Santa Cruz Island, CA The Channel Islands are only a 1-hour boat ride from the coast of Southern California but might as well be a world away.

Once you cross the channel separating the archipelago from the mainland, you enter a unique environment with steep cliffs, verdant valleys, and indigenous flora and fauna. The climate is also much cooler than the mainland.

The waters around the five protected islands teem with marine life and kelp forests, with numerous caves carved into the cliffs by relentless ocean surf.

Read more about Channel Islands National Park here.

Santa Cruz Island, CA The pristine nature, clear waters, cliffs, and caves make this park ideal for kayaking and snorkeling adventures.

To go kayaking in the national park, you can either bring your own equipment or go with the only outfitter on the Island: Channel Islands Adventure Company.

Tip: If you are bringing your own kayaks, make sure to reserve space for your equipment with Island Packers.

Channel Islands Adventure Company offers several kayaking adventures and snorkel rentals. We recently went on their “Discovery Sea Cave Kayak” tour and had a blast. This tour takes place around Santa Cruz Island and starts at Scorpion Anchorage.

Find your Los Angeles adventure here.

Tip: Before you go on any of the kayaking tours, carefully read the instructions on the website and on your reservation confirmation.

This was our first time kayaking, and I was very apprehensive about venturing into the ocean and fighting the waves, but I am glad I did.

The guides were very professional and friendly. After getting outfitted with flotation jackets, helmets, and water shoes, we hiked to the launch location at the beach. The water wasn’t cold, so we did not need wetsuits, but they are available if you need them.

Tip: Make sure to leave enough time between your island arrival time and your tour start time to change into your swim attire and get outfitted with your gear.

The guides gave us detailed instructions on kayaking, but as a newbie, I had a lot of questions. We practiced on dry land using the paddle, responding to hand signals, and jumping back on the kayak in case we flipped over. In retrospect, I think we needed more hands-on practice in the water.

Tip: The beach is very rocky, so make sure to wear water shoes. If you didn’t bring any, you can borrow some from the outfitter, but there is no guarantee you will find your size.

We started paddling away from the beach towards our first cave. As soon as we left the harbor's protection, we started fighting the waves and the wind. The sea that day was a little rough.

Santa Cruz Island - Kayaking As we skimmed the surface, we could see all kinds of fish swimming around the kelp. The kelp got very thick in some areas and hindered our paddles, but we managed to get to our first cave.

This cave is actually more like a tunnel. It cuts through the cliffs and opens up on the other end of the island. This acted like a wind tunnel, making entering the cave mouth more difficult, but we pushed through and made it to the other side. What a great feeling of accomplishment.

Tip: If you have never kayaked before, remember: 1. Sit up straight – make sure you have good back support. 2. To get the best out of your paddles, the strength of your pull is not everything. The length of time you pull the paddle through the water is key. 3. When you paddle, make sure the concave side is sweeping through the water. Get more tips at REI.

A few kayaks in our group were trailing way behind, so the guides took turns towing them closer to the group.

Once everyone made it through the first cave, it was decision time. The winds had kicked up, and the seas became rougher, so the guides gave the group a choice: head back or continue to the next cave. We all chose to continue.

Tip: There are no services on the island, so you have to bring your own water and food and take your trash out with you. The outfitter station provides some water so you can refill your canteens or water bottles.

The second cave wasn’t as dramatic. It was larger with a closed end. We had fun paddling into it and admiring the view from inside. Afterward, we turned around and headed back to our launch point. Paddling back, the wind was on our backs, speeding up our return to the shore.

Kayaking to and through the caves is great fun, but just being on the water, paddling close to the cliffs, and battling the waves is a wonderful experience.

Tip: You have to walk some distance from the beach to the outfitter station where you will hand in the gear and change clothes. So make sure you have enough time to make it back to the boat. After our tour, we barely made it in time to board.

The tour took around two hours. By the time we got back to the beach, I was exhausted, and every muscle was hurting, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. As a matter of fact, I am planning to go with the Adventure Company on their full-day “Painted Cave Kayak Tour” – which includes breakfast, lunch, and snorkeling.