10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 5: Channel Islands National Park, California

Overview: Booked ferry tickets to venture out to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park via Island Packers Cruise. They day was spent hiking, exploring and a beautiful humpback whale sighting!

We had booked cruise/ferry tickets ahead of time when we were planning our trip to California. We were booked for a cruise and group kayak tour, but due to weather, our kayak trip was cancelled.

Our day began by heading out on the Island Packers Cruise at 9:30am, set for Santa Cruz Island.

Clayton and I both have visited the Channel Islands National Park before via the Island Packers Cruise. He and his brother kayaked around the island and then camped overnight. When he and I visited, we he took the Painted Cave Tour and then visited Prisoner’s Harbor and hiked.

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If you are pressed for time, but want to make sure you visit the Channel Islands, I would recommend what we did below. The views are gorgeous.

p.s. if you plan to camp on the island, remember there are no provisions! Check out my post for 10 Must-Do Beauty Hacks for Camping 🙂

Island Packers Cruise, Ventura, CA

Channel Islands Island Packers Cruise | Gathered In The Kitchen

We rode on the front of the boat – the most windy area! It was freezing!!…and drizzling! The rain just wasn’t about to let up on this trip!

Channel Islands Island Packers Cruise | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands Island Packers Cruise | Gathered In The Kitchen

Thankfully, being the prepared mom that I am (ha!) I had packed hats and gloves for everyone. … and yes, everyone thanked me because they were freezing!

Humpback Whale Sighting!

The waters off of the Ventura coast are home to many different species of whales; including the gray whale, blue whale, humpback whale and more! Each time that my husband and I have taken the Island Packers cruise ferry we have seen whales and dolphins. However, this time, with it only being March, and still quite cold, the dolphins have migrated south to warmer waters. BUT!!!! We did have an epic sighting of two humpback whales! One even made the classic Free Willy jump!

YouTube video

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands Island Packers Cruise | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands Island Packers Cruise | Gathered In The Kitchen

After arriving at the island, a NPS Park Ranger gives a short chat about what to expect for the day on the island…as you are there for over 6 hours. The ranger told us that ticks were bad this year and that the day before she had pulled one off of a visitor. Since the weather was cold, we were fully covered, so I wasn’t really worried. However, if you ever get a tick bite, check out this post on what to do if you get a tick bite…I had one that I didn’t know was there after camping at Carolina Beach in North Carolina.

Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

Comparison time! Aside from me gaining 20+ lbs since 2019 (wahhh, Wisconsin life is hard! It’s always so cold, so I hate going outside!), look at the difference in the land! Dry and brown is the typical look of the island…but because of all of the unprecedented rain, everything is lush and green…and wet!! (we were soaked with rain!)

Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

I’m sharing a lot of photos, because I want to always remember how absolutely gorgeous Santa Cruz Island was in March 2023…after so much rain! It literally felt like we were walking along the seaside in Ireland!…a place I dream of going!

Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

The island is known for the adorable little Island Foxes that call Santa Cruz home. They are not very afraid of people and are cute and small!… they remind you of a raccoon, but cuter!

Island Fox on Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen
Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

The trails were really muddy from all of the rain, which I was a little less than thrilled about because I had just bought these New Balance trail running shoes and was a bummed they were getting so muddy – ha! Guess now they’ll look like I actually use them for running ;-p

Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

After all of our hiking around the island, we headed back down to the beach where the Island Packers Cruise comes to pick up visitors to head back to the mainland.

Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

The kids had so much fun finding so many fun sea creatures!

Channel Islands | Gathered In The Kitchen

We caught the 4:30pm cruise back to Ventura. Who would have guessed we were in California with these dark clouds!

Channel Islands Island Packers Cruise | Gathered In The Kitchen

After docking, visiting the gift shop and getting back into the car, we headed to In-N-Out Burger one more time for a quick dinner on the road. We were headed north on Highway 1 up towards Solvang, a Danish inspired village! (which literally may be my new favorite Californian town!)

We checked into our hotel (Wine Valley Inn) late at night and hit the sack! Getting ready for day 6 of our road trip adventures!

Wine Valley Inn, Solvang, CA | Gathered In The Kitchen

More Activities on The Channel Islands

As I mentioned above, Clayton and I have visited the Channel Islands before. I would highly recommend checking out these two posts about other things to do on the island! It’s definitely worth the trip out there!

Bellagio Water Show Las Vegas | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 1: Las Vegas, Nevada

Joshua Tree National Park | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 2: Joshua Tree National Park

Santa Monica Pier | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 3: Santa Monica & Ventura, California

Santa Barbara, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 4: Ojai & Santa Barbara, California

Channel Islands Island Packers Cruise | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 5: Channel Islands National Park, California

Solvang, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 6: Solvang, San Simeon & Big Sur, California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 7: Big Sur, Point Lobos, & Cannery Row, California

Muir Woods National Monument | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 8: Santa Cruz, Muir Woods, California

Golden Gate Bridge | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 9: San Francisco, California

Walnut Creek, California | Gathered In The Kitchen

10 Day California Coast Road Trip | Day 10: Walnut Creek, California

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