Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Channel Islands National Park offers a solitary place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life. This park has abundant opportunities to explore and discover the beauty of this area of the world. Each year, over 400,000 visitors come to see the wonder of this national park.
Let’s journey together to discover the adventure waiting for you at Channel Islands National Park.
How To Get to Channel Islands National Park
Where Is Channel Islands National Park?
Channel Islands National Park is located near the city of Ventura, California, and spreads across 5 separate islands. This national park stretches over 390 square miles of land and water. The mainland visitor centers are located along the southern coast of California, and the park is just a short boat ride from there.
Nearest Airports to Channel Islands National Park
Several airport options exist for visitors who want to fly into the Channel Islands National Park area. Some airports are large international airports, while others are small, regional ones. Let’s explore these options to see which will work best for your national park adventure.
Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)
Hollywood Burbank Airport is located in Burbank, California, a little over an hour from Channel Islands National Park.
This airport offers nonstop flights to nearly U.S. 30 cities, such as Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, and New York, and dozens of locations in the country’s western region. Airlines served by Hollywood Burbank Airport include American, Avelo, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit.
Hollywood Burbank Airport is just a hop, skip, and jump away from the national park. Its proximity and numerous flights and airlines make it an excellent option for flying into the Channel Islands National Park area.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Los Angeles International Airport is 80 minutes from Channel Islands National Park and is a popular airport for those traveling to the park.
LAX offers nonstop flights to hundreds of places worldwide. This airport services many major airlines, including American, British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest. With its proximity to Channel Islands National Park and a long list of airlines and cities served, Los Angeles International Airport is an excellent choice for visitors flying into this park area.
Santa Barbara Airport (SBA)
Santa Barabara Airport is a tri-county airport located approximately 45 minutes from the mainland visitor center of Channel Islands National Park. This airport offers 20 nonstop flights to 10 U.S. locations. Santa Barbara Airport services many major airlines, including Alaska, American, Southwest, and United.
Driving to Channel Islands National Park
While you can not drive directly to Channel Islands National Park, you can drive to the mainland visitor centers in either Santa Barbara or Ventura. These visitor centers can be accessed by Freeway 101. From the visitor center, a boat is needed to arrive at the park.
Taking the Train to Channel Islands National Park
For those who want to experience a national park vacation by railway, Channel Islands National Park’s mainland visitor centers can all be accessed by train. Amtrak and Metrolink are 2 options for visitors to utilize when visiting Channel Islands National Park. Once arriving at the Oxnard train station, it’s a short drive to the harbor to access a boat to take you the rest of the way to the park.
Taking the Bus to Channel Islands National Park
There are several options for visitors who want to visit Channel Islands National Park by bus as there are bus stations near the mainland visitor centers. Utilizing a bus is a great way to save money while traveling and let someone else take over the stress of driving and navigating.
Options for taking the bus to Channel Islands National Park include Greyhound and Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District. You can select the bus service you will need depending on which island you are wanting to visit, and from the station, it is a short journey to the park.
Taking a Boat from the Mainland to Channel Islands National Park
Island Packers is the sole provider for transport from the mainland to the different islands at Channel Islands National Park.
This concessionaire provides a variety of trips to each island on a regular schedule. Utilizing Island Packers is the only option for arriving at the park. The trip durations range from 1 to 4 hours.
Visitors can also choose to arrive to Channel Islands National Park by private boat. Rules and regulations for using a private boat are found on the park’s boating page.
Getting Around Channel Islands National Park
Since Channel Islands National Park is an island park composed of several islands, it can be tricky to get around. There is no transportation available on the islands. This park can only be explored on foot or by private boat or kayak. The National Park Service offers a variety of printable and interactive maps to help you plan your adventures while visiting Channel Islands National Park.
What To See and Do in Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park has a host of activities for guests to enjoy while visiting. From informative programs to hiking, from kayaking to scuba diving, there’s no shortage of recreation at this national park.
Diving and Snorkeling
The majority of Channel Islands National Park is underwater, so there are plenty of opportunities to explore the world under the sea during your visit.
Diving and snorkeling are exciting activities that visitors love to participate in. Kelp forests, tropical fish, and sea caves are some of the most exciting sights when participating in these underwater activities. The best areas of the park for diving and snorkeling include Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and the eastern Santa Cruz Islands.
Hiking around Channel Islands National Park provides breathtaking views of the island’s landscape, wildlife, and plant life. A wide variety of hikes are available throughout the islands, ranging from easy to strenuous.
Santa Cruz is one of the most popular places for hiking in Channel Islands National Park. This area has the most opportunities for adventurers and is a popular place for exploring caves. If you plan to hike while visiting this park, be sure to have everything you may need, as there are no places to stop for food and water throughout this island park.
Outdoor enthusiasts love the opportunities for kayaking at Channel Islands National Park. This national park features a pristine marine environment just waiting to be explored. The park offers kayaking tours, but experienced kayakers can set out on a self-guided excursion. There are plenty of chances to see marine life and even opportunities to kayak through caves.
Scorpion Beach on East Santa Cruz Island is the most popular area for kayaking at Channel Islands National Park. Exploring the park while kayaking is a unique way to discover its mystery and appeal.
Packing a picnic to enjoy at Channel Islands National Park is a beautiful, free activity. Picnic tables are available on all the islands except for San Miguel Islands. Another popular area for picnicking in the park is on the beaches.
If you plan to have a picnic in Channel Islands National Park, it is essential to note that you will need to bring everything you will need for your meal. The park has no places for food or water, so coming prepared is essential.
Another necessary thing to note is that many scavenging animals, birds included, will be eager to share your meal with you. Be sure to secure food and trash at all times and avoid feeding the animals in order to protect their ecosystem.
Having a meal while enjoying the spectacular views of Channel Islands National Park is an excellent way to slow down and enjoy the beauty and wonder of the islands. Everyone loves a meal with a view, and this is one you won’t easily forget.
Channel Islands National Park has some of the best tidepools in southern California because of its isolation and protection. The park offers opportunities for visitors to explore these windows of the sea, including guided tidepool tours and self-guided discovery opportunities.
Popular places for tidepooling include East Point on Santa Rosa Island, Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island, Frenchy’s Cove on Anacapa Island, and Becher’s Bay at the pier. Some of the species that can be seen at these tidepool sites include starfish, urchins, anemones, barnacles, and mussels.
TIdepooling is an activity that will help you to learn about the diverse ecosystems in the world and get a glimpse of the life that thrives under the sea.
Channel Islands National Park has several visitor centers that are a great starting point for your park adventures. One of the visitor centers, The Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center, is located on the mainland in Ventura. There are small visitor centers at Santa Barbara, Anacapa Islands, and on Santa Cruz Island at Scorpion Ranch.
The mainland visitor center has a bookstore, marine life display, and several exhibits showcasing the features of each island in the park. This visitor center also has a 25-minute movie called “A Treasure in the Sea” where tourists can learn about the park’s history visually. Another bonus of this visitor center is that rangers are stationed to answer questions about the park and help you plan your outings. These rangers also host a variety of free programs about the park.
The Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center, located at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, has one of the best views of Santa Barbara. This visitor center has numerous exhibits about Channel Islands National Park, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and Los Padres National Forest. Visiting the Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center is an excellent idea for those wanting to learn about the park and marine life and get spectacular views of this beautiful island.
One of the most exciting activities at Channel Islands National Park is whale watching. This activity is best enjoyed from mid-December through the middle of March. There are 27 species that have been sighted at this park, including blue, humpback, gray, sperm, and orca whales. Bottlenose dolphins are also seen year-round.
The best place to watch for whales is on a whale-watching boat or private boat, but whales can also be seen from the shore. Several concessionaires offer whale-watching tours and depart from the nearby harbors. Getting a view of one of the magnificent creatures that journey through these areas is a remarkable experience that will create memories to last a lifetime.
Channel Islands National Park houses over 800 plant species. Each island has its own unique flora due to a variety of factors such as island size, climate, distance from the mainland and other islands, elevations, and topography. Because of this diversity, wildflower viewing is a favorite activity of guests visiting Channel Islands National Park.
The wildflowers typically reach their peak bloom in the late winter and spring. Some of the most brilliant wildflowers are the yellow coreopsis flowers. These flowers are at their blooming peak in late January through March. Some of the best areas to see these flowers are Anacapa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Islands.
The view of the sea, coast, rocks, and bright wildflowers creates a beautiful painting that will be forever in your heart and memories.
Best Times To Visit Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is unique in that this park stays about the same temperature throughout the year. If there are specific sights you hope to see, there may be better times than others to plan a visit to this national park. Check out the best times to visit the Channel Islands to see when you would like to visit.
Best Time To Visit Channel Islands National Park in Winter
Lots of people enjoy traveling during the winter. If you hope to visit Channel Islands National Park, the best winter month to visit is in November. This is the closest month to winter when the rain will not interfere with your plans. November will allow you to enjoy the park at comfortable temperatures and with fewer crowds.
Best Time To Visit Channel Islands National Park To Avoid the Crowds
A trip during the early fall is the ideal time for travelers who want to experience Channel Islands National Park without crowds. Visiting this national park in mid to late September will provide visitors with a less crowded visit. Schools have typically returned from summer vacation, and the park is tranquil once the Labor Day travelers leave.
Best Time To Visit Channel Islands National Park for Whale Watching
Whale watching is a favored activity for tourists at Channel Islands National Park. March is an excellent time to visit the park if you have hopes of whale watching. There are excellent chances of spotting gray whales, humpbacks, and gray whales with their young calves in March. This is also right before the busy season starts at the park, so you will be able to enjoy the park with fewer crowds.
Cheapest Time To Visit Channel Islands National Park
If you are hoping to visit Channel Islands National Park and go easy on your budget, a trip in late January is your best bet. Late January typically has reduced flight rates and cheaper accommodations in the nearby towns. Saving money while traveling is always a nice bonus, and it can really come in handy when visiting this island park.
Annual Events in Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park hosts a series of events on a regular schedule, from guided hikes to tidepool talks to cultural demonstrations. There are also several annual events that take place that visitors love to be a part of. Let’s take a look at some of the top events in Channel Islands National Park.
Celebration of the Whales
Every year in March, Channel Island Harbor hosts the annual Celebration of the Whales. This event has been taking place for 24 years. Visitors enjoy this celebration as they have the opportunity to participate in many activities and see and learn about the Gray Whale Migration Trail. This event is perfect for children and adults and features exciting events, including live concerts, chalk art, and shopping.
Chumash Journey to Limuw
Each September, a special event called the Chumash Journey to Limuw occurs in Channel Islands National Park. This event celebrates the Chumash heritage and offers visitors a chance to see members of the Chumash community take their journey to their homeland of Limuw, which today is known as Santa Cruz Island.
The Chumash Journey to Limuw features the Chumash people paddling across the ocean to their native island. The boat used for this is called a tomol, which is the oldest type of watercraft suitable for traveling across the ocean.
Parade of Frights
The Parade of Frights takes place each year at Halloween time at the Channel Islands Harbor. Those participating in this event are encouraged to wear costumes for a spooktacular time. Visitors are able to enjoy hand-crafted treats, unique foods, a play zone for kids, and trick-or-treating at the market. The grand finale of this event is a boat parade that can be viewed from the parks and restaurants at the harbor.
Where To Stay in Channel Islands National Park
When planning a vacation, one of the first decisions to make is where you will lodge during your stay. There are several options for camping within the park’s boundaries and several communities near the park if you prefer a different type of accommodation. Let’s explore the various options for lodging during your Channel Islands National Park vacation.
Inside the Park
Camping is the only option for lodging at Channel Islands National Park. Each island has its own established campground. Visitors are able to make reservations and pay camping fees in advance through the park’s camping page.
These primitive campgrounds offer amenities such as a picnic table, food storage box, wind shelter, and pit toilets. There is no water available at these campgrounds, and most will involve lots of walking and steep climbs.
Towns Near Channel Islands National Park
Visitors who don’t want to camp on one of Channel Islands National Park’s islands have several options in the towns close to the park. Several communities near the park make a great home away from home during your trip. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular locations for lodging near Channel Islands National Park.
Oxnard is slightly over 8 miles from the Channel Islands National Park mainland visitor center. This town has an incredible assortment of accommodations, restaurants, and recreational opportunities. Many visitors choose to make Oxnard their base camp when visiting Channel Islands National Park.
The town has accommodations galore. From luxury hotels to private rentals, from RV parks to motor lodges, there is a perfect accommodation for every traveler.
Food enthusiasts are in for a treat when it comes time to eat in Oxnard. The downtown area of Oxnard has 40 different restaurants to choose from. There are authentic restaurants featuring Mexican, Italian, Thia, Brazilian, Mediterranean, and more.
Wine tasting is a popular activity in Oxnard. There are wine cellars and wineries all around this charming town. Other activities include visiting the beaches, shopping at unique shops, dancing at nightclubs, and visiting museums and theaters.
Book your stay in Oxnard when visiting Channel Islands National Park for a fantastic location with lots to see and do. You will be rewarded with an incredible experience and lifelong memories.
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is a popular place to stay when visiting Channel Islands National Park. This city is less than 10 minutes from the Channel Islands National Park mainland visitor center. Santa Barbara has incredible lodging, dining, and entertainment options.
The area has many lodging options, including campgrounds and RV parks, chain hotels and affordable motels, luxury resorts, and private vacation rentals. No matter what you seek for your home away from home, you will find the perfect accommodations in Santa Barbara.
The dining opportunities are endless with over 450 restaurants to choose from, including homestyle diners, freshly caught seafood eateries, and authentic cultural cuisine from around the world. No matter what you crave, you will find precisely what you’re looking for in Santa Barbara.
If you are looking for entertainment and recreation during your visit to Channel Islands National Park, you may want to make your base camp Santa Barbara. This well-known town has so many activities, sights, and attractions. Some popular activities visitors enjoy include appreciating the exotic flowers, plants, and trees at the numerous botanical gardens found in the city.
Ventura is one of the most popular places to set up a home base when visiting Channel Islands National Park. This community is only 5 miles from the Channel Islands National Park mainland visitor center.
This coastal community has a variety of accommodations available, including popular chain hotels, budget-friendly motels, beach resorts, and private rentals.
Dining in Ventura is a true culinary adventure. There are dozens of restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. Fresh seafood restaurants are in abundance, as well as authentic cultural restaurants. There’s something for every palate in this community.
There are several opportunities for recreation and adventure in Ventura. Visitors enjoy exploring historic missions, beautiful botanical gardens, and parks. Other activities include spending time on the beach, surfing, and kayaking tours.
With its proximity to the mainland visitor center and endless dining, lodging, and recreation opportunities, Ventura is an ideal choice for setting up a home away from home during your Channel Islands National Park vacation.
Where To Eat Near Channel Islands National Park
There are no restaurants in Channel Islands National Park, so if you want to eat at a restaurant, your best option is to dine at one of the restaurants near the mainland visitor center. There are plenty of restaurants near this visitor center. No matter what you crave, you will find the perfect solution at one of the many restaurants near this national park. Let’s take a look at some fantastic restaurants you can visit near Channel Islands National Park.
Café Nouveau is located in Ventura and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This restaurant has an incredible array of specialties and dishes for every diner, including vegetarians, vegans, and those on a gluten-free diet.
This restaurant serves a menu of American classics and authentic cultural dishes from around the world. The most popular dishes include chicken Marsalis, creole eggs Benedict, coconut shrimp, and avocado rolls.
For a culinary experience that will leave you wanting to return again and again, give Café Nouveau a try during your Channel Islands National Park trip.
Lure Fish House
Lure Fish House is an incredible upscale restaurant in Ventura that serves freshly caught seafood specialties for lunch and dinner daily.
This 5-star restaurant serves an impressive menu featuring signature seafood dishes, pasta specialties, and freshly-made salads. Customers rave about the clam chowder, calamari, and ahi tuna. Lure Fish House also has a lovely drink menu featuring fine wines, draft beers, and signature cocktails.
If you are looking for a seafood restaurant when traveling to Channel Islands National Park, you will undoubtedly want to add Lure Fish House to your travel itinerary. Your tastebuds will be very appreciative.
Pete’s Breakfast House Restaurant
Pete’s Breakfast House Restaurant is a favorite restaurant of locals and tourists alike. This top-ranked restaurant is located in Ventura, just a few minutes from Channel Island National Park’s mainland visitor center.
The restaurant serves a menu of breakfast cuisine from places around the world, like Mexico, Greece, and Italy. Customer favorites include the breakfast burrito, the Working Man’s breakfast special, and the huevos rancheros.
If you are looking for a place to fill up before your park adventures, be sure to stop by Pete’s Breakfast House Restaurant for a hearty meal that will give you lots of energy for your time at Channel Islands National Park.
Spencer Makenzie’s Fish
If you love fish tacos and fresh seafood, Spencer Makenzie’s Fish should be on your Channel Islands National Park itinerary. This restaurant is located in Ventura and is a highly-rated restaurant that serves lunch and dinner daily.
Spencer Makenzie’s Fish is notorious for its “World Famous Fish Tacos,” but that’s not all it has to offer. Its menu also includes fresh seafood appetizers, fried fish and chips, wraps, and crisp salads.
Taj Café Indian Cuisine
Taj Café Indian Cuisine is a remarkable restaurant located near Channel Island National Park’s mainland visitor center in Ventura. This authentic Indian restaurant is one of the top-rated restaurants in the city.
It brings traditional village-style cooking to Ventura and has an outstanding menu of traditional Indian dishes. Popular menu items include the lamb coconut curry, the mirchi chicken, and the samosa chaat.
If you love Indian food or want to experience it for the first time, you can’t go wrong when dining at Taj Café Indian Cuisine.
Channel Islands National Park Facts
1. A New National Park
In 1938, Santa Barbara and Anacapa were designated as a national monument. President Jimmy Carter was a key contributor to the establishment of this national park. On March 5, 1980, Congress established Channel Islands National Park, which included San Miguel, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, and Santa Barabara, as well as the surrounding waters.
2. Original People
The Channel Islands National Park area has been home to diverse people groups over the last 10,000 years. The native people of this area were the Chumash, and they relied on the sea for nourishment as well as for their tools and trade items. This native group traveled from one island to another in a boat called a tomol.
3. Sinking Ships
There are over 100 shipwrecks in the waters of Channel Islands National Park. Some of these shipwrecks include Winfield Scott in 1853, Goldenhorn in 1992, and the Chickasaw in 1962. Several shipwrecks can be viewed by scuba diving, and some can be viewed by snorkeling or kayaking.
4. Celebrity Status
Santa Cruz Island has been a famous filming location for several well-known movies. Some of these movies include “Diamond in the Sky,” “Pearls of Paradise,” and the 1924 “Peter Pan.”
5. Painted Cave
Painted Cave is a popular attraction for visitors of Channel Islands National Park. This amazing cave is one of the largest sea caves in the world. This cave is beautiful and features brightly colored walls and a waterway cutting through it. This cave and some others on Santa Cruz Islands inspired the sets for the blockbuster hit “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
6. Diablo Peak
Diablo Peak, also known as Devil’s Peak, is the tallest mountain in Channel Islands National Park. This peak measures 3,450 feet in elevation.
7. Seals and Sea Lions Galore
Channel Islands National Park offers visitors exceptional opportunities to see wildlife. Some incredible animals that live in the park for a portion of the year include elephant seals, harbor seals, California sea lions, and northern fur seals. These seals and sea lions can likely be spotted on San Miguel Island as the park has one of the world’s largest gatherings of these marine animals.
8. Minimal Mammals
There aren’t very many mammals that can be found living on the land of this park. Some mammal species found in Channel Islands National Park include the island fox, the harvest mouse, bats, the island deer mouse, and the spotted skunk.
9. Diverse Plant Life
There are over 800 types of plants that have been identified in Channel Islands National Park. Most kinds of plants in the park include grasslands, island oak woodlands, pine stands, and coastal bluffs. There are also 14 types of plants that are on the federal threatened or endangered plant list. Channel Islands National Park plants are vibrant and colorful, dotting the park with bursts of color.
10. Vulnerable Species
Because Channel Islands National Park has such a unique and diverse collection of animals and plants, there are 145 species that are only found in the Channel Islands. Due to the isolation of the islands, several species are vulnerable. The island fox is the largest native mammal in Channel Islands. This fox has had a drastic decline in numbers since the 1990s. Channel Islands National Park has been working to restore the number of island foxes. In 2004, this species was federally listed as endangered.
A trip to Channel Islands National Park is an experience of a lifetime. With so much to see and do, this trip will leave you with unforgettable memories. Book your vacation to Channel Islands National Park and discover the countless opportunities to learn, explore, and appreciate this national park’s beauty and wonder.
Featured Image Credit: Lisha Riabinina via Unsplash
Frequently Asked Questions
Channel Islands National Park is a free-entry park. There is a fee for the boat ride to the park, and there are also fees for special activities such as kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
Pets are not permitted at Channel Islands National Park in order to protect the park’s ecosystems.
A single-day trip is perfect for visiting Channel Islands National Park. Still, if you want to camp while visiting, you should plan for at least 2 days.
Santa Cruz Island is an excellent island to visit if you have to choose just one. This island features Scorpion Anchorage and has a lot of opportunities for snorkeling and kayaking. This island also has an abundance of hiking trails with the chance to spot the island foxes that make their home in the park. This is an excellent island for visitors of all ages.
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