomy, with barely any sun visible, and by the time it is close to noon, it is brilliant and sunny. I did not want to lose hope.

The boat ride started after a brief orientation about how to use a life jacket (this always happens during my plane rides as well; I always wonder how much I’d be able to act smart and save myself, lifejacket and all, in case of an emergency). I looked around, and other than another Indian family, I was the only Indian. It was just an observation. I wasn’t really planning to chitchat with anyone on the basis of shared cultural heritage.

The hour long boat ride started well, and I did see seals, whales, and a lot of birds I did not identify. However as we went deeper into the ocean, I realized the full impact of what the people had meant when they said that the upper deck was not for the fainthearted. Saying the ride was bumpy was an understatement.

In less than an hour, I felt my insides being churned like the contents of a mixer grinder, and I was not too far from falling sick with dizziness. The ride was so bumpy that I could not even dare to climb down to the lower deck in the middle of the trip. For some unknown reason, the title song from the movie Titanic kept playing in my head, annoying me.

I had soon loosened my clothes to get some fresh air, contorted myself into a fetal position, and prayed that I did not fall sick. The foamy sea waves splashed on me as the boat navigated the crests and troughs of the ocean waves. I tasted salt on my skin. The cameras and lenses quickly went inside the bag.


My sickness receded somewhat as the view of the islands became clearer. The sky had started to clear up, the sun was showing, and the ocean had changed colors from a depressing grey to brilliant blue. The sight of the islands from a distance reminded me of my trip to Sicily. I was definitely excited. When we anchored there and it was time to get off the boat, I stood up and walked with wobbly legs. There was a woman who got seriously sick, poor thing took a long time to recover, and kept sitting by the banks with her son and husband.

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

The water sparkled so clear, I could see the seaweeds floating. The big group of people wearing blue jackets and blue helmets were on yellow kayaks. The boat dropped us off and left, asking us to be on time in the evening. The park ranger was a young lady who oriented us to the island, asked us to not throw trash around but to carry them with us, and told us about some of the hiking trails.

Some enthusiasts had already walked off to hike before she was done. I on the other hand was tired after my first taste of seasickness. There were a bunch of tourists who sat by benches to grab a bite, and I did the same. Although I was planning to eat an apple, I had a blueberry muffin, to get the extra sugar before I started the hike. I was glad that I had packed bottles of Gatorade and cold water too.

One of the many ravens I met during the hike.

One of the many ravens I met during the hike.

Around the bench were interesting looking exhibits, remnants from a ranch. There were old skeletons of tractors, machinery, and house models. They even have a tiny museum where there are models of the way people lived here, what they ate and what they did. Archeological exhibits said that people have been living in this island for more than 9,000 years.

Now how did they end up there in the first place, families and animals and all, way before electricity was invented or gas was discovered, I have no idea. How they kept themselves warm (or cool, depending on the weather), how they transported animals, and how they survived harsh weather, I have no idea either. Some more details are here.

The hike, and view of the Anacapa island at a distance.

The hike, and view of the Anacapa island at a distance.

The sun was blazing by that time, and I started hiking the cavern point trail from Scorpion Anchorage which goes up to the very top of the island and has a breathtaking view of the oceans. It is an easy hike, but I took my time, taking pictures, exploring, and basking in the wowness of the views as I hiked higher.

There were birds, pelicans, ravens, and the ones I did not recognize. The amazing thing about ocean weather is that one moment it is cloudy, and the other moment it gets sunny, and then cools down again. It was a very windy day. I met a few fellow hikers on the way, chatted them up, and spent a long time exploring, walking around, and taking pictures. By the time I came back, the apples, Gatorade, and oranges were all over.

The hike

The hike

From the top, you get an amazing view of the other islands (probably Anacapa island). When you hike further, you get a beautiful view of the coves, the flying birds, and the kayaks below that look nothing more than tiny yellow lines in water. One feels small and humble in front of the mighty Pacific.

I wish I had stayed for the sunset, but my boat was leaving at 4:30 pm, and it gets dark much after that in August. When I came down, I spent some time sun basking, lying down on the cobblestones and watching people go kayaking and diving. There was a huge crowd of people on our way back, these were people who had camped the night before.

They were armed with backpacks, camping gear, ice boxes, and other paraphernalia. I was wiser on my way back and chose to sit in the lower deck, still enjoying the views but not getting seasick this time. The wind was chilly, and I even dozed off at some point.

When I came back at around 5:30 pm, the cold and cloudy Ventura that I had left in the morning was now golden sunny. The palm trees very characteristic of southern California stood in rows of hundreds, and much to my amusement, I discovered private boats that had names like “The Godfather” and written on them. When I got off the boat, I was a much happier person for having done this day trip.

View of the Anacapa Island shrouded by clouds. You can see the reflection of the clouds in water.

View of the Anacapa Island shrouded by clouds. You can see the reflection of the clouds in water.


Back to sunny Ventura.

Back to sunny Ventura.

Notes: Although this is a national park, you do not pay entry fees. The boat ride is all you pay for.
There are restrooms in the island. They said they even have drinking water, but I carried my own. The restrooms on the boat are way nicer, so I used them.
The other islands are even farther off, and were sold out even on weekdays. If you are a first timer, it doesn’t matter where you go since I am sure all islands are equally pretty. However, make reservations in advance.
Remember, everything goes with you and comes back with you. Even trash.
Dress in layers. It could get anywhere from uncomfortably hot to biting cold.
For more information, you should explore this page.


  • Devasmita,
    I am thrilled reading this post.. I am sure there will be many people atleast from our community who will want to go here after reading this post!

    It is a great write-up, as usual and we really missed such posts from you all these days! Great pictures, clear detailing and fabulous place to read about.. Excellent work!


  • Devasmita says:

    Archana, thank you :) I realized I was gone from Ghumakkar for too long, and I needed to start somewhere. I hope the posts will be more frequent now. I love the way people at Ghumakkar are always so warm and welcoming, no matter how long I have been gone.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Long time DC. :-). Hope you are all settled in your new place and past the hard-work of Phd.hehe. We indeed missed your absence.

    You are right about the places people typically go to. As you know, I also did Tahoe, LA, SFO etc. Yosemite was saved for a better weather. Didn’t know of Channel Islands, do not even remember a suggestion for this place for local folks so it is indeed a place less traveled. So thank you for showing us around. And for similar reasons, this log is a FOG (First on Ghumakkar).

    I recently did a ship ride in an ocean (I guess) towards Isle-of-Weight (A couple of hours away from London) but the sea was calm. We were on upper deck and it was not that hard. It was a first time for me to be on a big ship which has snack shops and all that. We also saw QM2 (Queen Mary2) on our way up.

    Hope to read more from you and wishes for your new place and work. Best.

  • Sandeep Gupta says:

    The write- up, the photographs, the layout, every thing else about this post is just WOW.


  • ashok sharma says:

    very good post,good pics.

  • Stone says:

    That’s brilliant information DS.
    This is in my to-do list now, I’ll go there whenever I’m that area next (which happens to be this Friday).

  • Hemanth says:

    DS, this is an awesome post. Having lived in SoCal for 10 years, going Channel Island has still sitting in my list. I am sure I would make that trip ASAP, specailly after reading your blog here. Good narration, useful tidbits etc. Hope you had a good drive back to San Diego.

  • Vipin says:

    A blue post ‘out of the blue’…wow, welcome back Devasmita Ji! Short and sweet post containing all the masala to enjoy this delicacy be it superb photos or well described experiences or touristy info…all in all a wonderful come back! The third photo from top looks very surreal…looks as if it’s a painting…:)…wish we could make it to this place someday! Look forward to more of your tales soon…

    @ Sandip (Stone) bhai, it’s not fair, you enjoy relishing others post and get inspired from these lovely tales…don’t you think you should pay back to ghumakkar by writing your wandering tales too & inspire other ghumakkars as you do it with your ever encouraging comments? I know you have some amazing writing skills…direct dil se…:)…Why don’t you start with your recent long road trip…am sure ghumakkars would just love it…:)

  • Min says:

    Loved the article! I live in SF and have been wanting to visit for a while……. will definitely be on the 2014 list! Thanks!

  • Stone says:

    @Vipin – I know its not fair, but I seriously believe writing such wonderful posts like you guys is not my cup of tea. That’s the reason I just love reading posts here. May be someday I’ll give it a shot.

  • Abheeruchi says:

    Hi Devasmita,

    What a post with brilliant pictures.Bird pictures looks like painting only.When I first saw the picture I was shocked whether Mumbai Santa Cruz has such a beautiful place in close by and I am not aware of.Secret reveals later when I started reading.

    Very nice post.Good to know about this place , I never knew about it.Also I wanted to mention that I always love to read your posts.All posts are just awesome.May be someday I will reach that standard.

    Too good.Hope to see you more often.

    Keep travelling, keep writing.

  • It is always very nice reading your posts with complemented pictures, good to know about this place.

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    It is a visual treat for everyone interested in nature.
    It was just like a glimpse of Hollywood movies…few years back I saw a movie “Into the Wild” and it reminds me of the same. The film also features this National Park.

    As we are thinking to visit my brother in Rochester next year, we may explore some of these places – however, the distance is very far from there I guess.

    Excellent travelogue as we expected from you always. We wish to read from you more frequently and look forward to more ‘FOG’s.

  • Bidisha says:

    Loved reading the piece. Do keep travelling. And do keep writing. Snaps were picture perfect.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Devasmita,

    The post is a delight to read. Your PhD might as well have been in creative travel writing.

    Channel Islands seem to be a great place. All i have heard of the Alcatraz but not these islands.

    Hope to read more of your incoming posts and in the meantime will go through your earlier posts.

    • Devasmita says:

      haha … wish they had good jobs in creative travel writing, and wish they paid me to do that, enough so that I could think of a shift in career :) I do like to go to the places less traveled.

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