The Channel Islands are a group of eight main islands and several smaller ones just off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura. The Channel Islands National Park includes five of the wonderful islands, including the popular Santa Barbara and Anacapa Islands. We visited Anacapa Island in June 2017 for a tour of the Channel Islands sea caves via kayak. We wanted to share some of the highlights and top tips from kayaking the Channel Islands.

Highlights from our tour

Here are some of the highlights:

1. Blue Ocean Kayaking Tour:

Our tour started in the Oxnard Marina where we checked in with the Blue Ocean Kayaking team. We’d read excellent reviews about the company, and couldn’t wait to give the tour a try. Before boarding the boat, we were given a quick orientation on how to navigate our kayak while on the water. From the moment we set sail to landing safely back at the dock, we felt in safe hands with the Blue Ocean Kayaking team. While the groups were large (about 30 people), the team did a great job of making it feel like a very personal experience.

2. Boat ride to the islands:

The boat ride over to Anacapa Island is around 12 miles and took just over an hour. On the sail to the island, we saw pods of dolphins jumping alongside the boat and even a couple of whales!

3. Kayaking in the sea caves:

Anacapa Island is home to around 30 sea caves. During the tour, we were able to kayak through many of them. Our guide led the group through the caves and was always ahead of us to assess the safety of the caves before entering. The main tour group was split into three smaller groups, with around ten people per group (or 5 kayaks). This allowed us to take our time through the caves, and we didn’t feel rushed.

The waters around the island are serene and easy to navigate. There were so many different colors and rock formations in the caves. The color of the ocean surrounding the island was bright blue (even with overcast skies) and incredibly clear.

There were a couple of waves that meant we had to be careful and aware of our surroundings. We found that it was best to give our fellow kayakers plenty of space, especially when navigating some of the more narrow caves. We were in a tandem kayak, which was a good test of our coordination skills. This also meant that we could take turns taking pictures and getting some video footage. We kayaked three and a half miles of the total five a quarter-mile length of the island. 

4. Kelp forests:

Back in 1978, the National Park Service established a marine reserve at the island. This resulted in the growth of a huge kelp forest. It’s a popular diving and snorkeling spot too. In fact, we kayaked right past a group of divers, so keep your eyes out for people in the water while kayaking!

5. Wildlife:

Along with the dolphins and whales, we also came across seals, sea lions, bat rays, and a huge variety of birds. We even spotted the bright orange California state fish, the Garibaldi, hiding out along the rocks.

6. Rock Arch:

The forty-foot rock arch is a naturally formed bridge made of volcanic rock that has eroded over time by waves. It’s an iconic sight on the island. Our tour ended with photo opportunities right by the huge arch.

Tips and considerations

If you’re planning on taking a kayaking trip at the Channel Islands, here are some of our top tips:

1. Reserve your booking in advance and check for special offers:

We made a reservation three weeks in advance of the trip and found a Groupon Deal with Blue Ocean Kayaking. We wouldn’t advise showing up without a reservation. The tours get booked up quickly and there’s a risk you’ll be turned away without one.

2. Wear waterproof shoes:

We highly recommend you invest in a pair of waterproof shoes. They are typically lightweight and won’t absorb much water, which means they dry out really quickly. Fiona used a pair of Aleader Quick Drying Water Shoes, which had great grip and were fairly inexpensive on Amazon.

If you don’t have waterproof shoes, it’s not a dealbreaker. I used a pair of old sneakers which worked well. Just know that they will get completely soaked.

3. Wear lots of sunscreen and a hat:

Even though it was a cloudy day, the water surrounding the island is super reflective and there’s a high chance you’ll get burnt if you don’t wear sunscreen. We were surprised as we missed a couple of spots and ended the day getting burned in places.

4. Pack a change of clothes:

You should assume that you’ll get soaking wet during the tour. When you get into the kayak, you step right into the water (around knee level). Also, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get splashed while out on the kayak. Packing a change of clothes will make the hour long boat ride back a lot more comfortable.

5. Bring a towel:

We used travel towels, which were super absorbent and lightweight. They also took up very little room in our daypack.

6. Carry plenty of water and refreshments:

Blue Ocean Kayaking advised us to pack lunch and water for the trip, as nothing is available for sale on board. It’s a full day out and you’ll be exerting a lot of energy while kayaking for over two hours. We took a cooler with plenty of refreshments and snacks. We also packed our S’well insulated water bottles on the kayaks with us. They kept us well hydrated while out on the ocean.

7. Pack hand sanitizer and wet wipes:

While there is a restroom on the boat, there isn’t much clean running water. We recommend you pack hand sanitizer and wet wipes. You’ll be eating your lunch on the boat after kayaking, so it’s best to stay as hygienic as possible.

8. Pack ziploc bags for wet clothing and protect belongings:

As we mentioned, you’re likely to get wet. The last thing you want is for your wet clothes to stink out your daypack, so take along some ziploc bags to store your wet items.

9. Pack extra layers:

Even in June, the boat ride to and from the island was windy and cold at times. We recommend packing extra layers, as you’ll be spending a good couple of hours on the boat over the course of the day.

Final thoughts

Given that we’re based in Los Angeles, this made for an easy day trip. However, if you’re traveling from further away, we recommend staying in Santa Barbara or Los Angeles. Hotels can be pricey, but there are lots of Airbnb choices in each area.

If you have any questions, comments, or additional tips, please leave them in the comment section below.

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