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Day Tripping: Checking Out the Islands off San Diego's Coast

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Each of California's major coastal cities has some islands nearby. Up in San Francisco, the Farallones are 27 rough miles from the coast and is a wildlife refuge for birds and marine life (lots of great white sharks!). Surrounding the Los Angeles region are the eight Channel Islands -- five make up a national park, two are military controlled and another supports two small cities. And just south of San Diego a group of four small islands -- Los Coronados Islands -- under Mexican control offer a nice glimpse at these islands that carry an interesting history.

Over 25 miles from San Diego, the six or so hour boat journey (if you get sea sick, do what you need to do before boarding) from San Diego Harbor Excursion is one full of facts and history. Boat captains love to tell you everything about the sea and the history of the area and this cruise is no exception. From the military history of San Diego to the whales everyone hopes to see (the captain will stop for them), you're going to learn a lot.

But the best part of the journey is when you arrive at the islands where birds and sea life are everywhere. The captain will slowly take you around each one, allowing time for plenty of photos and explanation of what's before you.

The mostly unoccupied islands -- only one is home to a few fishing families and a rotating Mexican soldier -- are barren and rocky. When L. Ron Hubbard saw this -- yes, the Scientology L. Ron Hubbard -- as he commanded a USS PC-815 for the U.S. Navy, he thought it would be okay to perform a gunnery exercise and shell the islands. That didn't go over well with the Mexican government who filed a complaint that led to Hubbard's dismissal.

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A trip to these islands are a must for anyone who enjoys checking out the seas or seeing the out-of-way nooks and crannies of California (or Baja California in this case). Trips run $50, but with Goldstar they go for $25. Because the harbor is a few blocks away from the Santa Fe train station, it can easily be made from Los Angeles via Amtrak's Surfliner. And to top off your experience, a visit to Extraordinary Desserts for some sweets is well worth it.