So you’re stuck in traffic, day-dreaming of a place to get away from it all. Perhaps a beautiful island. An unpopulated, unspoiled little island – where traffic noises are unheard of (literally) and peace and serenity reigns supreme. Then – honk! – the light changes and you remember you live in LA: where traffic is a fact of life and an island like that would take at least a day (and a few thousand dollars) to fly to. Right? Wrong.
Take a trip to Anacapa Island the smallest–and closest–of the Channel Islands, eleven miles off the coast of Ventura. Cruise across the sunny sea through a shroud of fog to emerge on your own Galapagos-like sanctuary. It’s a couple of hours, yet a whole world away. It’s great for a relaxing girlfriend or romantic getaway, but it’s also a perfect place to explore with kids.
Clapping Seals, Flapping Birds
Step off the boat and be greeted by the lonely homing call of Anacapa’s lighthouse, happy barking seals and sea lions, and most notably, the occasional cries of hundreds of seagulls that would send Tippi Hedren running for cover. Fear not! These are not the angry birds of a Hitchcockian nightmare; predator-free Anacapa is the proud birthplace of nearly every seagull in California, along with many other endemic species of wildlife and plants. If you visit in spring you’ll ascend Anacapa’s towering lava cliffs to a breathtaking forest of Giant Coreopsis that blanket the island in brilliant yellow.
Get Packing and Get Packers
No cries of “Are we there yet” on this trip – getting there is half the fun. Hop an Island Packers ferry in the morning and arrive at Anacapa in less than an hour. Along the way, get up close and personal with sea lions lounging on buoys. Snap pictures of the dolphins, like, surfing in the wake of the ferry, dude. If you’re lucky you might even spot a few whales making their annual 10,000 mile journey between Baja and the Arctic waters. (And you thought getting across town from Silverlake to the Westside was hard.) Boats leave daily from Ventura and Oxnard harbors. Check the schedule as time of departure changes with the day of week and season.
You’re On Island Time Now
After you dock plan to spend about four hours on Anacapa, which has a two mile loop trail that even the tiniest tyke-hikers can manage with ease. Leave the stroller at home unless you fancy the idea of lugging it 157 steps up a steel rung ladder from the dock; Bjorn babies and Ergo-mamas will be much happier.
Once on top, volunteer rangers provide narrated tours of the island or you can strike out on your own to Inspiration Point, Cathedral Cove, and Pinniped Point for breathtaking views of kelp forests and cove dwelling sea creatures below. (Take care to stay on paths and away from the soft dirt cliff edges at all times.) Break for a leisurely lunch at the picnic tables, or at the small campground along the trail. Stop off at the visitor center and discover the rich history of the Chumash people, and the underwater world of this island lost in time.
Key Things to Know Before You Go
What to bring: Anything and everything you want to eat! There is no place to buy food or drinks (not even water) on Anacapa Island, so stock up. Make like a Boy Scout and “Be prepared”, or your kiddo just might make you “Be miserable”.
What to wear: One word: layers. The ferry ride gets chilly, especially as it makes it way through banks of fog that often surround Anacapa. Once on the island there are no trees or shade, so a floppy hat will be your best friend. Sunscreen is a necessity, too. Keep a sweatshirt handy for the fog that rolls on and off the island throughout the day.
When to go: Spring is gorgeous and not too hot, but summer and fall adventures are lovely on the islands as well. You can even come in the winter, as the parks are open year round, but to be frank, kids (and therefor YOU) won’t enjoy the boat ride here as much when the temp turns frigid.
Can you stay? Well, yes, you can. Camping is permitted (with a reservation and $15 fee), but as you have to tote every single thing you’ll need for your visit with you, it’s not a very kid-friendly camping experience.
Got big kids? We have to admit, while we love leisurely hikes with tots on this tiny refuge, if your family consists of more active tweeners and teens, they might prefer visiting Anacapa during a restoration day, held weekly throughout spring and summer. Volunteers help rid Anacapa of non-native ice plant and work in the island nursery. Ferry transportation is provided free of charge and students are always welcome.
Have you taken an island trip to Anacapa? Do you have any tips for visiting this family-friendly destination with kids? Let us know in the comments below.
Photos courtesy of Analise Dubner, Derek Lohuis via the National Park Service, and Infernal fox via Wikimedia Commons