5 Things to Know Before You Travel to Channel Islands

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My husband and I recently visited Ventura County in southern California. We both love the coast and traveling to new destinations. The highlight of our vacation was a day trip to kayak at Channel Islands National Park. We saw dolphins, seals, the adorable island fox, plenty of birds and brightly colored fish on our visit to Santa Cruz Island. If you plan to visit Ventura County Coast like a local, you’ll want to read these 5 things to know before you travel to Channel Islands.

You may not know that Channels Islands National Park is run by the national park service. The park encompasses five incredible islands and the surrounding ocean environment. There are animals and plants that are completely unique to the Channel Islands. In fact, there is an active archeological dig happening on the island as I type this blog post. As such, transportation to the islands is only available by park concessionaire boats, planes or private boats.


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Things to know before you travel to Channel Islands – you will see dolphins. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Island Packers Transportation

The islands are only accessible by approved park concessionaires and Island Packers Cruises is the ferry. We took Island Packers Cruises from Ventura Harbor to Channel Islands National Park. I highly recommend that you purchase your Island Packers tickets plenty of time before you travel to Channel Islands.

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Pick up your picnic before you travel to Channel Islands. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Channel Islands Provisioners

If you enjoy gourmet food with lovely scenery, you’ll want to connect with Channel Islands Provisioners before you travel to Channel Islands. Chef Neal Rosenthal uses farm-fresh ingredients to deliver your breakfast, lunch or dinner dockside. We loved the breakfast buns and Greek yogurt with market berries for a healthy start to the day. The chicken sandwich with homemade chocolate brownie was delicious, but my husband ordered the ham sandwich with scratch made cookies and they scored a home run. There are vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well.

Individual day packs offer plenty of food for your visit on island and each order is custom tailored to your taste. Your day pack includes Channel Islands Provisioners refillable water bottle (yours to keep), silverware, reusable containers and napkins. Besides eating your meal, all you have to do is drop the pack off when you return to Island Packers ferry building. Chef Neal can pack healthy travel snacks or cater your sailing adventure to the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara and Ventura harbors.

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Channel Islands Adventure Company

Channel Islands Adventure Company offers kayaking and snorkeling national park tours. Some of the most beautiful sea caves in the world may be found on the Channel Islands. Did you know that the Channel Islands are often referred to as the Galapagos of North America?

Santa Cruz Island is 96 square miles in size and is the largest island in California. There are 140 types of birds and 11 mammal species on the island, including the island fox. The island is surrounded by the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary, making this place very special for kayaking and snorkeling.

The guides are extremely knowledgeable about the flora, fauna and sea life in the area, in addition to being well trained in kayaking. On our Adventure Sea Cave Kayak Tour we had adult brothers and sisters visiting from New York, a grandmother and her 9 year old grandson, a solo kayaker from Chicago and we were the husband and wife from northern California. Everyone in our kayak tour was a first-time visitor to Channel Islands National Park.

After a brief safety lesson, we carried our kayaks to the beach and launched into the bay. Our guide, Hector Kielblock, has been leading sea cave kayak tours for five years and paddling with his father since he was a young boy. Hector shared his knowledge of the Chumash Indians, the first human inhabitants of the Channel Islands, as well as information about the diverse marine animals and plants.

The water was crystal clear, with excellent visibility to see the many bright orange Garibaldi fish darting about the kelp forest. Then we paddled, like ducklings following their mother, into the sea caves. With names like boat wreck, green room and painted cave, we safely limboed our way through numerous nooks and crannies. The youngest in our group slid in and out of his kayak like a seal following a salmon.

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After our kayak tour we had time to eat our picnic lunch, sold separately through Channel Islands Provisioners, take a hike or snorkel.

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Cory and Nancy Brown kayak Channel Islands National Park

What to Pack before you travel to Channel Islands

Wondering what to wear before you travel to Channel Islands? For your 60 minute boat ride from Ventura Harbor to the Channel Islands you’ll want to wear layers. We wore our swimsuits under our clothes so that we were ready to kayak upon arrival. Leave your cotton t-shirts and jeans behind as synthetic layers work best. Bring or wear a windbreaker for the boat ride. I brought paddling gloves, more for sun protection for my hands and we wore baseball hats to wear under the kayak helmets. Bring a strap for your hat and sunglasses, biodegradable sunscreen and chapstick. Bring a day pack or dry bag, hiking shoes, change of clothes and waterproof camera. Cell phone cases are available for purchase on island if needed – I love my Lifeproof case.

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Travel to Channel Islands National Park to see island foxes. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Camping on Channel Islands National Park

While my husband and I did not stay overnight on Santa Cruz island, it is possible to camp on island. I met Hannah Lazarz from Los Angeles and her boyfriend at the picnic area on the beach. They had been camping on the island for several days. Upon arrival the couple thought the island fox was cute. After several days of having their socks and small items stolen, their patience wore thin. Hannah’s tips, “Never feed the island fox. Always store food in the bins provided and put any items you don’t want taken away.” In short, good luck trying to outfox the island fox.

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Kayaking Channel Islands National Park sea caves. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Need to know:

There is no transportation available on the Channel Islands. Access to the islands is available on foot, by kayak or boat. No pets or bicycles are allowed on island. Island Packers runs year round 3-7 days a week. Tickets may be purchased online or at Ventura Harbor. Parking is free in the lot. You must arrive 45 minutes prior to departure.

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Insider tip: If you want to visit Ventura County like a local read my list of things to see and do on Ventura County Coast. For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown and https://www.instagram.com/channelislandsnps/ https://www.instagram.com/islandpackers/ https://www.instagram.com/visitvccoast/

If You Go:

Island Packers Ventura Harbor (805) 642-1393

1691 Spinnaker Drive 105B

Ventura, California 93001