Anacapa Island as a Gateway to the National Park
Anacapa Island is the first Channel Island that I ever visited, and it captured my heart and made me fall in love with the entire island chain. I first glimpsed Anacapa from Ventura, CA while I was on a trip with my family. At first, I wasn’t sure that the mountainous shadows on the horizon were real, a figment of my imagination, or some play of light off of the ocean. After a bit of investigation, I discovered that what I was seeing was very real. There were islands out there; the mystery was too much for me. I had to see them. So I booked a day trip with the Island Packers to Anacapa, the smallest of the islands.
As a young girl, I was enchanted by the treacherous looking steel ladder and stairs that led up the island’s cliffs from the bobbing boat. I loved that I could stand in the middle of the island and see the ocean in all directions. I loved hearing the birds arguing with one another as they nested and lived their busy lives. And there was nothing more picturesque than the lighthouse perched on the eastern end of the rocky crag in the sea. Since that day, I have always been called back to the Channel Islands. I have camped on Anacapa Island twice, camped on Santa Cruz twice and done a day trip to the Nature Conservancy side, spent a weekend on Santa Rosa, and volunteered with Channel Island Restoration on San Nicolas in order to give back to the islands I love.
Birding and Sunsets
Anacapa Island, much like Santa Cruz, is managed by both the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. Of the three smaller islands that make it up, only one is readily accessible to visitors. There you can spend the day enjoying views from out of this world, or camp among the birds.
For those who camp, they will be delighted by Anacapa’s Inspiration point, which is situated on the western end of the NPS island. Perched on a little bench, you can watch the sun set over the other two islands, and on a clear day, see Santa Cruz just beyond. Once you’ve been there and seen it yourself, I can tell you, it is something that you will never forget and no picture will ever do it justice. Nonetheless, there are many paintings and photos of this beautiful viewpoint to be found in shops all over Ventura.
Bird lovers will also find Anacapa Island to be a dream-come-true. Not only do rare sea birds nest on the island, but if you come during the right season, you can camp (very carefully) in the midst of breeding sea gulls. I can’t think of a cuter memory than waking up to gull chicks playing under the flap of my tent before returning to the nest for food. That being said, this island really belongs to the birds, and one memorable downside to Anacapa is the quite pungent smell that decades of bird-living has created.
Kayaking and the Underwater World
While Anacapa island itself is quite small, particularly the part of it where you can camp and hike, there is a whole watery world to explore in relation to this beautiful place. If you are a snorkeler (I imagine that diving is difficult due the whole metal ladder situation, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong), you will be delighted by the otherworldly kelp forests that are easily accessible from the eastern island. There are tons of flashy, orange garibaldi and brilliant purple urchins under the waves.
Kayakers can also spend the day out on the water, exploring the sea caves (very carefully!) and checking out the small pebbly coves that you can find along the island here and there. Be sure to keep your eyes open for sea lions and birds out there. We found a couple gulls tangled in fishing wire once and helped the rangers set them free. We were also chased down the beach and back into our boat by a sea lion once. We landed on an empty cove, ate our lunch, and then this guy just decided we were on his turf. He came right up out of the ocean and barked us away from his little beach paradise. It was scary at the time, but pretty funny in retrospect.
Tips and Safety for Anacapa
Climbing up the ladder up the cliffs from the boat landing to the island is actually quite dangerous. In 2013, a very experienced NPS volunteer tragically fell to his death while boarding a boat. So, please be careful while coming and going.
Cliffs are dangerous and no picture is worth your life. Keep your distance.
There are almost no ways out of the water and onto the island outside of the boat landing. So, always be prepared with food, water, and safety equipment while snorkeling and kayaking.
Remember that you are only a visitor to Anacapa Island. Respect the animals that call this place home and keep your distance from them. If you run into some of the situations we did here’s what I would suggest. (1) A baby seagull comes close to your tent door; stay quiet and still and let the little guy leave in his own time. If you scare him, he might get lost and other sea gulls might not be so welcoming to the little beb. (2) A sea lion or seal gets out on the beach and approaches you. As long as you can do so safely, retreat and give them the space that they need.
Overall, remember that your safety is always your responsibility. Be sure to check in with the rangers when you arrive. They will help you assess any other safety needs you may need to consider.
For transportation to the island see the Island Packers.
For permits and national park info, reference the NPS website.
To read more about all the wonderful adventures that you can have on the Channel Islands, check out our guide.