Adventurous Boat Ride to Santa Rosa Island


Santa Rosa Island was my dream destination…and the boat ride was more than half of it. The trip there is about 3 hours one way on boat so just a little under 6 hours total. So much happened on the boat ride I decided it deserved its own blog post :).

The above photo is of my first view of our boat the ‘Islander’…we arrived at Ventura Harbor at 7:20AM, checked in, went to the car to get our luggage, and got in line to board by 7:35AM. By then there was a nice line of people. We boarded, put our backpacks down, and the kids explored the boat. There was an enclosed main lower seating area with a galley, an outdoor seating area upstairs, and a couple rows of benches outside by the back of the boat. The only seats left were by the front of the boat in the enclosed seating area so we took those (we found out much later why those were the last ones left :0). By 8:03AM, we heard the low rumbling of the engine below us, and we took off soon afterwards. Imagine our excitement! The kids were talking nonstop about riding a boat and they were abnormally quiet as the boat began to move. Then there were lots of smiles and nervous foot tapping. I will never forget their happy little faces. 🙂

Below is a view of our boat at Santa Rosa Island around 3 hours later at 11:20 AM. A lot happened in between so I have to remind myself although it seemed like the next day, it was all in one day! By the way, we chose Santa Rosa Island (over the other closer islands) because my family loves beaches and the promise of turquoise water and white sand was too hard to resist!


And one of the other reasons why I chose this 3 hour journey on boat is the possibility of seeing the Painted Caves/Santa Cruz Island (see photo below) on the return trip.  I really hoped to kayak through this magnificent sea cave initially but learned that with the rough sea winds and unpredictable weather, one needs to be an experienced sea kayaker. I’m not, so a boat ride through the cave is fabulous…and my family gets to see it too! I braced myself that if the weather went south, we might have to miss the cave, but I kept my fingers crossed the entire way!


A Quick Summary of Details:

  1. MUST bring: motion sickness medication, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, non-perishable food, good shoes, camera, money, ID
  2. Trip to Santa Rosa Island is a little less than 6 hours total round trip. Be prepared to arrive 45 min ahead of scheduled departure time and return to the pier to board the boat back 30 min ahead of the scheduled time (ours was 3PM)
  3. You might see sea lions, dolphins, whales, bald eagles, and the Painted Cave, depending on weather and wildlife conditions, and the boat will stop and the captain will give you good history and details.
  4. The ride may be bumpy on the way there…be prepared. Sit in the BACK if you can, or ride up front and keep your eyes on the horizon.
  5. There is one easily accessible flushable toilet on the island and there are 2 flushable restrooms on the boat. There is a galley for simple food and drinks on the boat.
  6. Ask Island Packers any questions ahead of time if you can…they are super helpful. I found out the boat for this particular day does not stop at Santa Cruz Island so it was a direct trip over to Santa Rosa which cut down on the travel time. 🙂


Anyway, going back to the start of the journey…


This was my view from the boat right before we took off. The Island Packers Cruises office (website here) is located at the Ventura Harbor, near the Channel Islands Visitor’s Center. They were awesome at answering my many questions about the boat ride and Santa Rosa Island itself. We called the night before and day of to make sure the wind/weather conditions were favorable. They were very attentive and patient with my many questions, and provided more useful information than I ever anticipated. They were also super helpful throughout the entire journey, as I will soon find out.

And we were off! We left the harbor behind and my kids and I went outside to enjoy the sights. They loved seeing the trail of white ‘bubbles’ the boat left behind.



Walking around the sides of the boat was fun too. But it soon became a bit too bumpy, so we took the kids inside.

I’ve been on ferries to San Francisco from Jack London square, and the boat ride to Catalina Island, but I will honestly say this was perhaps the choppiest waters I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps it was the day, or just because we were going that far out into the ocean, but it soon started feeling like a rollercoaster. I realized we were sitting in the most volatile place indoors…up front. No wonder those seats were the only ones available! With every wave, I felt my stomach jump. I looked at my hubby and he was turning a bit pale. Although he had taken some Bonine ahead of time, I passed him my remaining bag of sea sickness medicine and ginger chews. The younger kids were luckily fine. I gave them all half a Dramamine (for kids) beforehand.

A few weeks ago, the lady at Island Packers told me that kids usually don’t have as much problems with sea sickness as adults, (something to do with the inner ear) and Bonine (mezclizine) was more effective. But it’s difficult to know if a person will suffer from motion sickness and taking meds will make me sleepy, so I decided to take just half of the kid’s amount. The attendants on the boat told me to sit on the benches in the back of the boat or go up front outside and I took my eldest child there. Unfortunately my younger kids loved where they were and since they did not get sick, they wanted to stay put. So my husband and I took turns walking around the boat to monitor them and then go either to the back or front of the boat to avoid feeling nauseated.  This was the hardest part of the trip. Every time I walked back in to check on the kids, I was thrown around by the waves. Even though I was holding onto tables, railings, anything I can hold onto, I still walked like a drunk person and ended up almost on someone’s lap at one point.


Before long, I figured out the best place for me was up at the very front of the boat. My kids and hubby did not want to follow me so I went alone.  I found that my nausea was much better if I could stand up, face forward, and focus my sights far away. And then I saw the first island…Anacapa to the left, and we were approaching Santa Cruz Island to the right.

But suddenly the boat stopped. There was a whale sighting! The captain announced it had been 5 minutes since they last saw the whale surface and it was a matter of time before it was time for it to come back up again. And then there it was!!!


I was leaning out the side of the boat  (by then I went back inside to bring my kids out to see) and nearly dropped my iPhone into the ocean so my one shot was not great, but you can see the whale blowing out water in the encircled area! I took a video as well, and it’s too bad it doesn’t show up well but in real life, we saw the gray whale on the surface of the water briefly before it went back under.  You’ll have to take my word for it, but we saw a humpback WHALE!  I heard my child excitedly saying “Wow, I see the grey whale, I see it!!!” over and over again in my video. That was completely unexpected and amazing!

And then we picked up speed again. I sent the kids back in and encouraged them to sit on the back benches where things were more stable. Things got super bumpy and standing up front I felt that I was jumping the waves at high speed. It was exhilarating and I forgot all about my nausea. I was holding on so tightly my knuckles turned white. It was extremely cold and windy, and even though I had my heavy fleece jacket on, I was shivering but it was better than being inside or the back of the boat. I could hardly hear anything as the wind was loud and whistling by my ear, but luckily the captain had a microphone so I could hear what he was saying when time came.  I realized much later, my face was dripping wet. Through all the excitement and wave jumping, I didn’t realize the water splashing and condensation getting everywhere.


I also had the best view of everything! I saw a pod of dolphin-like animals darting in and out of the water. The captain explained they were sea lions working as a team for food.  Whatever they were hunting was causing a feeding frenzy as I saw them flying in and out and in circles. With one hand holding onto the boat and another on my iPhone, I managed to take these photos below, but I could not zoom in on them in time. It was a miraculous sight. My kids were right behind me enclosed in that seat up front, so they could see me pointing at the sea lions. Later they told me they saw every detail…it was probably great they were up front but not outside because they would’ve been really cold!


Soon we were passing by Santa Cruz Island…it’s the biggest island so there was a lot to see.  Different topography, valleys, mountainous regions, rocks dating back to the Jurassic era (as mentioned by the captain), and sea caves!


The hardest part was coming up next. The crossing between Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island is known to be the windiest and roughest, and the captain told us up front to hold on. I held on with both hands so did not take any photos until Santa Rosa Island started coming into view.

And there it was…beautiful Santa Rosa Island. I saw the sandy white beaches from a distance, then a grove of trees (Torrey Pines), sandstone bluffs, and the clear beautiful water.



As soon as we approached the pier and docked (around 11:20AM), a very curious seal swam over and greeted us. My child was the first to spot this little guy and was so charmed by him! Truly a special experience.




The water below the steps of the Pier appeared to be green and there was kelp floating along. We could see the pristine beaches to the left of the pier (photo below).


And to the right of the pier (see below).


[We spent about 3 hours on Santa Rosa Island and it was magnificent! I will write about the island in my next post because it deserves its own blog post. So here I will proceed with the return trip from Santa Rosa Island].

It was about 2:55 PM when our boat left the Santa Rosa Island Pier. I was a bit sad to leave, but I know we wouldn’t have made it overnight there. No hotels, no stores, no restaurants. The kids were hungry, even though they had been snacking all day, so we needed to make it home in one day. So off we went.


Less than an hour into the journey back, it got very cloudy and foggy. I couldn’t see very much ahead…and I started to think that perhaps we would miss the Painted Cave altogether.


But I decided to stay where I was and had my eldest child join me to avoid nausea. Actually the ride back was much more smooth, so we were all feeling better. But just in time, because the weather cleared up and we started seeing more of Santa Cruz Island again…and sea caves!


Soon enough, we were at the mouth of the Painted Cave!!! I was pinching myself in disbelief at this point, and my child and I had front row views of this truly amazing cave. The captain slowed the boat down and everyone quickly gathered behind us for great pictures.

We were told that the cave actually wasn’t painted but these were natural colors from the rocks, algae, and lichen. There were birds flying around the cave, guarding their nests above. This cave goes a quarter mile in and is tall enough for our two story boat to enter. And in we went!


I am a sea cave lover and this was on my bucket list; this particular cave is noted as one of the largest in the world! And this was indeed surreal and better than I ever imagined. I gawked at the different colors I saw…and the textures on the incredibly high ceiling (over 100 feet), as the captain mentioned that this was where parts of the Pirates of the Caribbean (Deadman’s Chest) was filmed. I need to watch that again for sure!


As we entered slowly, I saw that it led deeper and deeper into more ‘chambers’ and it started getting darker. The boat kept going until we were almost in pitch black so I couldn’t take anymore photos. People actually kayak through this and I wonder how they would see where they were going! Well if I ever become an experienced sea kayaker, I’ll have to find out!


From my other posts, many of you know that I always look at the distinctive shape of a sea cave, so here it is! This was taken pretty far in, so the opening is smaller, but I will never forget it!


And then we were back out. People clapped…truly truly a magnificent experience! 🙂


You can’t see it well in the above photo, but this is where we saw a bald eagle roosting! I spotted the majestic bird camouflaged in the rocks and as the boat passed by, it spread its wings and took a small circular flight. I couldn’t believe we got to see a bald eagle as well! My kids were overjoyed!

We enjoyed many more views of Santa Cruz Island and suddenly it got foggy again. This was when many started taking naps on the boat…including some of my kids. I wasn’t going to miss anything so I stood up front looking for anything in the ocean. Sure enough, my eldest and I saw a pod of dolphins swim by happily.  Two jumped and arched about 6-8 feet in front of us. It was incredible! I saw very distinctly that they were grey and white. One of the bulls came close and stayed by the port side of the boat and swam for awhile there. The crew told me these dolphins love to surf and being on the side of the boat is ‘surfing without the board,’ and it makes them feel powerful. I believe he said that they vie for that position and privilege to be surfing with the boat! Unfortunately, I thought I was videotaping this whole experience, and later realized in my excitement I pushed the button twice so it stopped recording after 1 second. 😦 Well, at least my eldest and I will always have the memory!


We were maybe 1.5 to 2 hours into the trip when the boat slowed down again. There was another whale sighting! But this time it was very foggy, so visibility was low. Again the stopwatch was started so we knew the whale was going to have to come to the surface to breath. I was standing at the front edge of the boat and I remember I started holding on very tightly with both hands, because right about then I heard the low drawn out moaning of a whale (like the way Dory speaks whale language in ‘Finding Nemo’)…I was a bit scared because I thought any second now, this whale might pop up and if it was too close to the boat…will I fall? We waited and waited. And then nothing. Maybe the whale did resurface and we couldn’t see it in the fog. The captain drove the boat around a bit and we waited some more. No luck. And no more whale noises. So we continued our way to the Ventura harbor. But boy, that did get my blood pumping awhile there!

We made it back to the Ventura Harbor by 5:15PM. We were more hungry than anything else so off we went looking for a good meal. I’ll admit it’s the first time I was completely exhausted in a long time but in a good way. This was definitely one of the most memorable days in my life so far! 🙂

Below I conclude with a photo of the pier going to Santa Rosa Island…because the story doesn’t end here. My next post will be about this incredible island so stay tuned…


Thanks for reading! 🙂



14 thoughts on “Adventurous Boat Ride to Santa Rosa Island

    1. Isn’t it a marvelous place? I can’t believe all this beauty is so relatively close to us. Where in Santa Cruz did you go? We passed by and admired that huge island on the boat…next time I’ll have to plan to visit it!


    1. We were definitely so lucky we saw all the wildlife plus the cave! A great experience in general and so memorable… I think the trip there is supposed to be choppy especially the crossing in between the two islands, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I don’t know I can convince the very seasick members of the family though to go back anytime soon! :0

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree! I think the next time we go, I will explore a closer island…that was my one wish: that I had more time on the island! Santa Rosa had the white beach and the cave ride so now that I’ve seen it, I hope to explore the others 🙂


  1. So happy you made it out to Santa Rosa! Wish you would have had a smoother passage… been windy here for weeks (and weeks). Typical weather this time of year. It’s not always that rough – we have had complete glass all the way to Miguel before… Great photos and write up! And again, happy you were able to experience this amazing and somewhat untouched area!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! I felt so lucky to be able to enjoy this beautiful island and surrounding area…it was truly quite the experience! I just finished writing about the island and was reminiscing and amazed by the 550+ pictures we took. Just such a gorgeous place! Going to Miguel…wow, now that would be quite the trip! 🙂


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