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Ultimate Guide To Santa Cruz Island PLUS Itinerary


A few weeks ago, we went on a day trip to Santa Cruz Island, California in the Channel Islands National Park. If you haven’t heard of Channel Islands, they are a group of 5 islands located off the coast of Santa Barbara in California. These islands are considered to be one of the most pristine and well preserved parts of California.

We visited Santa Cruz Island and let me tell you, it is as pristine as they say it is with amazing views of the ocean and the cliffs. If you like to get away from the most visited places in California and enjoy nature without too many people, these are the islands to visit. There are some things to consider before you go though.

Here is a comprehensive guide with tips, logistics and things to do in Santa Cruz Island.

Scroll to the bottom of the page to print itinerary to Santa Cruz Island.

A few facts about Channel Islands National Park:

  • It is established as national park in 1980 and is not as crowded as the other parks.
  • Channel Islands are a group of 5 islands and are accessible through a ferry from Ventura and Oxnard.
  • It is home to the most endemic species. Santa Cruz Island with it’s much smaller area has more endemic species than the Galapagos.
  • Santa Cruz Island, the biggest of them all was owned by a family of ranchers and sold to the US government which was then turned into a national park.
  • There are many activities to do like camping, hiking, kayaking and just R & R at the beach.


  • The islands are accessible only by a ferry from Oxnard and Ventura through Island Packers. We took a boat from Ventura.
  • The ferry to Santa Cruz Island is over an hour long and can get very CHOPPY. Be aware of that and if you are prone to motion sickness, be prepared.



  • There is no food or water available on the islands. Bring your own food and drink and leave no trace. Pick up trash and take it back including banana peels and apple cores.
  • There is no cell phone reception available. Rangers are available for first-aid but first-aid kit is recommended in the packing list.
  • You could take day trips but if you would like to stay overnight, camping is the only option.
  • Keep your food safe from rare island foxes and ravens.
  • Santa Cruz Island is ideal for kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and other water sports.
  • Pack dry clothes if you decide to water activities. Kayaking tours are available through SB Adventure Co.
  • Check the weather and be prepared with layers. Weather in Santa Cruz Island can turn from warm to chilly in no time.
  • If you decide to go kayaking or other water activities, lockers and changing rooms are available on site. The company also provides gear like splash jacket, wetsuit, water shoes and safety gear.
  • Take lots of sunscreen, change of clothes, sanitizer, towel, water, snacks and motion sickness medicine (if you are prone to it).
  • Needless to say, if you decide to kayak, take care of your electronics. Even though my iPhone is supposedly water resistant, it got damaged when I fell in the water and I lost my content from the trip.



  • If you decide to stay on the island, camping is the only option.
  • On the mainland, Holiday Inn and Sheraton are right next to the Ventura harbor. Other options are available in Ventura. Santa Barbara is a half an hour drive away.
  • There are some good restaurants in the Ventura Harbor Village if you are hungry from the day trip.




  • We took the boat to Scorpion’s Anchorage beach. It is a gorgeous beach with crystal clear blue-green waters. Snorkel, paddle board, kayak or just chill at the beach here.
  • Kayaking tours are available in Santa Cruz Island to visit the sea caves. We did the Discover sea cave kayak adventure and it was a lot of fun.
  • You could rent or bring gear for paddling/snorkeling at the beach. I believe the kayak and paddle rentals are available on mainland and you or the company you rent have to transport the equipment to the island.
  • Hiking in Santa Cruz island is amazing because of the breathtaking views that do not need too much climbing. Many trails with varied lengths begin at the Scorpion’s Anchorage camp. Take some time to hike as the views are simply breathtaking. I found the views to be a mix of Ireland’s Cliffs and views from Capri. You will not find such views anywhere else in California.
  • We hiked the Cavern Point (short 2 mile) and part of the Potato Harbor hike (5 mile round trip).




  • If you decide to kayak near Scorpion’s Anchorage, please be aware that it is not a great idea to first time kayak here. It is better to have some experience.
  • To get to the caves, we had to kayak in the open ocean and at times, we were kayaking against 18mph wind! The guide takes you into narrow caves that require some maneuvering skills so if you are just starting, DO NOT take the tour.
  • Kayaking in choppy waters against the wind is hard work! You need upper body strength.
  • If you are afraid of falling in the water, DO NOT take the tour. You wear life vests and the guide is there to help you but you have to be confident and not panic. Our kayak flipped and we fell into water inside a cave but we were fine. Remember that you might fall in the water.
  • If you still want to kayak, rent kayak through other companies and kayak around the beach where the water is calmer.



I hope these tips and details help you plan your next trip to the Channel Islands. If you like exploring and being away in nature, I urge you to visit the Islands! They are so well preserved with breathtaking beauty and rare species of plants and wildlife.



[pdf-embedder url=”https://acharmingescape.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Santacruz_island_itinerary.pdf”]

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Hi there!

I am Aswani Kurra. I am an engineer, dreamer and part-time wanderlust, writer and wine lover. I always had an urge to write, create and travel. So I created this space to satisfy my creative itch and combine all my skills to help you plan your Charming Escape.

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  1. Nicola Lavin on August 26, 2019 at 1:22 am

    Thank you for such a wonderful and detailed itinerary. Such a beautiful part of the world.

    • Aswani on August 26, 2019 at 11:24 am

      I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

  2. Merrie Rodriguez on August 26, 2019 at 5:20 am

    Love how thought out this itinerary is!!

    • Aswani on August 26, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Thank you Merrie! Thought it will be helpful! 🙂

    • Miranda on December 19, 2019 at 8:54 am

      I would love to visit Santa Cruz and go hiking! Love the itinerary guide you put together – so simple to use!

  3. Marisa on August 26, 2019 at 10:07 pm

    This place looks absolutely stunning! Will definitely be adding it to my travel list!

    • Aswani on August 26, 2019 at 10:19 pm

      It is so beautiful Marisa and very pristine!

  4. World of Lina on September 1, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Sant Cruz looks really lovely! I’d love to go there 😍

    • Aswani on September 2, 2019 at 5:54 pm

      It is a beautiful place Lina!

  5. Taylor Deer on September 1, 2019 at 11:11 pm

    Santa Cruz Island looks so beautiful! I went to Catalina Island a few years ago and that is what it kind of reminds me of. Great post and love the itinerary as well! 🙂

    • Aswani on September 2, 2019 at 5:55 pm

      Thank you Taylor! Yes, Catalina I’ve heard is amazing too. Haven’t been there yet!

  6. Aireona on December 19, 2019 at 2:48 am

    The California Channel Islands are honestly one of my favorite places in the entire world! You have a great itinerary for a day trip,, but you should definitely give camping a go! There is SO much to explore on Santa Cruz and it is all amazing.

  7. Hannah Ackroyd on December 19, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    Santa Cruz looks beautiful! Those blue waters look dreamy! We’ve not heard of Santa Cruz before but it’s definitely going on the bucket list! We love to escape somewhere remote and undisturbed. Thanks for the fantastic guide!

    Hannah | https://getlost.blog/

  8. Albi on December 19, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    Awesome guide, I didn’t know that you can do that many things in Santa Cruz. I also really like how you are doing the itinerary by hours, can be helpful if you are lacking the time

  9. Karthika on December 21, 2019 at 1:44 am

    Love this and I did not realize there are so many fun things to do in Santa Cruz…Looks like I need to visit soon.

    • Aswani on January 11, 2020 at 6:56 am

      Thank you! This is Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California and different from Santa Cruz. 🙂

  10. Dan O'Brian on November 30, 2021 at 10:20 am

    Thank you! Check out santacruzislandbooks.com for channel island books on sale.

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