Channel Islands 1. Dolphins and moonrise

By Charleen - November 19, 2023

Just off the coast of southern California lies a series of 8 small islands, five of which form the Channel Islands National Park. These isolated bits of land host such a variety of unique plants and animals that they have been nicknamed The Galapagos of North America. Access to the parks is not straightforward, so we jumped at the chance to visit four of the six Channel Islands that are open to visitors on a 5-day cruise with Lindblad Expeditions. We arrived early for a few days of southern California hiking and eating. After pulling out of the Port of Los Angeles, we enjoyed great food and drinks onboard the National Geographic Venture, accompanied by our first dolphin sightings as the moon rose over Palos Verdes.  

View from back of ship on the yoga lounge level
Exiting the LA Harbor breakwater
Moonrise over Palos Verdes

Forty-one years ago, I had the opportunity to hike Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands. I have vivid memories of the Giant Coreopsis - short, twisted trees straight out of Dr. Seuss with large, daisy-like flowers and fine, thready prehistoric foliage. The Channel Islands National Park had just been formed 2 years earlier; only Anacapa, Santa Barbara and San Miguel were open to visitation at that time. 
Fields of giant coreopsis on Santa Barbara Island, March 1982
Sea lion rookery, Santa Barbara Island,  March 1982
Fast forward 29 years. After a scientific meeting in Ventura, California, my husband and I stopped by the mainland Visiter's Center for the National Park and decided we wanted to visit. However, the rangers advised us that my then 79 year-old mother may have difficulty navigating from the small craft onto the ladders due to ocean swells even though she was routinely walking several miles a day. 
Giant coreopsis at the Ventura Visiter Center, March 2011
Each time we returned to visit, it seemed hard to free up the time to arrange passage even to just one of the islands. Somehow, 12 more years slipped by.

So it was with great excitement that I read the email from the National Parks Conservancy Association entitled Journey to North America's Galapagos, which highlighted a 5-day cruise to the Channel Islands. Although the dates of that particular voyage were not good for us, we were able to book the Wild California Escape: Channel Islands National Park cruise via Adventure Life for the first week of November. 

We flew into LAX several days before our cruise. This allowed us to visit nearby wildlife refuges for several < 3-mile hikes, to eat and shop in the Los Angeles Chinatown, and enjoy other great restaurants in the area.

Click here for hikes and places to eat in the LA Harbor area.

Click here for Day 2a. Anacapa Cliffs & Wildlife.

Click here for Day 2b. Santa Cruz Hike & Fox.

Click here for Day 3. Santa Rosa Torrey Pines Hike.

Click here for Day 4. Santa Catalina Two Harbors & Avalon

Making our way to the Port of Los Angeles

Prior to returning our car at the airport, we enjoyed an avocado toast from Calf & Chick. We also tried the beef bacon, which was nice and crisp, but not too our taste. 
A half order (one large piece of bread) of the avocado toast, and an order of beef bacon.
When we drove by the Hawaiian Bread Company Bakery, we could not resist trying their haupia (coconut)-filled malasada donuts and an intriguing caramel green apple mochi donut. This donut is chewier than most donuts. 
The glaze was delicious, but I found myself preferring the plain glazed yeast donut from Eagle Donuts. We had learned how popular donuts were in the South Bay area on a prior trip. Any of the locally owned donut shops produce inexpensive donuts that are superior to any of the chains. 

San Pedro near the Crown Plaza Los Angeles Harbor Hotel 

Lindblad keeps a hospitality room at the Crown Plaza - in the morning, disembarking passengers that do not need to transfer straight to LAX can pick up their bags and relax there. In the afternoon, arriving passengers can check in their luggage and enjoy a variety of complimentary snacks and beverages. 

The deadline for arrival is 4 pm, and the shuttle to the ship terminal departs from the hotel. 

Lunch at Crazy Fish Grill

As the Crown Plaza was located in the Los Angeles Little Italy, I had wanted to try an Italian restaurant, but these were not open at lunch time. So it was between Thai and a fish place. Given our proximity to the Harbor, we decided to try Crazy Fish Grill.

This small establishment offered a choice of fried or grilled fish for their Fish and Chips. I opted for the grilled sea bass, which comes with a choice of sauces. The man behind the counter recommended the chimichurri. The fish also comes with a choice of two sides, of which we selected the fries and grilled zucchini planks. 
This turned out to be the best fish and chips I have had. The fish was large enough to share (we had already shared a slice of avocado toast and had each eaten a donut for breakfast). It was very fresh and wonderful with the chimichurri. The fries were the perfect size and shape, nice and crisp.

It was extremely pleasant to sit outdoors in the sunshine and enjoy this meal. We lingered for a bit after eating, and then took a walk to San Pedro plaza park, a thin strip of land with a view of the Harbor. The Los Angeles Maritime Museum was nearby, but was not open, so we headed back to the comfort of the hospitality room where we met some of our fellow passengers. 

A Halloween Embarkation

The National Geographic Venture

Upon arrival at the port terminal, we had to show our driver's license and have a photo taken to get on board. The ship itself was less than half full, with a total of 40 guests, so we had plenty of room to explore and relax.
We had booked one of the lowest cost cabins, and had two port-hole windows. We found the room had ample space for all of our luggage, with so many closets and drawers that sometimes we had trouble finding where we had placed an item.
The bathroom had toilet, sink, and shower, with railed cubbies to store items. The liquid soaps, shampoo and conditioner were by Lather Modern Apothecary. They smelled and felt nice, leaving my hair well conditioned and easy to comb despite the wind. 
There was also a desk area, with two complimentary Lindblad-National Geographic water bottles, trail maps, the official National Park brochure, and postcards. Up above, there was a vertical storage space with a full size National Geographic Atlas.

Champagne happy hour

After the mandatory safety drill, we were free to explore each level of the ship. We took photos of the setting sun, and entered the forward lounge area. 
We found that the naturalist staff and some of the serving staff had dressed up on Halloween costumes. 
The Lindblad naturalist staff and the ship officers introduced themselves, which we enjoyed champagne, a non-alcoholic beverage, and a charcuterie meat, cheese and fruit board.
Interestingly, each of the naturalists on board had a completely different background, ranging from biologist to photographer to teacher. They seemed to enjoy the flexibility of career options offered by Lindblad. 


Dinner each night consisted of a first course, a choice of meat, fish and vegetarian entree, or steak, chicken and pasta that was offered daily. Each night, a different pair of red and white wines were offered. There was also a daily featured dessert with options to also select ice cream or sorbet. 
I greatly enjoyed the pickled beet and rocket (arugular salad with toasted almonds and mimosa vinaigrette. 
We both opted for the wild pacific salmon with toasted pine nuts, California sun-dried tomatoes, broccolini and greens.
We finished with the mountain berry streusel, to which I added a scoop of berry sorbet and my husband enjoyed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Dolphins and moonrise

After dinner, they made an announcement that dolphins had been sighted off the bow. So we rushed out to view them. At first, they were difficult to see. But the dolphin's exhalation was surprisingly easy to hear despite the motor. 

After a few surfaced, we learned that we could see a pale shimmer below the surface shortly before they came up. As we enjoyed watching the dolphins, we happened to look up.  A beautiful waning gibbous moon was rising over the Palos Verdes peninsula.

🐾 While we returned our car to the airport and arranged a ride back to the Crown Plaza hotel, we noticed that Hertz and Enterprise have convenient rental locations within easy walking distance of the Crown Plaza.

🍃 Each morning at breakfast, they ask you for a preliminary dinner entree choice so they can adjust amounts and minimize food waste. If you have trouble deciding between entrees, you can ask for half portions of two different entrees. 


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