When I say “island day trip,” you say “Catalina.” Been there, done that? A slightly longer cruise lands you on less-trammeled Santa Cruz Island, where four-pound foxes play peekaboo from the shadows of Santa Cruz Island manzanita and other endemic flora. The island’s Scorpion Anchorage is the most popular destination in Channel Islands National Park, but a limited number of daily ferries keeps crowds down. Since the dock was damaged in a storm last winter, landing here involves a (literally) splashy skiff transfer from the ferry. Once on island (California’s largest), spend the day hiking or kayaking and exploring history and quirky island nature. Round-trip passage from Ventura is $59, including park entrance fee. islandpackers.com
Pack a Lunch No food is sold on the islands, and water is limited. Stash your sustenance in bear boxes near the pier.
Watch for Wildlife On our 80-minute trip to the island, the captain rotated the boat for better views of sea lions and dolphins. In summer, you might spy a blue or humpback whale. On island, watch for the main attraction: the island fox, a house-cat-size canid found only here.
Follow the Leader Reserve a kayak tour, or join a free one-hour volunteer-guided hike. Our docent showed us the remains of the sheep ranch whose four-legged inhabitants once grazed on this island, a Chumash garbage dump and chalky diatomaceous earth left over from when shifting plates pushed this island up from the bottom of the sea. You’ll emerge from the dusty trail onto cliffs revealing miles of glittering Pacific Ocean; follow that view down to the pebbly beach to cool your tootsies.