Channel Islands National Park – Santa Rosa Island – November 2019

Hannah – Age 6 – National Park #7

Since my dad had accompanied us on a National Park trip a few years earlier, we decided to invite my mom along on a vacation.  I knew my mom would like to have the trip planned out a little more than I typically do, which ended up working out great.  It forced me to look ahead at hotels which ended up being a very good decision on this trip, in hindsight.  We planned to visit three National Parks – Channel Islands, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree.  This trip involved a lot of driving, so it was nice to have another adult along in the car! 

I researched the different islands that make up Channel Islands National Park and the various options that were available for ferries to the islands.  We decided to go with Island Packers, which is located right in Ventura Harbor.  In November, they are not as busy and only offered a ferry out to one island (Santa Rosa Island) on the day we were booking.  I booked our tickets about two months in advance, which totaled $221.00 for one senior, one adult, and one child.

Channel Islands National Park

The Hotel

We flew in around 7pm on a Saturday night, took a bus to the car rental, and then drove about an hour and a half to Ventura, CA.  We stopped for some basic groceries on the way, as I had read that there is not any food or drink on the island.  I had booked two nights at the Holiday Inn in Ventura Harbor that was walking distance (one mile) to the ferry we were taking the next day out to Santa Rosa Island, one of the islands that makes up Channel Islands National Park. 

View of Ventura Harbor from our Holiday Inn hotel room

A Late Night Trip for Medicine

A few hours after our heads hit the pillow, Hannah woke up with a severe ear ache.  She was crying and in a lot of pain.  She had some ear pain during the flight, so I believe this was just some after affects.  However, I was concerned this could go into the next day and I did not want to be away from the mainland for an entire day if she was still hurting. 

My mom cuddled with her while I spoke to the front desk.  Unfortunately they did not have any Children’s Tylenol on hand and they even called the hotel next door, but no luck.  I ended up driving a few miles down the road to a grocery store that was open late.  Although I know I could have handled the situation on my own, I was very grateful to have my mom there to help and to not have to drag Hannah out of bed in the middle of the night when she was not feeling well. 

Thankfully, the medicine kicked in and she slept the rest of the night.  She was back to her bouncing-off-the-wall energy level self by morning!

The Walk to the Ferry

We had to leave the hotel before breakfast was put out, so we had some coffee and granola bars that we purchased the night before, and made some PB&Js to take with us.  We packed up our daypacks, which included the PB&Js, apples, snacks, water, hats, mittens, sunscreen, and a lot of layers of clothes/jackets.  It was pretty cool in the morning and we had a one mile walk to the ferry.  The weather was forecasted to hit the mid-70s, but I was not sure how that would feel out on the boat or island.  We walked along a harbor with all kinds of sail boats and fishing boats.  We finally arrived at the ferry, checked in, and spent at least 15 minutes perusing the gift shop.  Hannah had her eye on several items that we said she could consider and pick one out at the end of the trip.

The Ferry Ride to Santa Rosa Island

It was a three hour ferry ride out to the island.  I wasn’t sure how Hannah would handle that long of a trip.  We started sitting at the top back of the two-tiered ferry but we soon got cold and went underneath to warm up.  We brought a deck of cards and started playing a card game at a table, but within five minutes of playing, there was an announcement that dolphins were spotted.  Hannah and I immediately went to the front of the boat. 

The captain had spotted a large pod of dolphins and turned the boat around to circle them.  The dolphins played and jumped alongside the front of the boat for at least ten minutes.  This happened several more times on the ride out to the island.  I ended up hanging out near the front of the boat most of the rest of the trip, talking with a number of people – a local man from Ventura who has been to several of the other islands, a family on break who were camping on Santa Rosa for a few days, and a very friendly Island Packers employee named Sam who was great at spotting wildlife. 

A dolphin playing with our ferry

Hannah split her time between me in the front and my mom in the cabin – running out every time they announced more dolphins.  She was ecstatic at how close they were and how fast they could swim.  We also saw two seals playing in the water not far off the coast of one of the islands we passed. 

Santa Rosa Island

As the boat slowed down to dock at the pier on Santa Rosa Island, I could tell the temperature had heated up.  We got off the boat and assembled for some basic instructions such as where the bathrooms were located and what time to be back on the ferry to leave.  Our plan was to hike the three mile round trip to Water Canyon Beach and back.  After taking off our layers and applying sunscreen, we set out on our hike.  Unfortunately we took one wrong turn which added about a half mile to our expedition. 

Map of Santa Rosa Island

The Coastal Road was an open dirt road along an old cattle ranch and airstrip, overlooking the ocean on one side, and a large foothill on the other side.  There were trails and dirt roads all over the island, a camping area, and only two locations that I knew of that had potable water – near the bathrooms and at the campground.  There was no shade as we walked along the road, and the sun was beating down on us.  We were all getting warm.  Hannah was also tired from the travel and late night ear ache the night before.  And as most any tired six year old might do, she was complaining about how hot she was, how hungry she was, and how long the hike was.  These can be tough moments. 

Coastal Road to the beach

Water Canyon Beach

I knew she would perk up as soon as we hit the beach and she was able to feel the ocean at her feet.  I just needed to motivate her for one more mile.  We talked about how excited we were to eat our PB&Js we made, and that Grandma had packed some extra yummy snacks.  We talked about how warm (or cold) we thought the ocean would be.  At one point, I walked faster ahead of them to see how close we were to the hill leading down to the ocean (and let’s be honest, to escape the whining for a minute).  We finally arrived at the beach and it was just as I had expected.  Hannah RAN to the ocean, which was colder than she thought it would be.  She went in up to her shorts.  I told her she could go all the way in, but she decided it was a little too chilly.

Hannah loving the ocean

Upon seeing the sand dunes that had built up along the coast, she of course decided she was no longer hungry at all and she just wanted to go play on the dunes instead.  We left Grandma with the snacks in the shade to rest and set off on our way to the top of the dunes.  Hannah rolled down, ran down, skipped down, and worked her way back up countless times as I sat at the top, enjoying the view and snapping some photos of her.  This was probably my favorite moment of the entire trip.  She got to see firsthand how the hard work of the hike in the hot sun paid off with a gorgeous view and nature’s best playground.

Playing on the Sand Dunes at Water Canyon Beach – Santa Rosa Island

More Exploring

We made our way back to Grandma and finished our lunches.  I am happy to report that the hike back to the pier was much more pleasant.  We arrived at the pier a little early, so Hannah and I trekked down an old rusty ladder to the beach below to explore more before leaving.  At low tide, this beach will connect to the beach we were at earlier in the day.  There were a lot of fun tide pools, caves, and big rocks formations that Hannah enjoyed discovering on this part of the beach. 

One of the many caves along the shore

The Ferry Ride Back to Ventura

On our ferry ride back to Ventura, we took a route closer to Santa Cruz Island.  Sam, the ferry employee I mentioned earlier, made sure Hannah and all the other small kids were up front when the captain drove the ferry into Painted Cave that was used in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  We continued to find dolphin pods the entire way home, and the captain never hesitated to slow down or even circle them to get them playing.  The object was not to get us back to Ventura as quickly as possible, it was to give us the most enjoyable experience on the water they could, and they definitely did just that.

Humpback Whales!

Over the loud speaker we heard the captain say, “Folks, Sam just thought he saw some calm water up ahead which can sometimes mean humpback whales are nearby.  If you don’t mind, I am going to shut down the motor and we are just going to sit here for ten minutes to see if we can get them to surface.”  Sure enough, not five minutes later, we had two humpbacks within 50 feet of our boat.  They breached the surface several times and then swam under the boat and off into the sunset.  It was an incredible experience.  Everyone on the boat got to see and experience these two enormous animals in their natural habitat, all thanks to Sam’s incredible eyes and the captain’s patience. 

Humpback Whales at Sunset – Photo Credit: Chris Brown, fellow National Park enthusiast

After the sunset, it was getting cold.  Hannah and my mom stayed in the cabin.  I, of course, loving the water and the ferry experience, ended up at the front of the boat again, talking with the local guy from Ventura and getting some restaurant recommendations for dinner that night.  He introduced me to another guy who was a fellow National Park enthusiast.  We enjoyed comparing notes on parks we’ve visited and where we plan to go from here.


We arrived pretty late at night back at the harbor and as promised, allowed Hannah to quickly make her gift shop purchase of a seal magnet and dolphin stuffed animal.  Being a Sunday, it was relatively quiet, but I could tell the harbor shops and restaurants looked like a pretty great place to be on a warmer weekend night.  We were very hungry and the restaurant suggestion – Brophy Bros. Seafood Restaurant & Clam Barwas hitting the spot!  My mom and I shared the seabass and it was amazing! 

Lessons Learned

One, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.  The Island Packers ferry crew did such an amazing job at slowing down our journey both to and from the island to give us the best experience possible.  The ferry ride, which I was initially concerned about the length of it, was one of the best parts of our adventure to Channel Islands National Park. 

Two, it might be about the journey, but the destination sure would be nice when you have a whining kid!  Kids are kids… they are going to whine sometimes.  It’s inevitable.  Take a deep breath and try to pass the time talking about things that interest your kid.  My husband Jim used to do this with me on really long backpack trips.  I recall a specific day we backpacked 20 miles.  We were both tired and exhausted at mile 13, but we knew we had to go another 7 miles before setting up camp for the night.  We happened to recently get engaged, so on that last 7 miles, Jim and I went back and forth discussing various wedding ideas – some realistic, some crazy wild ones that we knew would never actually happen.  I am not sure if he was quite as interested in that topic as I was, but it sure made those 7 miles go a lot faster than the previous ones!

Three, always seek the advice of a local when determining your restaurant selection!

Playing on the beach. Behind us is the pier on the left and the ferry on the right.

2 Replies to “Channel Islands National Park – Santa Rosa Island – November 2019”

  1. I love Hannah’s “super woman” pose while you are holding her! Sounds like a great trip! Keep making amazing memories, Julie!

  2. I love the truth in the ferry ride experience! Travel is full of surprises that teach us more about the world and how we react to it. Thank you for sharing your journeys!

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