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Off the blue shores of California’s Pacific Ocean lie the mysterious and uninhabited Channel Islands. The cluster of 8 islands remains mostly undeveloped, Anacapa Island being the smallest and least visited. Anacapa itself is comprised of 3 smaller islands: East, Middle, and West. I ventured by boat to East Anacapa, and, once I climbed the 157 stairs up the side of the cliff, I was faced with harsh winds, beautiful wildflowers, and thousands of friendly seagulls. My adventure to Anacapa was a wild one, and I hope this Anacapa travel guide gives you the tips and information needed to plan your own California island excursion.

Welcome sign to Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California
Welcome to Anacapa. Can you spot the nesting seagull?

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Getting There: Prepare for a Voyage

I admit my explorer heart was captured when I heard of the voyage required to reach East Anacapa in Channel Islands National Park. After a drive to the quaint harbor town of Oxnard, California, a 1.5 hour boat ride takes you to the island. After that, you need need to climb a steel rung ladder from the boat to the dock, then climb about 150 stairs up the side of a cliff to get up to the top of the island. If reading this gets you excited, Anacapa is the place for you.

Adventure Hiking to the East Ancapa Hiking Trail in Channel Islands National Park
Hiking the East Ancapa Hiking Trail

Adventure to Anacapa Island by Boat

Set Sail with Island Packers

The only way to get to Anacapa Island is by boat. I used the company called Island Packers. They offer trips to all the Channel Islands, and also do whale watching cruises in the summer months. Both the staff in the office and on the boat were very friendly and helpful, and it was an overall great experience.

Boarding the Island Packers boat at the dock in Oxnard, California
Boarding the Island Packers boat

If you want to guarantee a spot to sit down on the boat, make sure you get there early. We showed up at the Oxnard office about 30 minutes prior to departure, waited in a short line to check in, and by the time we got onto the boat there was standing room only. There are some snacks and drinks offered for purchase on board, and there are a couple restrooms available as well. I booked a roundtrip boat ticket for two online. Their website has great recommendations on what to expect, what to bring, and what not to bring. Check out Island Packers for dates and departures times.

Island Packers Office in Oxnard, California
Island Packers Office in Oxnard, California

Keep an Eye out For Wildlife

I saw a couple seals in the harbor as we were starting our adventure to Anacapa island from Oxnard, but I had my heart set on seeing something bigger. Throughout whole ride, I kept my eye out on the water. My heart skipped a beat when I saw a couple nearby splashes. Then out of nowhere a couple of beautiful dolphins leapt from the water and dove back below. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.

It turns out those two dolphins were leading an entire pod that was now surrounding our boat on both sides. Within seconds, about a hundred dolphins broke the surface of the water, jumping, diving, and playing in the waves. I think they were as happy to play near the boat as we were to see them. It was short lived, however, because in within just a few minutes, the frenzy of dolphins had subsided and they retreated back below the surface. So be sure to keep an eye out.

Pod of Dolphins in the Pacific Ocean near Ventura, California
My best capture of the happy dolphins

Tips for the Boat Ride

My adventure to Anacapa Island was in late April, and it was expected to be a mild, sunny, spring day. I wore jeans and a light sweater for the boat ride, and I really wish I had brought more layers than that.

  • Bring a jacket. The extreme winds on the boat ride are enough to chill through to the core. Even on the sunny ride back, I was freezing in my light sweater.
  • Bring a hat- one that won’t blow away. Chances are you will be sitting in the sun on the boat, and will be walking in the sun all day. Bring a cap or something that straps down, because that wind is no joke.
  • Prepare to be hands free. Make sure everything fits in your backpack so you don’t have to worry about dropping or losing stuff.
  • Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes. This is as important for walking on the boat as it is for walking on the island. The deck may get slippery as well.
  • Enjoy the view of the island as you get close. There are some inside seats on the boat and ones facing different directions. As you approach the island, if you’re sitting in one of those seats, be sure to get up and get some unique pictures of the island from the water.
View of Anacapa Island and lighthouse from the water
View of Anacapa Island and lighthouse from the water

Adventure to Anacapa: The Arrival

As the boat tethered to the small dock, the captain did an amazing job keeping it steady despite the swell of waves below. It turns out we only had a 50% chance of being able to dock that day. I didn’t learn that until I had arrived at the Island Packers office. It would’ve been very disappointing to boat out to the island and just see it from a far. But we did safely make it to the landing dock, and, one by one, the guides helped us climb the steel rung ladder up to the dock.

Approaching the landing dock and stairs at Anacapa Island
Approaching the landing dock
The dock ladder and stairs from the Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island
The ladder and stairs up to the island.

Once on the dock, my group of about 40 stood around to watch the boat depart. I’m not sure if they didn’t know where to go, or were afraid to leave, but my husband and I were the first to start climbing the many flights of stairs up the cliff, and the rest of the group didn’t venture up until about 15 minutes later. It’s a total of 157 steps, and I thought the view of the boat departing from up there was much better.

Boat departing the land dock
Departing the landing dock

First Impressions of Anacapa Island

We were still numb and cold from that windy boat ride. Maybe it was the adrenaline from climbing all those stairs, but all I felt was pure adventure as we stepped up on to Anacapa island. The sky was gray and overcast, the muted sun bringing out the cool green tones of the grassy island. There were no other humans in sight, but we were certainly not alone. Hundreds of white and gray seagulls dotted the grass as far as I could see.

Seagull in front of lighthouse on the Channel Islands

What to Do During an Adventure to Anacapa Island

East Anacapa island is very small. Our boat got us there at about 11:00 am, and was set to return to pick us up at 3:00 pm. At first I was worried that 4 hours wouldn’t be enough time to see everything, but it actually worked out perfectly. With no agenda in mind, we simply began exploring. After 4 hours, we had made our way around the entire island and saw all the big sights.

Rocky Island Cliffs at Channel Islands Natonal Park
Rocky Island Cliffs at Channel Islands National Park

1. Hike the East Anacapa Island Trail

The East Anacapa Island Trail is 2.4 mile loop that makes a figure 8 around the island. With a pretty even surface throughout, and some short steps made of wood planks, I would consider this trail easy for all skill levels. I didn’t see any signage marking the trail, but, once on it, I found it pretty easy to follow. It was mostly a dirt path through the grass fields. The East Anacapa Island Trail is probably the best way to see the island while protecting yourself and its residents.

Stairs along the East Anacapa Hiking Trail in Channel Islands National Park California
Stairs along the East Anacapa Hiking Trail

2. Enjoy the Seagulls

As a bleeding heart animal lover, I purposely chose end of April to plan my adventure to Anacapa Island. I had read that this point in spring is the perfect time to see thousands of seagulls nesting on East Anacapa. And by thousands, I literally mean thousands. This was indeed a bird island. Visiting a natural nesting ground for birds does come with a warning though: there are going to be bird droppings on almost everything, including the benches (bring a towel), there are going to be bird smells, and you may possibly see some dead birds throughout your adventure. So if you’re not a bird fan, I recommend booking your adventure to Anacapa in fall or winter.

Seagulls nesting on Anacapa Island
Seagulls nesting on Anacapa Island

So Many Seagull Nests!

The seagulls seem to build their nests in any old place, whether it be next to a bush, in the middle of a field, or right on the edge of the East Anacapa Island trail. When passing a nesting seagull, it may let you pass in silence if you walk by normally and quietly. If you tread too loudly, however, or make any unpredictable movements, they won’t hesitate to give you a shrill warning cry to keep your distance.

The Seagulls are Very Friendly

Despite their endless cawing and crying, these seagulls were all talk, and none of them flew at me or seemed violent in any way. The ones squawking at me were simply trying to protect their nests. The seagulls that weren’t nesting were actually very sweet and would politely step aside for me to pass. You can tell these birds aren’t used to humans here, because they seemed pretty disinterested in us in general. Even when we sat down and took out our packed lunch, none of them seemed to notice or care.

Seagull nest with egg
This seagull gave us a peak at the egg!

3. Visit the Anacapa Island Lighthouse

The beautiful Anacapa Island Lighthouse was built in 1928, after many years of ships running aground and wrecking on the various Channel Islands in the dark or bad weather. One of the most notable shipwrecks from Anacapa Island is the Winifield Scott, a steamship from 1853 that remains under the surface to this day. Until the 1960’s the lighthouse required a staff to keep it running. Today it still stands, operational but automated, complete with a fog horn that beckons every minute or so to warn nearby ships. The original Fresnel lighthouse lens, crafted in England and brought to the island in the 1930’s, can be found on display at the island’s visitor center.

Adventure to the Anacapa Island Lighthouse, perfect for nature photography.
Anacapa Island Lighthouse

4. Adventure to Anacapa Island’s Inspiration Point

Probably the peak of most people’s adventure to Anacapa Island is the view from Inspiration Point. From this point, visitors can see Middle and West Anacapa Island. Standing in this spot, overlooking the islands emerging from the sea, listening to the waves crash onto the rocks below while the winds blew past me, I was humbly reminded of how powerful our earth can be.

Inspiration Point on the Channel Islands, overlooking Middle and West Anacapa
Inspiration Point overlooking Middle and West Anacapa Islands

Be sure to get your photos in this area, but also be careful of the edge. There are no railings keeping you safe, and the surface off the main trail can be very uneven. There are some benches in this spot for relaxing. If the winds allow, this is a great place for a picnic.

Caution sign for hazardous cliffs at Inspiration Point

5. Have a Picnic

No food or drinks are sold on East Anacapa Island, so be sure to pack your own water and snacks. There are no trashcans, so be ready to take your trash back with you. A few benches can be found across the island, but the only picnic tables are located in front of the visitor center and at the campground. These are also the only two locations where there are pit restrooms.

Sign for visitor center, hiking trail, and campground
Sign for visitor center, hiking trail, and campground

What to Bring on Your Adventure to Anacapa Island

I wanted to be mostly hands free during my adventure to Anacapa island, so I packed very minimally. I wanted everything to fit in my small back pack. While that small backpack was conveniently light, it definitely wasn’t big enough to fit all the gear I wished I’d have packed. Be sure to check out my packing list for a day trip to Anacapa Island for the detailed list.

Seagulls at Inspiration Point
Seagulls at Inspiration Point

Camping on East Anacapa Island

I did see the campground on the island while I was walking through. There were only a few tents set up. The difficult part of camping on East Anacapa Island is that you have to bring all your equipment with you on the boat (which has a restriction that no single item may exceed 45 pounds), and carry it up all those stairs. Camping on the island sounds like a next level adventure that minimalist campers would enjoy. I can only imagine how peaceful it must be on that island at night, listening to the waves and watching the stars. If you’re more of a comfort camper, I would recommend planning your camping trip elsewhere.

Campground with tents at Anacapa Island
Anacapa Campground

Tips and Other Info for Your Adventure to Anacapa Island

  • Download the NPS Channel Islands App before your visit. It offers some offline maps for downloading ahead of time. It also has a ton of helpful visitor information for each island.
  • Restrooms. There are two sets of pit restrooms on the island: one at the visitor center and one at the campground. There is no running water but hand sanitizer is provided.
  • Park Ranger. I didn’t see any staff on the island on my visit except for one park ranger who was near the visitor center on our way back to the boat at the end of our day. So be prepared, plan ahead, and pack well.
Information Sign at the Anacapa Visitor Center
Information Sign at the Visitor Center

Be sure to Check Out Oxnard and Ventura, California

After our adventure to Anacapa island, we had a more tame adventure in the city of Oxnard California. It’s a beautiful harbor town with lovely views and some good seaside restaurants. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Channel Islands with a lovely marina view. We also found a good breakfast spot where we made some new friends over food and mimosas. However long you’re in town, be sure to check out the restaurants, and perhaps begin planning your next Channel Islands trip.

Marina view from Hampton Inn Channel Islands in Oxnard California
Marina view in Oxnard

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