We think Channel Islands National Park is one of the great undiscovered attractions in California. It encompasses the five northernmost Channel Islands, which are seaward extensions of the Santa Monica Mountains.
The establishment of the 250,000-acre/101,250-hectare national park (half of this area is underwater) was the culmination of preservation efforts that began with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. All five islands in the park can be visited—conditions permitting. There are three Channel Islands that are not part of the national park: San Nicolas and San Clemente are owned by the U.S. government and can't be visited, but Santa Catalina is a well-known tourist destination.
Luxuriant 24-mi-/38-km-long Santa Cruz Island has the most to offer first-time visitors. Take a guided Nature Conservancy hike, kayak just offshore, scuba dive and explore sea caves, or watch birds.
Another good choice is Anacapa Island. It's the closest to the mainland, just 11 mi/17 km from Oxnard; hence many people start there. A visit begins with a 154-step climb up from the boat landing to the island plateau. There's a nature trail as well as a lighthouse and a museum. Overnight camping is possible with advance arrangements. The other islands in the park are Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa and San Miguel.
The national park visitors center is located at the harbor in Ventura (on the mainland, 75 mi/120 km northwest of Los Angeles), and it's the best source for current information about each island, including camping and other permit requirements. Boats to the national park islands are operated by Island Packers (http://www.islandpackers.com) and depart from Ventura and Oxnard. They sail to Anacapa and Santa Cruz year-round and to the other islands at limited times. Channel Island Aviation has air excursions to Santa Rosa Island (http://www.flycia.com).
The Channel Islands has some of the best scuba diving in the world, and is home to a number of animal species not found on mainland California. There, you enter the realm of the mighty giant kelp forest, bright orange garibaldi fish, the small but beautiful blue-banded gobie, and large schools of jacks, sardine and senoritas. Lobsters also thrive in this area, luring eager lobster hunters for the October-March season. http://www.nps.gov/chis/index.htm.
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