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Accessible only by boat, Anacapa Island is part of Channel Islands National Park in Ventura County, California. Comprised of natural bridges and three islets, the rugged island is an ideal day trip for kayaking, hiking and spotting sea lions and seabirds.
At first glance one might think that Anacapa Island in Southern California is only for great adventurers. Located about 11 miles off the coast of Port Hueneme, Anacapa Island is a small, rugged island. Nearly five miles long, Anacapa is composed of three islets – East, Middle and West Anacapa Islands. Only accessible to each other by boat, they have a total land area of about one square mile. Anacapa is among several islands that make up Channel Islands National Parks. The other islands are Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. It’s one of the true hidden gems in Southern California.
Waves have eroded the volcanic island of Anacapa, creating natural bridges, such as the 40-foot-high Arch Rock. And rocky shores are the breeding grounds for California sea lions and harbor seals. Anacapa’s soaring cliffs, lush flora and fauna and underwater kelp forests might dissuade families. But there is more than meets the eye here as we soon discovered.
Cruise to Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island Ferry: Island Packers
To reach Anacapa Island, you’ll need to book a 90-minute boat ride from the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard or Ventura in Ventura County. Island Packers Cruises offers several excursions. For Anacapa Island, almost all trips are to East Anacapa Island and Frenchys Cove on the western islet.
When we boarded the boat for our day trip to Anacapa Island we could hear an infant crying. Some of us were thinking, “Oh, great! A baby on a 11-mile boat trip! Are you nuts?” But as the boat started to rock and bob in the open ocean, the infant was asleep within seconds. Those of us beyond the rhythmic lullabies of babies could take solace in the postcard-perfect weather. Light breezes, blue skies and warm sun embraced us as we embarked on our half-day journey to a land nearly forgotten by time.
Anacapa Island Weather
Channel Islands National Park has a Mediterranean climate. So temperatures are relatively stable, with highs averaging in the mid-60s and lows in the low-50s. Expect calm winds in the morning that increase in the afternoon. Dense fog is common during late spring. Calm winds and seas are more common at summer’s end. Be prepared for your trip with a jacket, hat, sunscreen, waterproof outer clothing and sturdy walking shoes.
Enjoy an Anacapa Island Getaway with Kids
Ages of children on this trip ranged from infant to teenage and clearly everyone was having a good time. While camping is permitted on the island if arranged beforehand, families with young children may find Anacapa easier to experience as a day trip. From start to finish, there’s plenty to keep kids interested. Plus, educational programs by the National Park Service clearly have kid and parent visitations in mind.
So be sure to leave the electronic gadgets at home. Or at least turn them off while exploring the island. With just two miles of trails, Anacapa’s landscape is easy hiking and perfect for younger visitors. Even for parents packing a baby.
Visit the Anacapa Island Visitor Center
The visitor’s center provides welcome shade and picnic tables for a lunchtime break. In addition, the center has great interpretive displays. For example, it houses the original crystal and brass Fresnel lens from the historic Anacapa lighthouse. Kids and parents will enjoy a thrilling below-water view through Anacapa’s underwater video program. Viewed by television, this unique program features an interpretive dive. See one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world – the kelp forest. Kids can talk directly to rangers and ask questions about the watery world below. This program is available every Tuesday and Thursday from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Learn about Anacapa Island
Originally planted to prevent erosion, a nonnative ice plant now blankets much of the island. But the bright red, mat-forming succulent is being removed as part of an environmental rehabilitation of the island. In the spring, forests of giant yellow coreopsis seem otherworldly. Other wildflowers include pale pink island mallow, vivid red paintbrush and tiny island morning glories.
It’s fitting that Anacapa is the only Channel Island to retain its American Indian name, “Eneepah.” The name is derived from a Chumash word meaning island of deception or mirage. But this island is no mirage. It’s a dream come true for kids of all ages. Grown-ups too! The beauty of this remote outpost could be the beginning of a lifelong appreciation of our wild places.
Observe Wildlife: Anacapa Island
Chances are you’ll see California sea lions and harbor seals at Cathedral Cove and Pinniped Point. In addition, several species of whales and dolphins are spotted year-round on trips to Anacapa Island. You may even spot a pod of orca or common dolphin playing in the boat’s wake. Two of the children on our trip were fascinated by the marine life. They were undaunted on the hike and enjoyed viewing the dive team and sea lions at Pinniped Point.
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Most of the island is primarily wilderness set aside for nesting Western gulls and the endangered California brown pelican. So visitation is limited to the eastern islet and Frenchys Cove on the western islet.
Things to Do on Anacapa Island
Things to do on Anacapa Island include hiking, camping and water sports. It’s important that you bring anything you’ll need with you since the island is primitive. There are no goods, services or accommodations (lodging) available on the island, for instance. Visitors must bring all their own food and supplies. Public phones are not available. There is no water available on the island. Picnic tables are available at the visitor center.
Experience Anacapa Island Hiking
Although there are only two miles of hiking trails, there’s a lot to see. Except for the staircase to the top of the island, the figure eight-shaped trail system is relatively flat and easy. The trail meanders over gentle slopes to dramatic overlooks, and the last permanent lighthouse built on the West Coast. Hikers must stay on trails to protect fragile vegetation and nesting seabirds and for visitor safety.
Anacapa Island Kayaking
The landing cove offers great opportunities for snorkeling, swimming and kayaking. But keep in mind there are no lifeguards, and that sea kayaking can be dangerous. The National Park Service strongly recommends that sea kayaking be done with one of the park’s authorized guide/outfitters. Although the guided trips are moderate to strenuous in nature, some do not require kayaking experience.
Anacapa Island Snorkeling
The park’s kelp forests, sea caves and coves offer some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world.
TravelingMom Tip: Consider booking a guided kayak or snorkel excursion on neighboring Santa Cruz Island with Island Packers.
Anacapa Island Camping
Camping on Anacapa Island is primitive. The only amenities are picnic tables and pit toilets. No trash containers are provided. Campers must pack out their own trash. Advanced camping reservations are required for all of the campgrounds. There are no entrance fees to visit the park. However, a reservation fee (about $15) is charged for camping on the islands.
Note that Western Gulls nest on Anacapa Island from April to mid-August. During this time, visitors will encounter seabird rookery conditions that include a strong odor and constant noise.
Learn more about Anacapa Island at Are You That Woman?