Boarding the boat for our trip to Anacapa Island – part of the Channel Islands National Park – we could hear an infant crying. Certainly most everyone was thinking, “Oh, great! A baby on a 12-mile boat trip! Are you nuts?” The Island Packers' boat, Vanguard, began its slow journey through the calm waters of Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Out into the open sea, we started to rock and bob – the infant was asleep within seconds. The rest of us faced forward, eyes wide open, awaiting a glimpse of the elusive Anacapa Island. Those of us beyond the rhythmic lullabies of babies could take solace in the postcard-perfect weather – light breeze, blue skies, and warm sun – as we embarked on our half-day journey to a land nearly forgotten by time.
When considering boarding a 68-foot-long boat to take a 12-mile trip out into open seas, traveling with children under the age of five probably doesn’t come to mind. However, our group included families with children of all ages and an infant. With just two miles of trails, Anacapa’s landscape is easy hiking and perfect for younger visitors – even parents packing a baby. The visitor’s center provides welcome shade and picnic tables for a lunchtime break. The center also has great interpretive displays and houses the original crystal and brass Fresnel lens from the island lighthouse. The landing cove offers great opportunities for snorkeling, swimming and kayaking – even for the younger set. The water temperatures are warmest during the summer months, topping out at around 65°. It’s a good idea to monitor exposure to the water or come equipped with dive suits.
Kids and parents will enjoy a thrilling below-water view through Anacapa’s underwater video program. Viewed by television from the island’s landing dock at or the mainland visitor center, this unique program features an interpretive dive through one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, the kelp forest. Kids can talk directly to the ranger interpreter and ask questions about the watery world below. This amazing program is available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the landing cove of Anacapa Island. It is open to the public free of charge and occurs at 2:00 p.m from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Off-shore, California sea lions and harbor seals are frequently seen and heard barking up a storm at overlooks Cathedral Cove and Pinniped Point. They are often seen during the Channel crossing – bobbing along and seemingly waving as you pass. Several varieties of whales and dolphins are spotted year-round on trips to Anacapa – and with luck you may find a pod of orca or common dolphin playing in the boat’s wake.
Despite obvious signs of human habitation, Anacapa retains much of its natural rugged beauty. Anacapa consists of three small islets, East, Middle and West, which are inaccessible from each other except by boat. Visitation is limited to the East islet and Frenchy’s Cove on the West islet. Most of island is primarily wilderness set aside for nesting Western gulls and the endangered California brown pelican. In the spring, kids and adults marvel at the throng of nesting gulls. Later in the season, downy baby gulls wait quietly, or not, for doting parents to feed them. And undulating brown pelicans soar overhead or line the cliffs overlooking the landing cove on East Anacapa.
In general, the island has a Mediterranean climate but the weather can be most unforgiving and dense fog is common during late spring. Calm winds and seas are more frequent at summer’s end. Consider seasonal changes when planning a trip to Anacapa or any of the Channel Islands.
The closest of the five islands that make-up the national park, Anacapa is only a ½-mile wide, about 5 miles long, with 200-foot cliffs. Though fairly stark in its natural state, non-native ice plant, a brilliant red, now blankets much of the island. Originally planted to prevent erosion, the creeping, mat-forming succulent is being removed as part of an environmental rehabilitation of the island. In the spring, forests of giant yellow coreopsis seem other-worldly. Other wildflowers – pale pink island mallow, vivid red paintbrush, and tiny island morning glories – create an eye-catching palette of colors across the island.
It’s fitting that Anacapa is the only one of the five Channel Islands to retain its American Indian name "Eneepah,” derived from a Chumach word meaning island of deception or mirage. I can tell you, this island is no mirage. It’s a dream come true for kids of all ages – grown-ups too!
When traveling to Anacapa or any of the Channel Islands, remember:
> Sunscreen, sunglasses, sunhat
> Seasickness Medicine (If you’re at all concerned or sensitive)
> Dress in layers
> Take plenty of water as there is no fresh water on the island
> Pack lunches and snacks
> Comfortable walking shoes
> Camera and binoculars
> Day-trippers can leave items at the Visitor Center but its best to travel light.
> Walk with care
> Take photos not flowers, rocks, shells, or other items found on the island…except trash.
> If you pack it in, pack it out
For families looking for the complete family escape with all the requisite amenities, the Embassy Suites Mandalay Bay Beach Resort is conveniently located near Channel Islands Harbor. All-suite rooms offer the luxury and comforts of home: living room, two televisions, two full baths, one king or two queen beds, and sleeper sofas, a refrigerator, microwave oven, coffee maker, and a well-lit dining table. Translation: Plenty of room for everyone to spread out and relax. A deep blue swimming pool, Jacuzzis, ping pong, non-motorized bikes of all kinds to ride along the beach promenade and miles of the most pristine beach just scream “family friendly!” Tons of Family Fun Packages the entire family will enjoy!
Forget the breakfast buffets; mornings at Embassy Suites are a real food fest! Besides an over-the-top expanded continental featuring fresh fruits and yogurts, full-cooked breakfasts include eggs, bacon, sausage, omelets, waffles, pancakes and more. And Embassy Suites may have the happiest “hour” on the planet. The two-hour soiree includes a variety of munchies from chips and salsa and trail mix to fresh vegetables and dip plus a full bar for parents…and kids! The Surf Room at Mandalay Bay features kid- and adult-friendly game area with pool table, foosball, big screen TV, or you can simply relax on the patio: The swaying palm trees and blue lagoons will keep you and the kids dreaming of Paradise.
Originally published 2006 for TravelingMom.