The Channel Islands National Park is one of America's pristine offshore national parks. Fortunately, even though the mainland shore is densely populated, the islands are relatively undeveloped. The island's isolation has made them very special with abundant wildlife and plant life - some of which is found nowhere else. Not only that, but they are world-famous for their sea caves.

The Channel Islands are easily California's most exotic offshore destination and a must-see for anyone with a love of unspoiled nature. The Channel Islands' southern island of Catalina Island has a permanent population and is also ideal for a holiday with this guide.


The Channel Island's Painted Sea Cave

All of the eight islands have been a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserved since 1976 and five of the islands are part of the national park. The Channel Islands are famous for their sea caves, the most famous of which is the Painted Sea Cave.

It is an enormous sea cave and the longest in North America. It cuts its way around a quarter of a mile into the island of Santa Cruz in the national park. The entrance ceiling of the sea cave is an impressive 160 feet.

When the tide is right the opening of the cave is large enough to navigate a 60-foot boat almost halfway down the tunnel. If one comes on a kayak, one can go even deeper. Come in the rainy season and there's even a waterfall at the mouth of the cave making for a truly awe-inspiring sight.

As one paddles down through the cave, it narrows and one enters a huge, pitch-black chamber. But here there are a dozen or more barking sea lions resting on a rocky beach in the darkness. It is common for first-timers to be left speechless and even a little freaked out.

“It’s hard to describe because it’s such a surreal thing: to be in a pitch-black chamber, with barking sea lions, under an island.”

—kayak tour guide Grant Cunningham (Retrieved From Visit California)

Santa Barabara Aventures Painted Sea Cave Tours

Santa Barabara Adventures runs tours that include continental breakfasts on the ride to the island and a hot lunch on the ride back.

Sit back and enjoy the whale watching and other marine life in the National Park. One may be able to spot blue whales, bald eagles, mega pods of dolphins, and other beautiful sea life. The special trip may only be available in the summer - one should contact them for current information.

Also, this special trip requires a minimum number of kayakers and is subject to cancellation due to weather conditions.

Related: Cave Exploring 101: The Ultimate Guide On What To Do If You Find Yourself In Trouble

Adventure Sea Cave Kayak

The Adventure Sea Cave Kayak explores the sea caves around Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. This is the hotspot of the park for the sheer number of sea cave kayaking opportunities and boasts some of the most beautiful sea caves in the world.

Note that these tours often sell out, so best to plan in advance and book ahead. If one would like to snorkel, then they also have Snorkel Gear available for rent at their storefront on the island. After the kayaking tour, there is some free time left to snorkel before one needs to catch the next ferry back to the mainland.

  • When: Daily On Santa Cruz Island At 10.30 am and Select Days From 9.30
  • Time And Distance Paddled: 2.5 to 3 Miles And 2.5-3 Hours Of Island Kayaking
  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner Through To Advanced
  • Age Restriction: Must Be Age 5 and Up


  • Adult: $161 + Ferry Transportation ($63)
  • Child: $150 Aged 12 and under + Ferry Transportation ($50)

Related: What To Expect Visiting The Incredible Mammoth Cave National Park

Ultimate Sea Cave Kayak

The Ultimate Sea Cave Kayak tour is the longest of their kayaking tour options and is for the true ocean adventurer. On this tour, one will explore the sea caves and kelp forests along the route to the famous Potato Harbor. Potato Harbor is a remote area of the park and boasts truly breathtaking vistas of its aqua-colored cove and pristine shoreline. This tour also often sells out so plan in advance.

  • Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced Kayakers Looking For a Longer Day Out
  • Ferry: One Must Get The 8 am Ferry Departure and 4.30 pm Return (Unless Camping On The Island)
  • Season: On Select Days From June to October
  • Time And Distance Paddled: 3-5 Miles and 4 Hours of Actual Paddling


  • Adult: $221 + Ferry Transportation ($63)
  • Child: $211 Aged 12 and under + Ferry Transportation ($50)

The Channel Islands really are stunning and they even once had their own mammoth species on the island. It was the pygmy mammoth that descended from the Columbian mammoth. It was only around 5.6 feet tall at the shoulders and weighted 1,680 lbs in stark contrast to this mainland ancestor at 14 feet tall and 20,000 lb weight.

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