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National Parks in California aren’t just about pine forests and granite formations – venture to the Ventura County Coast and discover two coastal hidden gems that offer a different kind of adventure. Picture yourself snorkeling in a vibrant kelp forest or hiking along a coastal mountain range with stunning ocean views of dolphins, whales, and other sea creatures. These hidden gems are just as wild (if not wilder) than some of the more well-known national parks in the country, offering a unique and unforgettable experience. The Ventura County Coast is home to Channel Islands National Park and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area that are just as wild (if not wilder) than any national park in the country.
1. Channel Islands National Park
Located just 12 miles off the California coast, the Channel Islands National Park in California is a remarkable and remote wilderness area. Comprising five unique islands with diverse terrains, fauna, and vegetation, it’s also home to over 1,470 square miles of underwater treasures, including the endangered species, whales, dolphins, fish, shipwrecks, and majestic kelp forests. Unlike other National Parks in California, this one can only be reached by boat.
Discover the Best Activities At Channel Islands National Park
1. Scuba Diving
For a truly unforgettable experience, explore the underwater world of the Channel Islands. Whether you’re a scuba diving pro or a snorkeling enthusiast, you’ll be able to witness the breathtaking marine life up close. If you’re not already SCUBA certified, you can take lessons before your trip at the Ventura Harbor Village. Snorkeling can be enjoyed from the many beaches and coves throughout the islands.
2. Kayak Along the Coastline
Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a beginner, the Channel Islands offer amazing sightseeing opportunities. You can take a guided kayak tour from either Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard or Ventura Harbor to explore the coastline and sea caves.
3. Go Fishing
The Channel Islands are an angler’s paradise, with abundant sea life and a variety of fish to catch. You can fish from the piers or by boat within the boundaries of the marine sanctuary. Imagine catching a 30-pound halibut or yellowtail fish and experiencing the thrill of reeling it in.
4. Hike Amongst Stunning Scenery
Hiking is a must-do activity when visiting the Channel Islands. Each island offers unique trails and hiking destinations that will leave any outdoor adventurer in awe. Trail maps are available at the Channel Islands National Park Visitor’s Centers located in Channel Islands and Ventura Harbors.
5. Experience Camping on the Islands
Camping on the Channel Islands is a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed. Although the campsites are primitive and don’t have freshwater, the opportunity to have an entire island to yourself is worth it. Backcountry camping is available at Prisoner’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island and at the beach on Santa Rosa Island.
Want to learn more about Channel Islands National Park?
Check out our ultimate guide to visiting Channel Islands National Park
2. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Explore the only coastal National Park in Southern California, just minutes away from Camarillo, Port Hueneme and Oxnard. With over 500 miles of trails, wildlife, cultural sites and majestic beauty, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts. Escape the city and discover the hidden gem of Southern California.
Things to do at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Southern California offers a diverse range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. With hundreds of miles of trails, visitors can enjoy mountain biking, hiking, wildlife viewing, and beach going. Backcountry camping is also available on state park lands. The park’s coastal mountain peaks provide sweeping views of the Channel Islands Archipelago and the park’s interior.
1. 500 Miles of Hiking Trails
Get ready for an unforgettable outdoor adventure at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. With over 500 miles of hiking trails, this park caters to all skill levels, from beginners to seasoned hikers. The stunning coastal mountain peaks offer breathtaking views of the Channel Islands, while the winter and spring seasons provide an opportunity to spot migrating whales and sea mammals.
2. Mountain Biking
The Santa Monica Mountains offer a paradise for mountain biking enthusiasts seeking a challenge or a relaxing ride. E-bikes, or electric bikes, are permitted on bike paths where traditional bikes are allowed. For specific details on bike paths and routes, it is recommended to check with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
3. Horseback Riding
Experience the beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains in a unique way – on horseback! This National Park is one of the few that allows horseback riding on most of its trails, including the famous Backbone Trail. Bring your own horse or rent one and join a guided tour to explore the park’s breathtaking landscapes and wildlife. Don’t miss this opportunity to see the Santa Monica Mountains from a different perspective!
4. A Rock Climbers Paradise
Rock climbers worldwide are drawn to the Santa Monica Mountains for its class 5 rock climbing opportunities. The park boasts a variety of crags, cliffs, and bluffs that make up some of Southern California’s most renowned rock faces. Along with easy access to amazing beaches, campsites, and lodging, the Santa Monica Mountains is a must-visit destination for any climber.
5. Horseback Riding
Circle X Ranch is a group campsite located within the boundaries of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is the only campground within the National Park. However, neighboring state parks offer a variety of backcountry and drive-in campsites throughout the mountain range.
Want to learn more about Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area?
Learn more from the National Park Service
Lodging Near The National Parks
- Ventura: Ventura is a popular beach town that is located near both Channel Islands National Park and Santa Monica National Recreation Area. There are many hotels, motels, and vacation rentals available in Ventura.
- Oxnard: Oxnard is another beach town that is located near both parks. There are several hotels and motels in Oxnard, as well as vacation rentals.
- Camarillo: Camarillo is a city located near Santa Monica National Recreation Area. There are several hotels and motels in Camarillo.
- Port Hueneme: The city of Port Hueneme is a small beach town located just minutes from the Santa Monica National Recreation area and a short drive to the Channel Islands Harbor Ferry.
Plan Your Trip
Book your stay at hotels on the Ventura County Coast
Find more amazing things to do in Ventura County