For a family who ordinarily loves to travel, the pandemic has drastically limited our destination options. To make up for it, we’ve explored local road trips and day trips to bring a little bit of normalcy and family fun back into our lives. Recently, my 12-year-old, Elle, and I embarked upon our most adventurous pandemic day trip to date: Santa Cruz Island.
You can get to Santa Cruz island by private boat, plane (Channel Islands Aviation) or through park concessionaire boat company Island Packers. We drove to Ventura Harbor, where we were scheduled to travel to Prisoners Harbor port of entry at 9 a.m. via Island Packers.
Once we arrived at the Island Packers’ office, outside staff greeted us and asked questions about our health and whether we’d experienced any COVID-19 symptoms. Once cleared, we went inside to get our tickets and boarding passes. There was also a store selling souvenirs, chips, candy, drinks, granola bars, gum and ginger chews— for those of us prone to seasickness.
We gave our boarding passes to the crew and were free to sit anywhere as long as we observed social distancing. There was open-air seating on the top deck, as well as the lower deck. The lower level also had a large indoor seating area with booths and a concession stand.
The ride over was pretty foggy and the water was choppy, so I took a couple of motion sickness tablets as a precaution. The staff was extremely attentive to our needs and were very serious about COVID precautions. At one point, Elle was drinking from her water bottle and a crewmember came over and asked her to drink on the outer deck so that her mask could remain on while inside the enclosed part of the boat. This and all of the other precautions made me feel very comfortable about the steps the company takes to ensure safety aboard vessels.
After about an hour ride, the boat docked and everyone got off and crossed the long, wooden pier leading over to the island. I was immediately taken with the beauty surrounding us — from the crystal clear blue water to the lush trees at the base of the hills and mountains. As soon as we stepped off the pier, a park ranger greeted us. She described the layout of the island and hiking trail options and let us know that there was no water on the island for day trippers (there is potable water for campers) and no trash can, so your trash leaves with you (#leavenotrace). There were public pit toilets (think outhouses) and food storage boxes that, if used, would have to be emptied before we departed the island.
Elle and I decided to take the Pelican Bay Trail, which was lined with greenery and flowers and offered a breathtaking view of the coast. At the end of the first half of the hike, which was approximately 2.25 miles, we stumbled on Tinker’s Cove, a small cobblestone beach. (Fun fact: the name came from a much older version of Peter Pan, which was filmed here.) We stopped and had lunch on the blanket we brought. It’s not the most comfortable beach due to all the stones, so lunch was quick.
The entire roundtrip hike took us about three and a half hours. The hike is described as moderate, but some of the terrain was very steep and there were some significant elevation changes, which made it feel a little more than moderate to me, a novice hiker.
Later, while standing on the pier, we saw 30-40 leopard sharks, which are harmless. The sharks, along with blue sea urchin and starfish, were extremely fascinating to Elle. For as long as I can remember, she’s been obsessed with sharks. This was by far her favorite part of the trip!
On the ride back to Ventura, the boat stopped for a few minutes so we could watch a pod of about 30 sea lions swimming nearby.
Island Packers gives boat trips, including whale- and dolphin-watching trips, to five islands. I highly recommend this unique experience as a great family outing. I loved that we got to spend a day away from civilization and all the creature comforts we normally look for on our trips. There was no stopping at cafes or gift shops on the island – just a chance to truly unplug, explore nature and enjoy each other.