Anacapa: Channel Islands National Park

One of the many adventures that has always been high on my priority list has been visiting the Channel Islands National Park. Due to it being 14 miles off the coast of California at its shortest distance and 55 miles at its furthest, this series of islands hold a ton of untouched beauty in their remoteness. After finally booking a ticket on the boat that takes you across, I set out to visit the closest and smallest of the Channel Islands, Anacapa.

The boat left at 9:30 in the morning and set out on the hour-long ride to the drop off point on the island. During that time we crossed into the channel and saw a large freight shipping boat as well as at least 100 dolphins swimming around us. The crew seemed interested in showing everyone a good time, so they slowed down by the dolphins and let everyone take pictures (see the video at the end for the dolphins).

After about an hour we pulled up to the dock at Anacapa and about 90% of the boats 50 passengers got off. While this seemed like a lot, the 2.5 square mile island was large enough never to make it seem crowded.

From the dock, you climb about 150 stairs until you reach the main upper shelf of the island as well as the path to the visitor center. This dock is the only area on the entire island with sea access, as the island itself is on a cliff and has a good 50 to 100-foot drop at all sides.

Most people opted to take the time out for lunch, but since it was already 11:30 AM and the boat was picking us up again at 3:15 PM we set out with one of the volunteers on a mile walk to the main draw of the island, Inspiration Point.

The walk was great, and the guide that we had was knowledgeable about the island and its history. He also took us to a couple of the major viewpoints on the island, then after the tour ended he let us walk around and explore to our heart’s content. I would recommend this tour if it is offered but if you simply want to walk the island yourself here are the standout areas.

Landing Cove

This area is where the boat backs in to pick up and let you off. It is also the area where you can dive in the kelp forest and drop in your kayaks to explore the caves and island from the water.

The Lighthouse

At the Southern tip of the island is this beautiful lighthouse. The old mirrors for reflecting the light have been moved into the visitors center, but you can still walk up and see the lighthouse while hearing the loud beeping it makes every minute. Unfortunately, you cannot get within 50 feet of it, but it’s worth walking up to.

Inspiration Point

The main highlight of the island, Inspiration Point provides stunning vistas of the two other parts of Anacapa. The viewpoint looks over the middle island as it wraps around to the base of the West Island. You can also see the silhouette of Santa Cruz in the background as well. It is a beautiful spot that you will want to spend some time at.

Cathedral Cove

Another stand out area on Anacapa, Cathedral Cove, is a stunning example of what a beach can look like. Sitting on the edge, overlooking this cove, made me feel like I had left California and was in some tropical paradise like Hawaii. I only wish I was able to go down to the beach, but I will save that for another kayaking trip.

Pinniped Point

On the West side of the island, this point had some unique rock formations and overlooked another beautiful cove. It is also one of the bigger drops on the island so make sure you don’t get too close to the edge. You can hear all of the seals below you hear as well, when we were there we saw a ton.


Right smack in the middle of the island is the ten spot campground. It was only $15 a night when we looked, but I would recommend not staying overnight here as a day trip is perfect to see this island.

Visitor Center

About 100 feet from where the boat lets off is a small visitor center complete with brochures, some photos, history, and the old light from the lighthouse. Not a ton to see here but a good central point with pit toilets (this is all that are on the island).

Arch Rock

Lastly on the south side of the island is a huge rock in the sea that completes a full arch. It is about 40 feet tall and hollow for about 20 feet in its center. This rock is not accessible from the land, and you would need to boat or kayak to it but it is cool and was the logo that the volunteers were wearing on their jackets.

Video Recap

Here is a video I took of the different points from above, complete with a short timelapse at the end.

All in all the Channel Islands are a beautiful trip that everyone in California needs to take at least once. As soon as you set foot on the island and start to explore, I guarantee you will be shocked at how amazing they are. I cannot wait to get to the other islands. Make sure to check out the photos and leave a comment below.

Center map

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  • Bonni

    I’m sold! This was one of my favorites of your adventures, and also one that is reasonably accessible for my family because of our location.

    • Bonni, Thanks for the comment! I loved going on this adventure so I am glad you liked checking it out! You should def make the trip, I hear it is great during the spring when the wildflowers are blooming

  • Snook

    This just got bump up really high on my top list

  • Wow, I have never heard of this national park! I’ll definitely have to put that on my bucket list. Thanks for blogging about it.

  • Eliana

    Thanks, Josh! Another great post! What time of the year did you go? Is it chilly?

    • I went in the beginning of summer and it was pleasant but I had a jacket as there is not much wind protection. It is a fun spot for sure!

  • Sherry

    Thanks for the info. Make sure you watch your horizons though. You always want to have a straight horizon. If you look at your Pinniped Point picture, you will see what I mean.

    • Good recommendation! I agree, I have been working on photography for a while now and I look back at some of my earlier posts and shudder!

  • Kay Nova

    I just found your blog. Thank you so so much. I am wondering what boat service you used to the island.

  • Cristina

    As always love your blog, and have continually used it as a resource to find some great gems in California. Was the guided tour you took included in the boat fee to get there or was it extra? ( I clicked on the boat link you provided in one of the comments and didn’t see anything about a guide mentioned so I wanted to make sure 🙂 )

    • Thanks for the comment! The walk was lead by a parks service volunteer that was living on the island so it was not with the boat company. I am not sure how often those are lead, but the island itself is very small so you would not really need to have a lead tour unless you wanted one. Best way to check on that would be to call the park / ranger directly to ask about those tour times.