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How To do a Day Trip to the Channel Islands


If you’ve been to the Southern California Coast, chances are you’ve seen the Channel Islands. On clear days, they rise up out of the Pacific, faint outlines in the distance. They’ve always beckoned me. I would gaze at them and wonder how could islands exist in plain sight that I haven’t explored? They appeared to be such a California adventure–hiking, kayaking, epic views and immersion in nature. I finally gave into their ‘siren call’ and made the voyage out. This was something that I didn’t think was possible while having a baby girl at home! I did it all in one day and was able to get back home in time to tuck Aurora in. Here’s how.

The Channel Islands

Still cannot believe that this is epic landscape is in my backyard

The Channel Islands are comprised of five individual islands differing in size and together they make up the protected area of Channel Islands National Park. To access them, you take a ferry or boat out of Ventura Harbor. The main island of Santa Cruz, the largest and most accessible, has a campground, 15 hiking trails, and the main anchorage of Scorpion Bay.

Plan Ahead

The island is all pack in and pack out, so it is vital to plan out your day ahead of time. There aren’t any public structures, besides restrooms and changing areas, so you need to have everything you need with you. (see my packing list below) Since I had limited time, I wanted to maximize each moment that I had out there, so I decided to book an experience through Santa Barbara Adventure Company.

Pablo from Santa Barbara Adventure Company

SB Adventure Company is a highly rated mom-pop shop that provides a variety of adventures on the mainland and off, all year round. Their high reviews and years of experience in the Channel Islands put me at ease. It was important to me to have good guides too so I could learn more and feel safe and secure out on the water.

Craving something active–and especially something that I can’t usually do with a little one– I booked the Adventure Sea Cave Kayak tour. This would give me a guided tour of the famous sea caves along the coast of the island. Plus, I love being on the water and this was about as close as I could get, save for swimming in the chilly temps! Guides, kayaks, gear were all included, so all I had to do was show up at the dock!

How to Get There:

It can be done in a day–even from Los Angeles!

I left my house a little after 7am and jetted up the PCH to Ventura Harbor. Watching the surfers catch early waves and the sun yawning up the sky made the drive very scenic and quick! With the detailed directions of where to meet at Ventura Harbor, I had no problem finding SB Adventure Company when I pulled in.

Island Packers is the ferry service that brings you out to Santa Cruz Island and they have several ferries back and forth throughout the day. As I was doing this in March, a lower season, there were less ferries scheduled than in the summer, for example. We had planned to take the 9am out there and the 3:30pm ferry back.

The ferry itself is a lovely ride! Coffee is served on board and the hour ride was smooth and breathtaking. We even had a surprise escort of dolphins on the way over. What a refreshing start to the day.

First steps on Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

This island is simply majestic. It was in full bloom from the recent rains, so the hillsides were covered in wildflowers as our ferry pulled up to the dock.

View of Scorpion Bay

Once on land, our guide walked us over to changing area where we could get the necessary clothing for kayaking. They had wetsuits, water shoes, helmets and life jackets waiting for us. They even had waterproof holders for cell phones, which I definitely recommend!

Ready to GO

I opted to wear a wetsuit just on my legs, to make sure I wouldn’t be chilly in the water. However, the sun was out so I didn’t zip it all the way up–a long sleeve shirt was perfect. I brought along water and all my GoPros.

Kayaking

Down at the beach, the kayaks were waiting for us. After a quick safety briefing, my guide, Pablo, was pushing me into the clear waters. As there were a few other tours that day, we opted to go in the opposite direction first to get an unobstructed access to the caves.

The glassiest water

With the water so deep and clear, the impressive kelp forests engulfed us. Pablo told us about this incredible plant and he even encouraged me to give them as taste. Honestly, it was not bad!

Floating snacks 🙂

We ventured into our first cave–following his lead and turning once inside. I had been worried that it would be difficult to turn but it wasn’t bad at all. We just had to time it with the waves.

Incredible kelp forests

We passed around an island where there is loud and quite impressive blowhole. This blowhole was formed by years of sea water crashing into the rock and needed a way to get out. You can get close to it but be warned, you will get wet!

The Blowhole!

Pablo pointed out endemic plants and birds as we paddled by. It was nesting season so we noticed one cave full of birds nests and hungry chirping baby birds. Having a guide like Pablo point out and explain more about specific plants and animals gave so much context to the whole experience that would have been lost if I just went out on my  own.

Learning about the unique flora and fauna on these little islands

We stopped at Geology Cove, a quiet area where you can see clearly see history of the formation of the island through the delineated layers of Earth. Pablo explained how animals used to be able to walk here from the mainland, and over time, the ocean rose and the channel between the islands and the rest of California grew deep, stranding many types of plants and animal here such as the scrub jay, the deer mouse, the spotted skunk and the adorable islands foxes!

Pitstop for a quick viewpoint hike

Our next pitstop was at a rocky beach, where Pablo helped us pull in our kayaks for a quick viewpoint nature walk. The 360 degree views of the island from here were well worth the stop. The beach itself even had some of the most beautiful seashells that I had ever seen!

Elephant Belly Cave

Our last kayak adventure was to Elephant Belly Cave. This was by far the largest cave that we saw. We paddled inside and even shot through a narrow path way for a little adrenaline rush! I didn’t think I could do something like this but Pablo made it simple and put my fears at ease.

Shooting through the passage

Hiking and Picnic

Back on the island, we changed into dry clothes for a short hike and lunch. Visitors are required to stay on one of the designated hiking trails in order to minimize human impact on the island.

We elected to take the hike along the cliff over Scorpion Bay for those photogenic views. A special treat was because it was springtime walking through the waist high wildflowers was truly an experience I won’t forget.

Up here we found the perfect spot for a picnic. Channel Islands Provisioners, the recommended food provider of SB Adventure Company, had supplied us with adorable, trash free packed lunches. The vintage napkin and farmers market sourced ingredients won me over right away! After all that paddling, it was nice to have a delicious, healthy lunch all packed and chilled in an individual cooler just waiting for me.

Farmer’s Market sourced lunched from Channel Island Provisioners!

Exciting Ferry Home

After a slew of photos, it was time to board the ferry back to the mainland–but the adventure was not over then. On board, just as we were cheersing a day well spent with beers, the captain alerted us that he saw whales. Before I knew it, we had changed course and were speeding in the direction of 3 gray whales, migrating up the coast. They crested and dove, giving us a show of tails and spouts. Who knew that this was a whale watching tour too!

What a DAY

The dolphins wanted some attention too and just after, we saw a mega pod of around 700 dolphins–the most that I’ve ever seen and probably ever WILL see. It was literally jaw-dropping. They bounded in our wake and swam up along side the boat, leaping out of the water with joy. I was giddy!

This photo does not do justice just how many dolphins we saw!

We pulled into Ventura Harbor at 5pm and it was a coastline drive home. On my ride back, I couldn’t believe how much I’d done and seen in just 8 hours. It renewed my love and appreciation for California, for nature and for making time for mini adventures throughout our lives. I believe it is always important to take a step back from the day to day grind and just immerse in nature. It is good for the soul, the body and the mind.

Thank you SB Adventure Company for taking all the stress out of planning this epic California day for me!

Ventura Harbor

Packing List:

  • Sunscreen
  • Refillable Water bottle
  • Fast drying athletic clothing for kayaking
  • Sneakers
  • Sunglasses
  • Backpack
  • GoPro (if you are like me and want to photograph on the water)
  • Lunch & Snacks!

***Note to Moms: I know many of you follow my adventures with my daughter and know that I am still breastfeeding. I was able to pump and preserve all my milk during the trip–no problem. SB Adventure Company was very flexible and helpful when it came to making time for me to pump and finding privacy. For that I am very grateful as well.

torii gate

Top 5 Adventures in Setouchi, Japan

Japan might be synonymous with gardens, temples, sushi and cherry blossoms, but did you also realize that it is home to a wild variety of adventures? I spent 2 weeks exploring the Setouchi Region in Southwest Japan, which is famous for its breathtaking landscapes so it’s no surprise that outdoor adventures are plentiful here. I had no idea that Japan looked like this! We explored beaches and coasts, clear waters, rugged mountains, sweeping valleys and iconic cities throughout this region, and it is the adventures that stand out to me most. Here is a list of my favorite experiences throughout the region. Note that since Setouchi is all about the Seto Inland Sea, each of these experiences have to do with water in some way.

  1. Kayak the Floating Gate

torii gate

 

You’ve probably seen images of this incredible gate, the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine. Itsukushima is a Shinto Shrine and World Heritage Site, and I think it is a marvel unto itself. Built to honor the gods of the sea, it has been a popular place of worship for sea travels ever since the Edo period. This outdoor shrine is located on the shores of the sacred Miyajima Island, constructed near and even in the water. But this particular torii gate might be one of Japan’s most iconic images. The gate is built right on the water so during high tide, when the water surrounds it, it appears to be floating. High tide is the perfect time to see it up close, by kayaking!

Itsukushima Shrine

We rented kayaks from a small shop, right in the center of town. They helped us bring the kayaks out to the shore and provided a guide to help us paddle and navigate the two-seater kayaks. It was helpful to have help paddling since I had to stop a few times to take photos! I couldn’t believe how stunning the gate was as we passed through it. The vermillion color, the ornate carvings and the striking backdrop is even more tremendous when you experience it on the water. I will cherish the photos I took of this kayak adventure forever.

 

2. Fly in a Seaplane

Setouchi Seaplanes flight seaplane

The Seto Inland Sea is home to thousands of islands and it is probably the most dramatic part of this entire region. To take in the breadth of the sea as well as the beauty of the terrain, a seaplane gives you an incomparable perspective.

Setouchi Seaplanes

I couldn’t recommend Setouchi Seaplanes more. This company has an ultra hip, ultra modern checkin counter and lounge, complete with complimentary drinks and snacks. Check out their cute selection of souvenirs from their gift shop.

From there, you are guided onto the dock for a quick security check and then onto the seaplane. With one seat on either side, and 3 rows behind the pilots, our group of 6 had plenty of room. There are two amphibious aircraft available and I was excited that we flew in the bright red and green “L’ala Rossa.” As we took off from the water, it was exhilarating to see the islands, roads, and bridges get smaller and smaller. What I didn’t expect was how photogenic the landscape would be from this angle. I was captivated by the glittering sea, the uninhabited islands and the miniscule speeding boats as are we soared for 50 minutes. The pilots pointed out highlights along the route and I felt the entire service was very professional and the planes were very well maintained. Let’s not forget, it definitely pumps the adrenaline too!

 

3. Bike the Shimanami Kaido

Shimanami Kaido Biking

With over 37 miles of paved bike paths, it is no wonder that cyclist flock to Setouchi for their biking vacations. Not only are the paths very well constructed, they are extremely scenic as well! We picked up our bike at our homebase, the Hotel Cycle in Onomichi, and from there we biked along the coastal paths. This allowed us to stop at beaches, admire water views, cross some of Setouchi’s many architectural bridges and hop from island to island. We biked to Ikuchijima Island to explore the vivid Kosanji Temple. And if you are hungry, check out the delicious tempura restaurants in town!  

 

4. Cruise the Oboke Gorge

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley Boat

Yet another water adventure can be found away from the Seto Sea, up in the mountains of the Iya Valley on Tokushima Island. Surrounded by what seems to be endless, wooded peaks, this region is already spectacular. But try experiencing it by boat.

Oboke Gorge Iya Valley

We embarked on a sightseeing boat to explore the Oboke Gorge, a crystal clear part of the Yoshinaro River. The cruise was very relaxed and peaceful. It was such a lovely way take in the fresh air and surrounding nature of the Iya Valley. Plus the water is so clear, you are can see wild koi fish splashing about under the hull.

 

5. Cross the Kazura Bridge

Kazura Bridge Iya Valley

You wouldn’t expect a bridge to be an adventure, but this one is! The Kazura Bridge is a hanging rope bridge that spans 50 feet above a river. It is thought to have been built by the samurai that lived in these mountains, who chose to built it out of vines and ropes so they could cut it down in case they were being trailed by attackers.

Standing on the Kazura Bridge

Now it is a picturesque tourist destination for it’s Iya Valley views but also for the bragging rights of crossing it. I am not going to lie, I was a little scared when I stepped on it. I had not expected the vines to be so far apart, making me very aware of the 50 foot drop between each step. The bridge also sways with movement and with the wind, so hold on!

 

The best way to understand these adventures is to see them!

Check out my Adventure video where I dive into all these Setouchi experiences and even more that I didn’t mention! 

Valais Luxury Switzerland

Luxury Guide of the Valais, Switzerland

A Guide to of Peru

Live like a Local: Peru
USTOA’s Travel Together Series hosted by Kelley Ferro
You have the vibrant city of Lima, the bright green, snow capped Andes, the desert plains of the Nazca Lines, the Amazon and of course, Machu Picchu. Peru has so many different sides, I needed more time to experience them all. Here’s a glimpse into my time in Peru.

Choose Your Own Adventure in South Africa

Freedom to have your Experience while on tour with Swain Destinations
You might think that being a tour means a strict schedule, group activities all the time and no chance to choose what you do. Well, that’s not the case on tours with United States Tour Operator Members.
My trip to South Africa with Swain Destination proved that the ultimate goal of the tour was for us to have our own best possible trip–so we added in more things, had spontaneous roadside stops and had some time for rest. It truly felt like our own trip, just a bit easier & better!