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Magically Wonderful: Exploring & Kayaking the Sea Caves of Anacapa Island

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There was a few of us who decided to get as close as we could to Arch Rock, one of the symbols of Channel Islands National Park. The waves were breaking dangerously under the 40-foot gateway, but from a couple hundred yards away, it was still a spectacle to watch. Paddling back to the dock at Anacapa Island, I got ahead of our kayking group, but I didn't know how far ahead I was until I heard breathing behind me. And it didn't sound human.

I turn my head and -- whoa! -- spot a sea lion right there. As soon as we meet eyes, he dives back underwater. Well, that was a nice surprise, I think, as I continue to paddle. The breathing happens again, I turn my head, he dives underwater. This happens a few more times and is becomes humorous and somewhat endearing, sort of like playing peek-a-boo with a little kid. So I decide to stop and turn my kayak around to paddle backwards, hoping to catch him surface in full view. This sea lion, apparently too smart for me, somehow figures it out (or gets lucky) and pops up behind me. Damn!

Anacapa is the second smallest in the eight-island Channel Islands chain off the coast of Southern California. As one of the five islands in the namesake national park, it's also one of the most visited. About 14 miles off the coast of Oxnard, about one hour's drive from Los Angeles, the volcanic rock jutting out of the ocean is often known for being a major seabird rookery and spot to see rare Giant Coreopsis flowers. But hundreds of feet below the sheer cliffs is whole other world.

Over one hundred sea caves, slowly carved out by years of waves and erosion, line the island's rocky shores. As I always say, one of best ways to experience and understand Channel Islands National Park is to kayak it.

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Nearly everyday, kayaking tours are being conducted by a handful of companies permitted by the park service to land on the islands. Newest to the ranks is Blue Sky Wilderness, the brainchild business from former firefighter and paramedic Matt May. Since 2006, May has his crew have been leading wilderness hikes and since 2007, teaching professionals and others wilderness medicine. This year they added kayaking.

For May, taking people out to the islands is more than just seeing and experiencing beauty (which admittedly is overwhelming once you're out on ocean), but is also about history, wildlife, geology and geography mixed in with some hiking (if possible) and snorkeling.

All in all, any kayking trip to the national park is time well spent, especially to Anacapa, thanks to its dramatic rock structures, abundance of sea lions and harbor seals hanging around and sea caves ready to be explored. The island may only be 1.1 square miles big -- compare that to its neighbor Santa Cruz, which is 96 square miles -- yet every corner you turn here uncovers visual amazement.

And this is different than taking a boat tour, which may only get a few hundred feet away from shore. On a kayak, you can get up close and see star fish and urchins, maybe even a small octopus as May pointed out while entering one of the caves. On a kayak, curious sea lions and harbor seals may approach you (but please, never approach or try to pet them). On a kayak, it's truly a rich experience that shouldn't be missed.

Beauty like this, after all, is what led May from firefighting, a job he also loves, to found Blue Sky. "I love the outdoors," he said. Yeah, we do, too, and Anacapa is one powerful example why.

Previously on LAist
- Volunteers Fight to Save Anacapa Island
- Photos: Anacapa Island Abloom with Wildflowers, but it Won't Last Long
- Inside One of the World's Largest Sea Caves, 90 Miles West of L.A.
- Day Tripping: San Miguel Island at Channel Islands National Park
- Day Tripping: Anacapa Island at Channel Islands National Park
- Day Tripping: A Quick Jaunt to Catalina Island (it's a Channel Island, but not part of the National Park)
- Outer Island Season Closing at Channel Islands National Park
- New Visitor Center Opens at Channel Islands National Park on Scorpion Ranch
- Like Sea Kayaking? Channel Islands National Park is the Way to Go
- Exploring the Sea Caves of the Channel Islands Further