Santa Cruz Island

Channel Islands form an eight island archipelago off the coast of Los Angeles. Like most Angelenos I was only aware of Catalina Island, Santa Catalina to be more precise, which is visible from most beach cities in Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area and a popular tourist destination.

I came to know about the Channel Islands from my cousin as a National Parks destination. It went on the ‘to visit list’ and stayed there for a very long time, partly due to the logistics involved. Granted, I’ve jumped through a lot more hoops to plan a trip: entering permit lotteries, faxing permit application forms (yes, fax, who even has a fax machine these days?). To visit any of the Channel Islands for an overnight trip one has to reserve a campsite, which are hard to come by during the warmer months and only then can you book a ferry ride to take you to the island. Seemed to too much of a hassle.

It had been a few months since we had gone for a hike outside of Pasadena let alone on a camping trip. Madhu had been reminding me to keep up my end of the bargain and plan a camping trip (also her birthday was around the corner). It was the labour day weekend so most National Parks were full. Out of desperation I searched for Channel Islands National Park on and to my surprise found sites available on Santa Cruz Island on a long weekend! Island Packers Cruises had seats available on the ferry as well. I felt like I hit the jackpot and booked both as quickly as the interwebs would allow. We decided to take the Friday off, camp in Santa Cruz that night and come back to Los Angeles Saturday afternoon since we had other plans for the rest of the long weekend.

Some of our fondest memories have been snorkeling in Maldives and we wanted to get our feet wet again. It would also be a great refresher for Madhu as we were planning a trip later in the year to the Virgin Islands. Luckily we were able to track down an REI en route to Ventura which would be open early enough in the morning for use to stop by and pick up the gear. Got to get the gear!

We checked in at the Island Packers office for our ferry and were given instructions where to park our car and to separate any butane canisters from the rest of our luggage. This was the only part of our weekend that I was dreading, also the ride back part. I get sea sick, I will get sea sick even on a paddle boat floating gently on the waters.

The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli George Costanza

I sat glued to my seat by the window staring at the horizon. I was told that helps. Maybe it did, I didn’t throw up but that didn’t mean I wasn’t getting sea sicker by the minute. Madhu was enjoying the sea spray standing at the bow, as happy on land as at sea. She even dragged me out but I stumbled back to my seat within a minute or two. I needed my horizon!


We finally made it to Scorpion Anchorage after an hour long ordeal. There are no facilities on Santa Cruz Island. All food & supplies have to be brought along with you. And were people prepared for the long weekend! We formed a long human chain to unload all the luggage off the boat on to the island. After all the luggage was offloaded, the ranger gave us the lay of the land. She also mentioned that in the evening there would be a talk by John Gherini, a descendant of one of the families that had owned the island. Santa Cruz island is in fact the largest privately owned island off the continental United States.

Our campsite was in the lower loop which was about a 10 minute walk from the pier. It was nestled among the trees providing ample shade from the strong sun. We quickly started setting up our tents when we were paid a visit by a couple of Santa Cruz Island foxes. These cute little fellows are no larger than a house cat and endemic to the islands. We spent most of the next hour chasing after the foxes trying to capture as many photographs as we could. They were very comfortable being around humans but were pretty nimble and we quickly worked up an appetite so we let them be and prepared lunch.

After lunch it was time for a quick nap before heading to the shore to try out our new snorkeling gear. Although the weather was warm, the water was fairly cold. There were a few families on the beach but not a lot of people in the water. Those who had ventured in, were well prepared. We weren’t, we hadn’t thought about getting wet suits. But since we had made the investment in the snorkels, we felt we were obliged to use them so we stripped to our swimwear, donned our snorkels and shivered our way in! Unfortunately, our efforts weren’t rewarded with a bounty of marine life observation. A fish here or there, mostly unclear water. We felt if we ventured further in our luck might change, but neither of us were willing to brave the cold waters so we came back ashore.

There was plenty of daylight left and John Gherini’s talk was still a couple of hours away. We decided to hike up the Cavern Point trail to take in magnificent coastal vistas. The trail climbed up a couple hundred feet from the wooded camping area along a drainage to the wind blown bluffs. It was so peaceful here. High above the waters you couldn’t hear the waves crash, the wind had died down. We sat there and admired the deep blues of the Pacific Ocean dotted by a couple of white yachts contrasted by the golden hues the afternoon sun had painted the landscape in. We could see Anacapa Island in the distance, the smallest of the Channel Islands. It was hard to believe we were barely an hour away from the concrete jungle that is Los Angeles.


John Gherini’s talk was very informative. He went over the cultural history of the island, from the native inhabitants to his own experiences of living on the island ranching sheep & cattle. How the island changed ownership over the years to it’s current ownership between the National Parks Service and the Nature Conservancy. It was sundown by the time the talk ended so we headed back to our campsite and had dinner, which was basically left overs from lunch.

It was still pretty early to call it a night so we went down to the shore to gaze at the night sky. Soon the whole sky was blanketed by stars. Excited we hiked up again to get a clearer view. From the higher elevation we could see the faint outlines of the Milky Way. I had carried my camera and small tripod to do some long exposures and tried to capture the Milky Way. The results were patchy but it was fun none the less. We were so happy hiking back to our tent, it had been a perfect day.

The next morning we had a light breakfast and packed up our campsite. We headed back to the pier and were soon on our way back to the mainland. The sea was much calmer that morning. Calm enough for me to step out on to the bow and enjoy the sea breeze. The island shoreline receded in the distance and soon only the island hilltops were visible. We had spent less than 24 hrs on the island but the island had transported us further away. The Channel Islands are the perfect Los Angeles get away.