Channel Islands 2a: Anacapa Island Cliffs & Marine Life

By Charleen - November 23, 2023

Just off the coast of southern California lies a series of 8 small islands, five of which form the Channel Islands National Park. Anacapa Island is closest to Ventura, CA, about 12 miles off the coast. And the multiple flights of California brown pelicans coming out to sea at dawn are a dramatic testament to the success of Pittsburgher Rachel Carson's impact in rescuing wild birds. We enjoyed a beautiful Zodiac raft trip past colonies of playful sea lions, Arch Rock, the only brown pelican nesting site in North America, waving amber-brown strands of giant kelp. While we enjoyed mobile bar service by raft up above, a diving team was down below producing a video of life below the surface. We returned to learn more about the first humans to dwell in these islands, followed by a fantastic lunch on board the Lindblad/National Geographic Venture.  

Dawn over east Anacapa Island.
The National Geographic Venture from a Zodiac raft
One of many playful sea lions of Anacapa Island

Day 2. On the first morning of our 5-day cruise of the Channel Islands, we woke before dawn thinking we would avail ourselves of the sunrise yoga session. Instead, we were completely entranced by the beautiful approach from west to east along the south shore of Anacapa Island with seabirds waking up and flying past us out to sea.
Moon over West Anacapa at dawn.

Click here to read about short (<3 miles) Southern California Hikes with Santa Catalina Views

Click here for Channel Islands Cruise Day 1. Embarkation, Dolphins & Moonrise

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

Click here for Channel Islands Cruise Day 3. Santa Rosa Torrey Pines Hike

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

Sunrise by Anacapa

When we came up onto the deck, we encountered the most beautiful orange-red to pink and blue skies. The moon was still up as we cruised from the west. 
The dawn sky looking east with the double peak of Catalina and flatter Santa Barbara islands just visible at the horizon
Anacapa Island is actually a small chain of islands, which were once connected when the ocean was much lower.
Distant groups of birds flew southwest from their nesting sites towards the ocean, highlighted by rosy skies. 
As they got closer, it was evident that they were brown pelicans, swooping like pterydactls, large birds with slow powerful wingstrokes.
It was a bit chilly on deck in the morning... The packing list had focused on sunglasses, hats and sun protection, but omitted to emphasize also bringing a hat or buff for warmth. 
Nevertheless, we could not imagine a more dramatic setting to begin our exploration of the Channel Islands.

Pre-breakfast and Breakfast

For early risers, the Venture hospitality staff provided yogurt, overnight oats, fruit and baked goods each morning in the front lounge.
This was followed by a lavish breakfast buffet, including a chef to prepare eggs and omelets with your choice of toppings. 
I had already eaten a plate off the buffet when I discovered the egg station, so I opted for a single egg scrambled with toppings.

Zodiac Rafting 

The 40 passengers on board were divided into two groups, the Foxes and the Eagles.  We selected the Foxes because the Channel Island Fox subspecies only live on the Channel Islands. On our first morning, the Foxes got to go out on the rafts first, while the Eagles watched informative videos about the archeological and social history of the Channel Islands. Then the groups switched.

Brown Pelican Rookery

Immediately upon leaving the boat, we could hear the sea lions barking on the shore. From a distance we saw a lot of fins in the air.  Apparently that is one strategy they use to regulate their body temperature. 
As one or two curious sea lions peered at us, we realized that the white streaks seen on the cliffs marked the site of the brown pelican rookery.  
Upon closer examination with binoculars (or telephoto lens), we saw thousands of pelicans delicately perched on narrow ledges across the steep cliffside. Due to the toxic effects of the pesticide DDT, which causes the eggshells to be so weak that they collapse under the weight of the brooding parent, the striking California brown pelican came close to extinction. In the Anacapa rookery, the only rookery for this species north of Mexico, only a single chick survived to hatching in 1970 (out of 552 nests)
With the recovery of seabirds following the ban on DDT, the pelicans are no longer endangered, and have spread to a second nesting site on Santa Barbara Island. 

A Toast to the Arch

As we approached the eastern tip of Anacapa, we began to see the famous Arch.  This natural rock formation rises 40 feet into the air.
Lots of seabirds soar around these rock formations, and stand perched all across the arch and at the tip top of tiny islets.
While we were admiring the scene, one of the ship's bartenders pulled up alongside us. He offered us hot chocolate with an optional shot of Kahlua.
After toasting a glorious morning, we rounded the tip of the island where we could view the dock. After climbing up a ladder from boat to dock, you have to ascend 157 steps up a steep slope to read the top of the island. Back in 1982, my sister and I did this and enjoyed seeing the patches of giant coreopsis and beaches with resting sea lions. 
Unfortunately, on this trip, we did not get to go onshore. With the crane present, we were not sure if the steps were operational, and the swells were too rough.

Sea Lion Acrobatics

Upon returning to the south side of East Island, we were treated to some sea lion acrobatics.
It was so peaceful out on the gentle swells, listening to one loud sea lion and the collective voices of numerous seabirds.
A flock of oyster catchers with their bright orange beaks, flew by as we continued to view the sea lions.

The Kelp Down Under

The water was clear green and beautiful. Below the surface, we could see the golden bronze kelp waving. Later in the evening, we were treated to a video of sealife in these same kelp forests that were taken by Nick and Jim, the ship divers.
The following species were highlighted in his video: Giant kelp, garibaldi, kelp bass, purple sea urchin, anenome, abalone, spiny red lobster, keyhold limpet (I never knew the sprawling black mollusk flesh dwarfed the tiny volcano shaped shell), turban snails fighting, and a California sea lion.

Upon our return to the ship, we were treated with a tray of chewy gingersnap cookies, wrapped in wax paper printed with some interesting news stories from Hawaii. We watched some movies outlining the discovery of Arlington Springs Man on Santa Rosa in 1959, which redefined concepts of how the Americas were populated.
In addition to migration over the Bering land bridge from Asia to North America, there was another route of migration. Using the so-called nutrient-rich Kelp Highway, ancestors of the Chumash and other groups may have arrived via raft or boat. In a similar manner, DNA evidence links indigenous Taiwanese people to the Maori of New Zealand. 

We also learned about the true story of the indigenous Nicoleños woman that had lived by herself on San Nicolas Island after the rest of her tribe had been removed to a mission (unfortunately, their ship wrecked and there was no one that could communicate with her after she was found living alone 18 years later). Her story was fictionalized in the children's book Island of the Blue Dolphins, which was unusual for that time in featuring a woman as a resourceful survivor. 

Lunching with Dolphins 

Because we only had 40 passengers on board, we were able to take all of our meals at the same time. Lunch was delicious! The options included tomato basil soup, with this amazing saffron bread.  I think our table of 4 asked for 3 or 4 refills. Every day, the hospitality staff prepared a different bread.

I opted to substitute the daily options of marinated chicken breast for the seared pork chop, and enjoyed the accompanying toasted Israili cous cous, garam masala spice rub and apricots. But I liked my husband's choice of the wild caught, Pacific hot-smoked salmon chowder with absinthe cream even better.
Lunch service also came with dessert -- a rich chocolate budino. 
The best part was that we collected another dolphin escort playing in front of the bow of the ship. This time, we had enough light to get some great photos showing the variation in individual coloration.

As we departed the Anacapa Islands to Santa Cruz Island, memories of waving sea lions and a juvenile Western gull bid us farewell. Anacapa hosts the largest nesting colony of Western gulls.

Click here to read about short (<3 miles) Southern California Hikes with Santa Catalina Views

Click here for Channel Islands Cruise Day 1. Embarkation, Dolphins & Moonrise

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

Click here for Channel Islands Cruise Day 3. Santa Rosa Torrey Pines Hike

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

🐾 As we were unable to land on Anacapa Island, I did not have a chance to get my National Park Service Passport Cancellation stamp at the Visitor's center. So I emailed, gave them the names of the islands I visited and the date, and they sent me the stamps by mail!  


Please post comments below or photos to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter 

Tag @love2chowblog and hashtag it #love2chow 

All photos and content © 2023. 
All Rights Reserved. Contact for permissions.

  • Share:

You Might Also Like