Only one of the islands, Santa Catalina, is populated, and only one other, Anacapa, offers regularly scheduled visits for tourists.
Gabe and I wanted to do something special for his nephew on his birthday, and we decided that it would be great to take him on a trip to Anacapa Island. Only about 11 miles off of the coast, boats head out there daily from Port Hueneme in Ventura County. We knew that we could arrange to camp overnight on the island, but with no services to speak of, and a little guy going with us, we figured a day trip would be just as memorable.
The boat ride itself took around an hour, and on the way, we got a close-up view of one of the massive oil derricks that dot the channel. These things look huge from the beach, but wow – when we got up right next to one on our way out, we realized just how incredibly massive the structures are. We were probably a quarter mile away, yet it towered over us like a skyscraper.
miles and miles of ocean, beautiful coves and beaches, and inspiring views from every turn.
Anacapa is one of the smaller islands in the park, made up of three small islands – East, Middle, and West – and the ferry dropped us off on the East Island. It’s the only one that’s accessible. Once we arrived, no sandy beaches, no cruise-ship style gangplank. The captain jockeyed the boat around and backed it into a rocky cove, pulling up to a dock system anchored into the rocks. We grabbed our backpacks, climbed the stairs and made our way up to to the top of the hill that shelters the cove.
Once we got up top, we were surprised by the steady winds. They batter the islands, and there’s no place to take cover. We had a pleasant ride out, breezy and cold, but once atop the island, we were glad we had dressed in layers. The other thing that hit us immediately was the smell. It stinks – bad. It’s a giant bird sanctuary, and oh boy, does it smell like one. By the time we left, we didn’t notice it anymore, but at first, it was kind of shocking. We got our bearings straight and headed out to explore the few miles of hiking trails that loop the island. Up in the distance were a lighthouse and some ranger quarters, but not much else.
While you can see the islands from the shore, we couldn’t see the shore from the island. But what we could see was miles and miles of ocean, beautiful coves and beaches, and inspiring views from every turn. Except for the sound of the wind and the birds, the island was blissfully quiet.
We spent a few hours just wandering around the trails here. In front of us, blooming wildflowers. Below us, incredible views of the rugged cliffs and crashing waves. At the far end of the island, we came to the point that gave us a breathtaking view of the Middle and West Islands beyond us.
We’d walked several miles, hopping rocks, crossing fields, and our journey was nearing its end. We found a picnic table and settled in to enjoy our picnic lunch before heading back to the ferry for the ride home.
On the way back to the harbor, the captain took the boat to the far southwest side of the island where there’s a natural arch rock. We circled there and took some great photos. We also got a show from a pod of dolphins. I’m sure that at other times of the year, you’re more likely to cross paths with migrating whales.
An idea for the more adventurous would be to kayak the channel between the coast and the islands – something that’s definitely on our radar. Our friend Chuck Graham, an incredible photographer and all-around outdoorsman, leads kayak tours that look like a blast. For more information on that, click here and book a trip with Chuck!
All in all, a trip to Anacapa Island is a great day trip for anyone with a sense of adventure. If you can handle a boat ride and a climb a set of stairs, you’ll have a great time out here. We look forward to going back!
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