Anacapa Island Light Station

Photo above: Anacapa Light Station, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Santa Cruz Island, 2013, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Santa Cruz Island

Channel Islands National Park

It's difficult to access and spectacular to view. Just ask Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who was the first European explorer to set foot on the islands on October 14, 1542 after stopping in San Diego, sailing all the way from Mexico for Spain. Okay, today it's not that hard. However, most people who visit among the over three hundred thousand tourists gaze at the exhibits at the Visitor Centers in Ventura and Santa Barbara without taking a usual boat, and occasional plane, to see the wildlife and awesome vistas of five of the eight Channel Islands that make up the park. Thirty to seventy thousand actually make the trek to sea based land or the waters around them. Some actually camp there. Now talk about cool.

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Channel Islands Shipwreck

Channel Islands Then

How far back was then at the Channel Islands? Well, human elements have been uncovered that date back to 37,000 BC, and yes, there was a mammoth bone here, too. Pretty far back, right. Well, for most, they think of the founding as 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo observed the eight islands, home to three to five thousand Chumash at the time in twenty-one villages on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. The Tongva people were associated with Santa Barbara Island. In 1793, European interest in the islands was established after the voyage of George Vancouver, an Englishman, who standardized their names. By 1820, the native population had moved from the islands to the mainland.

Between those first days of European discovery and habitation, the islands have been home to shipwrecks, farms, military use, and more. Sheep ranching was established on Anacapa Island in 1885, and the lighthouse was built in 1932, predated by a tower light in 1911. Shipwrecks had occured throughout the history of the Santa Barbara Channel, including the passenger steamship Winfield Scott on December 2, 1853, just one of thirty-three that wrecked in the last half of the 19th Century in the channel. The wreck of the Winfield Scott is still submerged in Channel Islands waters. Santa Cruz Island was noted for ranching, and after the start of World War II, as an early warning communication station, which remains to this day. In 1938, Santa Barbara Island and Anacapa Island were made a national monument. That was upgraded and expanded to the five included islands today on March 5, 1980 as a national park, prompted in part by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which affected the islands, avian, and sea life.

Photo above: Steamer Winfield Scott, which sank off the north shore of Middle Anacapa in 1853. Courtesy National Park Service. Below: Santa Rosa Island, 2013, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Santa Rosa Island

Channel Islands Now

There are still eight islands within the Channel Islands chain, including the more well known and visited Santa Catalina with its nightlife, Avalon town resort, Catalina Casino, and four thousand residents, however, today's Channel Islands National Park just includes five of them; Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, and Anacapa.

Today, the five islands are a resort for wildlife and thousands of tourists attracted by the beauty, whale watching, and recreation pursuits. The islands are remarkably pristine and raw, particularly when you consider their other purposes since 1542, or 1793, or 1885. They are difficult to get to, and expensive to get to, but worth it to get to for most who do, whether they are hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, or learning about those whales or other history.

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Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park

Things You Should Not Miss

1. For those coming to Channel Islands National Park for the first time, a stop at the Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center in Ventura Harbor is a must. Take in the 25 minute film, "Treasure in the Sea," and ask about the twice daily ranger programs on weekends. For many, this will be the extent of their visit; for others, lucky you.

2. Making it to one of the islands by boat, take advantage of the trip. Although your destination is what you came for, a boat ride around the Channel Islands from the hubbub of Southern California is a great respite.

3. Guided hikes by national park service staff or volunteers can get you to some really interesting places on each of the islands. Ask what is available for the day of your travel.

4. Of course, get on the water. You'll almost have to for transportation, but if you like to snorkel, kayak, swim, or even fish, ask about those opportunities. The even fish part is a bit challenging as much of the park is off limits due to many acres of Water Preserve. Ask where you are allowed.

Photo above: Trail from the campsite on San Miguel to Cuyler Harbor, Toddclark. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Visitor FAQ

Cabrillo National Monument