(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)

It’s not some­thing I thought could hap­pen so close to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

Yet, here we were, look­ing through a rain­bow of ocean mist as dol­phins below escort­ed our Chan­nel Islands fer­ry to our cave kayak­ing adven­ture. Their long bod­ies effort­less­ly slic­ing through the water, occa­sion­al­ly rock­et­ing into the air for a flip. We accom­pa­nied their progress with a sound­track of oooos and aaaahs. Tired lit­tle faces opened in won­der, slow­ly wak­ing from their 6am depar­ture, to a pri­vate, sea life show.

Knox enjoy­ing break­fast not pre­pared by mom­my but by Chan­nel Island Provisioners

Two hours lat­er, the crew from Island Pack­ers pulled close to the wharf at Scor­pi­on Ranch, on Cal­i­for­ni­a’s largest island, San­ta Cruz. We had already wit­nessed the migra­tion of minke whales, the bark­ing of sun­ning sea lions and the play­ful antics of var­i­ous dol­phin pods. The day felt mag­nif­i­cent and the sun had only just appeared.

His­to­ri­ans esti­mate the 96 square miles of San­ta Cruz Island, named “La Isla de San­ta Cruz,” or the Island of the Sacred Cross, after an hon­est Chu­mash Indi­an returned a valu­able cross for­got­ten by vis­it­ing mis­sion­ar­ies, has had a human pop­u­la­tion inhab­it­ing it for 10,000 years. It was the Chu­mash Indi­ans who first set­tled the patch of green set in the mid­dle of the Pacif­ic Ocean. Ice bridges, formed dur­ing the Ice Age, are cred­it­ed with hav­ing brought them to the island from the Alaskan region, our nat­u­ral­ist guide from the San­ta Bar­bara Adven­ture Com­pa­ny, Aaron Kreis­berg told us.

Aaron, front left, fills us in on our ride to San­ta Cruz Island

Scor­pi­on Ranch, today’s land­ing spot for those wish­ing to camp, hike, or explore the water around the island, was once a thriv­ing sheep farm and lat­er cat­tle. Intro­duc­tion of these and oth­er non-native ani­mals led to over­graz­ing, which left the island exposed to ocean waters dur­ing a 1997 storm that washed much of the man-made struc­tures and ani­mals out to sea. After this, the descen­dants of the orig­i­nal own­ers gift­ed the island to be split between the Nature Con­ser­van­cy and the Nation­al Park Ser­vice who have worked to restore the island to its nat­ur­al state.

Scorpion Ranch at Santa Cruz Island

This day, we planned to explore the caves locat­ed in Scor­pi­on Anchor­age around San­ta Cruz Island, part of the Chan­nel Islands, and part of Ven­tu­ra Coun­ty. As we stepped into the dinghy that car­ried us from our fer­ry to the wild grass and molten rock hills of the island, we could see packs of vis­i­tors sep­a­rat­ing into groups. Some strapped on scu­ba or snor­kel­ing gear, some set out on hikes.

Santa Cruz Island at Scorpion Ranch

There are endem­ic ani­mals to spot on the island, like the island scrub jay and the island fox, the world’s small­est fox, which was just removed from the endan­gered species list thanks to the Nature Con­ser­van­cy. We fol­lowed our group to a line of kayaks that would take us to explore the var­i­ous sea caves around the island.

Landing at Scorpion ranch Santa Cruz island Ventura

We packed our cam­eras and lunch­es into the pro­vid­ed dry bags and pushed off into the ocean with each dou­ble kayak car­ry­ing one par­ent and one child.

cave kayaking Santa Cruz island Ventura California

Knox and Dad­dy teamed up

Kreis­berg led us into the mouths of jagged rocks large enough, at times, to com­fort­ably nav­i­gate with­out touch­ing the walls. On occa­sion, he warned, the path would be tight and offered tech­niques to squeeze safe­ly through, mak­ing the chal­lenges option­al, but ones we could­n’t resist accepting.

cave kayaking Santa Cruz island Ventura California

Each cave was unique. One was an expan­sive audi­to­ri­um of bel­lows hurled by large­ly inert sea lions, bounc­ing through the shad­ows of red and green algae-hued walls. One was a windy snake hole, whose cross­ing had to be timed with the rise and fall of the tide. “Go, go, go, go go!” Kreis­berg urged as I pad­dled as quick­ly as my inex­pe­ri­enced oars could push, always the fate of my child who was sit­ting in front of me, fore­most in my mind. How would it be if we were crushed against the sharp rocks or spilled into the cold water? I tried not to wonder.

cave kayaking Santa Cruz island Ventura California

Final­ly, it was lunchtime and in between a half ring of ris­ing cliffs, Kreis­berg found a patch of sand and stones that served as stools for our after­noon meal. Chan­nel Island Pro­vi­sion­ers pro­vid­ed our break­fast, lunch and snacks. This not only saved on time and the has­sle of prepar­ing food our­selves (mean­ing mom­my) but also allowed us to indulge in deli­cious, healthy com­bi­na­tions that felt deca­dent in our rus­tic surroundings.

Channel Island Provisioners

Kreis­berg offered the chance to snorkel in front of our lunch spot around an enor­mous rock jut­ting from the ocean. The boys tried.…

Santa Barbara Adventure Company snorkels

They tried.….


…and then chose to pass and sly­ly tried to climb the sur­round­ing cliffs.

Mom and dad braved the cold waters to be reward­ed by the sight of a spec­trum of fish and sting rays, swim­ming between ropes of algae. Kreis­berg instruct­ed us how to use the algae to resist the mov­ing tide. I used my fins to kick around that rock as fast as I could, wish­ing I had cho­sen to wear the prof­fered long wet­suit, instead of the sleeve­less one.

Santa Barbara Adventure Company

Before we left the island, we took a few min­utes to explore the struc­tures and the skele­tal remains of machin­ery left behind at Scor­pi­on Ranch and pre­served by the Nation­al Park Service.

Inside the homes, recre­at­ed liv­ing spaces and record­ed mes­sages around the ancient appli­ances and tools explained to the curi­ous what life looked like back then. I wished we had more time to dig in.

kitchens before kenmore

On our jour­ney back to the main­land, we hud­dled inside the cab­in, seek­ing warmth, exhaust­ed by our dis­cov­er­ies and chal­lenges, enjoy­ing the hot snacks and bev­er­ages. It was a day long com­mit­ment to the explo­ration of a world that felt thou­sands of light years away yet was only hours from home and added anoth­er lay­er to our fam­i­ly history.


FOR A WEEKEND GETAWAY: Start with the ideas in this arti­cle pub­lished in GoNo­mad then fin­ish with the ones above.

FOR A DAY TRIP: Meet Island Pack­ers at Ven­tu­ra Har­bor. It’s about an hour dri­ve from Down­town Los Ange­les, traf­fic depen­dent.

Voy­ages with Island Pack­ers could be found at http://islandpackers.com While there, adven­tures could be secured through San­ta Bar­bara Adven­ture Co. http://www.sbadventureco.com and amaz­ing, afford­able meals and cater­ing options could be deliv­ered dock­side by chef and sailor Neal Rosen­thal from Chan­nel Island Pro­vi­sion­ers http://cip.bz

Although we were host­ed by these kind com­pa­nies so we could share our expe­ri­ences if they were favor­able (obvi­ous­ly we loved our week­end and are still talk­ing about it), there are no affil­i­ate links in this arti­cle. We just real­ly dig these companies!