Meet the City of San Buenaventura, or Ventura for short. This quintessential California beach town is more than surfers and palm trees, for Ventura, less than two hours from Los Angeles, also serves as gateway to America’s own Galapagos, the Channel Islands National Park.
A trip to Ventura is a voyage to two very different worlds. The town revels in its surfer culture and laidback lifestyle, but also cherishes the unparalleled natural wonders found in one of America’s least visited national parks.
The park includes pristine Santa Cruz, at 98 square miles the largest of the tiny archipelago that includes San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara and tiny one-square-mile Anacapa. Although just an hour by boat from the mainland, Santa Cruz is a world apart.
The park’s official concessionaire, Island Packers Cruises, ferries day trippers and campers from Ventura Harbor to all five of the Channel Islands. A private boat can get you there, too. However, the trips rarely arrive on the islands as scheduled, because frequent sightings of whales and huge pods of dolphins make for memorable diversions along the way.
The recent rains that plagued the rest of California bestowed upon Santa Cruz an emerald mantle reminiscent of Ireland’s Aran Islands, undoubtedly to the delight of the more than 2,000 plant and animal species that thrive there.
Like the Galapagos, the Channel Islands are home to diverse plants and animals that can be found nowhere else on earth. For example, the island fox, at a whopping four pounds, is one of the smallest canids in the world, and super cute, to boot.
Low intensity, limited entry visitation makes for solitude from the time the boat arrives at Scorpion Anchorage or Prisoners Harbor.