Comprised of five beautiful and uninhabited islands in a chain of eight just off the coast of Southern California, the Channel Islands National Park is home to a wide variety of nationally and internationally significant natural resources.
This month we take you diving in the waters of the Northern Channel Islands consisting of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Island. The Channel Islands are preserved in the same rugged condition as they have been for thousands of years. Development has been very limited. The dive sites are reached by dive boats from beautiful Santa Barbara harbor. The small city of Santa Barbara is an exquisite and charming base, full of beautiful beaches, wonderful restaurants, historic missions, great shopping opportunities and the home of Jean Michel Cousteau. Jacques Cousteau(and the rest of us) considered these islands the best temperate climate diving in the world. The islands average a distance of about 20-26 miles from shore. Lush kelp forests are everywhere, sea lions cavort with divers, and an abundant variety of sea life is there for you to enjoy.
There are numerous dive sites to choose from. The captain of the boat will make the decision where to go depending on tide, weather etc. Below we highlight a few sites on Anacapa Island.
Cat Rock: located on the seaward side of the West Anacapa Island. The spot is characterized by the large rocks extending away from the island above the surface. The area is surrounded by large kelp beds of varying depths. Abalone and game fish can be found as well as the occasional scallop.
Coral Reef: located near the end of the West Anacapa Island on the seaward side. This reef is a huge island of life in the sand. It starts in 30 feet on the island side and drops to 80 feet on the opposite side. This is a favorite dive site for many boat captain when the current is behaving.
Goldfish bowl: located near the west end of the island is one of the most frequented spots on the island. It is usually calm and visibility can be exceptional. While not being known for it’s hunting, Goldfish Bowl is very scenic with rocky reefs, kelp and blue-green water that invite the diver to explore.
Cathedral Cove: located on the mainland side of the East Anacapa Island. This are is an ecological reserve so hunting is forbidden. Because of the lack of human predator the area remains pristine and a profusion of large game fish can be seen.
Arch rock: located at the extreme end of East Anacapa Island. It is within the ecological reserve and is exposed to the elements. The terrain drops off sharply here and strong currents sweep the area. As a result the visibility can get up to 100 feet. Black sea bass have been seen here recently.
Dive Center in Channel Islands
Dive Global highly recommends Truth Aquatics, moored in romantic Santa Barbara harbor. The company has won numerous awards for its excellent service. The well-staffed crew is there to serve you, even on a tight budget. A three-day excursion, including all meals, snacks, beverages, air fills, and fun, runs less than $400.
There are 3 ways in which you can buy passage on their boats:
1) Charter a whole boat
2) Charter 1/2 of a boat (split charters).
3) Buy individual spots
All multi-day trips include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, fresh fruit, cookies, candy, hot and cold drinks (they do not provide alcoholic beverages, BYOB). For an additional fee E-6 film processing is available for groups with advanced notification. If you would like to include an Island Landing as part of your trip they can arrange that as well. Once you have decided on a trip, it is advisable to arrive in Santa Barbara and stay on board the night before the trip as the boat leaves at 4am in the morning! You may board anytime after 8 PM. Make sure to print your name on the boat manifest legibly and sign an Assumption of Risk. No roll call is taken before departure and it is everyone’s responsibility to be onboard.
When to Visit Channel Islands
California may be noted for its sunshine but do not be fooled, it does get cool, especially after the sun sets, we are after all, in the desert. Regardless of the time of the year, bring at least a jacket. Visibility ranges from 30 feet to over 100 depending on time of year, weather, and currents. Water temperature is cool but not bitter cold and ranges from 55 in winter to 70 in summer, averaging about 65 degrees. A 1/4 inch wetsuit (or a drysuit) is required most of the time. Many of the hard-core Channel Island divers are switching to drysuits but these are not necessary.
Getting to Channel Islands
By Air: Los Angeles airport (LAX) is the major hub for international airlines. From LAX you can get several flights daily to Santa Barbara airport. Many cities in the US serve Santa Barbara directly as well.
By car: rent a car at LAX and drive to Ventura or Santa Barbara. It is a leisurely 1 1/2 drive along beautiful coastal Hwy 1 or slightly faster inland Hwy 101.