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The Galapagos of California

​Take Big Sur, wrap it around an island and then place some idyllic green countryside covered in wildflowers in the middle.

By: Kyle Frost + Save to a List

Throw in a mountain for good measure and sprinkle liberally with adorable island foxes. Now place it just a 45 minute boat ride off the coast of Los Angeles.

This is the case with Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in California and the crown jewel of the Channel Islands National Park chain. Although most of the island was dominated by ranching for many years, it is currently jointly owned by the Nature Conservancy and the National Parks Service, and offers plenty of amazing kayaking, hiking and snorkeling.

Check out all the adventures on Santa Cruz Island

I‘ve lived in California for 25 years, and although it‘s been on my to-do list for a while, I had never made it out until recently. Boy was I missing out.

To get to the island, you‘ll arrange a boat ride with Island Packers from Ventura Harbor, which will run you about $60 per person. During high season, there is a early and a late boat return, but in winter, there’s only 1 boat back, so plan accordingly. After an hour boat ride, we arrived at Scorpion Anchorage, where we listened to a brief mandatory introduction by the rangers before heading out toward Potato Harbor.

Potato Harbor

The bluff trail climbs sharply up from the anchorage through expanses of bright saffron flowers. The steep sided cliffs rival anything in Big Sur. It’s a relatively short hike so we took our time, taking pictures along the way and enjoying lunch at the harbor. It seems like it is possible to get down to the beach, but it looked pretty sketchy so we found a spot with a nice view about halfway down.

Scorpion Rock

After an idyllic lunch at Potato Harbor, we took the trail back past Scorpion and onwards to Scorpion Rock, a quick climb up from the dock with incredible views down the other coast of the island and even glimpses of the other Channel islands in the distance.

The boat back left at 5:30, altogether too soon. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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