Spend the Night at Santa Cruz Island- Explore the World’s Largest Sea Caves
Spend two epic days at Santa Cruz Island – kayak in sea caves, snorkel or dive, and relax for the night in a secluded cove
Travel aboard the vessel Truth to the west end of Santa Cruz Island. Spend the night anchored off a coastline of steep cliffs, dotted with deep caves and fissures.
Epic Overnight Painted Cave Kayak & Snorkel/Dive is the perfect way to immerse yourself in Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary if you’re looking for adventure beyond a day trip.
Painted Cave Kayak & Snorkel is an epic overnight adventure in Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary.
- Departure Harbor: Santa Barbara Harbor (at the Sea Landing Docks) Destination: West End of Santa Cruz Island
- Spend two days exploring Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary
Trip Specific Information
- Season: July to October
- Experience Level: Intermediate and up
- Minimum Age: 12 years
- Minimum Number of Guests: 12
- Maximum Number of Guests: 24
- Distance Paddled: 8 miles +- (approximately 4 miles per day)
- Check In: 7:00 am
- Briefing: 8:00 am
- Departure: 8:30 am
- Return to Santa Barbara: on second day of trip by 6:00 pm
- Boat trip from Santa Barbara Harbor to Santa Cruz Island on the Truth
- Breakfasts, lunches, dinner, and desserts. Snacks and cold/hot beverages
- Guides and naturalists
- Tandem or single person kayak w/ backrest, seat, and adjustable paddle
- 3mm Farmer John Wetsuit
- Lifejacket (PFD)
- Cave Helmet
- Mask and snorkel
How do we calculate ticket prices?
You will board Truth starting at 7:00 am and check in with our crew. A bunk will be assigned to you based on your reservation request.
A mandatory briefing will occur at 8:00 am and all loading of personal items should be completed before then. All guests must be present for this orientation. The crew will introduce themselves and provide a comprehensive safety briefing and trip orientation. After the briefing, we will depart for Santa Cruz Island.
Morning coffee/tea and continental breakfast will be available during boarding, a hot breakfast will be provided while underway.
Check-in at 7:00am. Mandatory briefing at 8:00 am. Departure at 8:30 am.
Meet your crew at the Sea Landing in the Santa Barbara Harbor (at 301 West Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA).
You will board Truth after 7:30 pm and check in with our crew. A bunk will be assigned to you based on your reservation request.
A mandatory expedition briefing will occur at 9 pm. All guests must be present for this orientation. You will have a chance to meet your crew and go over all of the safety equipment onboard the vessel. After the briefing, we will prepare for departure. Departure times vary depending on conditions in the channel. We may stay in port for several hours or we may depart right away. After the briefing, passengers are not permitted to depart the vessel (except to retrieve last-minute items from parked vehicles).
If you arrive early there are many different options for dinner in the Santa Barbara Harbor.
Check-in at 7:30 pm for a 9:00 pm briefing
The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the best places to view marine mammals on the planet. During our crossing, we’ll have our eyes peeled in search of whales and dolphins. If we encounter any, we’ll slow down and enjoy their company for a short while before resuming our journey to Santa Cruz Island.
Santa Cruz Island is the largest island off of the West Coast of the United States. It also has some of the largest volcanic sea caves on the planet. The largest is called Painted Cave and it is almost a quarter-mile long deep into the darkness. We will spend about an hour in this cave exploring and taking in the massiveness and beautiful lichen growing on the inner walls of the cave’s ceiling.
In addition to Painted Cave, there are roughly a dozen other large sea caves that we may be able to explore (everything is dependent on swell and tides).
We take our time on this trip, spending lots of our afternoon inside the back chamber of Painted Cave.
This guided kayaking trip is “one-way” or “downwind”. With the Truth (the big boat) always nearby, we’ll begin our paddle on at the Blimp Hangar on the west and head down current to Quail rock where Truth will be waiting to pick us up!
After our kayaking is wrapped up, we’ll have the later part of the afternoon for diving, snorkeling, fishing, swimming, and relaxing as we find our resting place for the evening in a secluded cove. (SCUBA diving is limited to open water-certified individuals and you’re welcome to bring along full dive gear.)
A full hot dinner will be served at anchor, followed by dessert for those with a sweet tooth. Alcoholic beverages may be brought with you on the trip but may only be enjoyed after in-water activities have concluded for the day. The overnight stay on this trip gives you a taste of the quintessential island experience – relax under an island sunset and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean lapping at the Truth’s hull.
Wake up at the islands, in a beautiful and protected cove, to the smell of breakfast and coffee. Make an optional morning dive, snorkel, or swim if you want to get wet! (SCUBA diving is limited to open water-certified individuals and you’re welcome to bring along full dive gear.) If you don’t want to get in the water right away, enjoy a slower morning aboard, relaxing on the sun deck with your breakfast and coffee.
After the morning swim/dive, we’ll head to our kayak destination where we’ll put in near Arch Rock, an unbelievable feature on the island. There are many caves to explore in the area and lots of wildlife to experience. We’ll continue down the coast into several coves and end the paddle at a large cave we call “peg leg”.
After everything is loaded back on the Truth, we’ll pull the anchor and begin our journey home to Santa Barbara.
Enjoy the 2.5-hour return trip back to Santa Barbara Harbor. Keep your eyes peeled for sea life along the way. You can bring alcoholic beverages but they are only to be enjoyed on the return trip home.
Estimated arrival time in Santa Barbara Harbor is 6:00 pm
We are currently building our locally inspired menu but here is an example of what you may expect from your galley crew onboard the Truth.
- Fresh fruit
- Granola and yogurt w/ fixings and local jams
- Hot breakfast sandwich or burrito (made to order)
- Local grass-fed beef burgers OR locally made veggie patty
- Chicken salad wraps
- Island coleslaw & salads
- CIEx trail mix
- Homemade hummus and veggies
- Buffalo chicken wings
- Chips and homemade guacamole
- Tri-Tip w/ grilled veggies
- Local fish tacos & ceviche
- Garlic cheesy potatoes
- Locally sourced salad bar
- Freshly made desert
Return Trip Snack
- Fresh baked cookies
Beverages Served All Day
- Hot tea and coffee
- Soda Bar (soda, juice, water, seltzer)
- Ginger Iced Tea
You may bring alcoholic beverages to enjoy after all activities for the day are completed. There is absolutely no drinking before participating in kayaking or diving.
Accommodations are in our comfortable bunk room. We supply each bunk with:
- 2 sheets
- 1 Fleece Blanket
- 1 Medium soft pillow with pillowcase
The bunk room is air-conditioned to 68-70 degrees at all times. If you tend to get cold in these temperatures, you may bring additional bedding.
Personal vs Oversized Bunks
- Each person will be assigned a bunk. Personal-sized bunks are approximately 3 feet wide by 6.5 feet long and oversized bunks are approximately 5 to 6 feet wide by 7 feet long. When making a reservation, you may choose to upgrade to an oversized bunk for an additional $50 (limited quantity). \
- Each bunk has a privacy curtain and a reading light.
- Personal electronic devices may not be charged in the bunk room at any time – charging of devices is allowed during daytime hours in the salon.
Santa Cruz Island, originally known as “Limuw” by the indigenous Chumash people, is located 23 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. The Chumash people inhabited several large villages on Santa Cruz for thousands of years. Their creation story describes it as the birthplace of their people, who reached the mainland via a rainbow bridge across the channel.
Santa Cruz is the largest island off the continental United States. At 22 miles long, and between 2 to 6 miles wide, it has an area of almost 100 square miles. The island’s coastline has steep cliffs, large sea caves, secluded coves, and sandy beaches. The highest point is Devils Peak, at over 2,450 feet of elevation. A central valley splits the island along the Santa Cruz Island Fault, with volcanic rock on the north side of the island and older, sedimentary rock on the south side of the island. This volcanic rock was heavily fractured during an uplift phase that formed the island, and over a hundred large sea caves have been carved into the resulting faults by wind and waves. The largest of these is Painted Cave, among the world’s biggest sea caves.
Kayaking at Santa Cruz Island
Kayaking along the western end of Santa Cruz Island gives you the chance to explore along cliff faces, into secluded coves, inlets packed with marine life, and beautiful sea caves. We will explore Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world. Sea lions and harbor seals inhabit the many coves and caves of this stretch of the island. You’ll paddle through a Marine Protected Area where kelp forest provides habitat for an array of fishes and other marine life.
Rather than kayaking a loop or out and back, we will kayak downwind in one direction, with the Truth meeting us at the end of our paddle to pick us up. This gives you the opportunity to see more of Santa Cruz Island while making your journey less strenuous.
Sea caves are common throughout the Channel Islands and are formed where faults in the volcanic rocks are exposed to the force of waves and winds. Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island is one of the largest sea caves in the world (specifically it is the longest in the world) and penetrates over a quarter-mile into the interior of the island. The cave is named after the multi-colored lichen growing on the inner walls and ceiling. We explore the depths of this cave by kayak and check out the sea life that inhabits it.
Pre Trip Planning
What to Bring with you?
- Reusable water bottle – can be filled onboard.
- Warm clothing – street clothes are fine, dress in layers and bring warm clothes.
- Kayak clothing – bathing suits and sun tops. You will be given a Farmer John style wetsuit (like overalls).
- Wetsuit for snorkeling – if you plan to get in the water with a mask and snorkel, a full wetsuit will increase your comfort level. You can rent a 4mm wetsuit if you’d like.
- SCUBA gear – if you plan to free dive or SCUBA dive, bring your gear set up. (Open-water certification is required to SCUBA dive)
- Sunscreen – We prefer reef-safe sunscreen. Learn what makes sunscreen reef safe here.
- Waterproof cameras – we strongly recommend you take your phone or camera kayaking only if you have a waterproof case for it.
- Additional bedding – The bunk room is air-conditioned so we recommend bringing a sleeping bag or additional blanket.
- Motion sickness medicine and personal medications.
- Gratuity for guides and crew.
Frequently Asked Questions
No. All CIEx trips are vessel-supported and include transportation to and from your island destination.
The minimum age on this trip is 12.
All children 16 and under MUST BE with an adult in a tandem kayak.
Our age limits are for your safety and enjoyment.
YES! There is no way around this. You don’t need to be excellent at swimming laps, but you need to be comfortable treading water and being in deep water.
We don’t allow reservations of single kayaks ahead of time, but we have single kayaks available for those of you traveling solo or in odd-numbered groups.
The kayaking on this trip is of moderate difficulty due to the chance of exposure to wind and waves on the west end of Santa Cruz Island. You will not be paddling into the wind, we paddle downwind, but you may have to paddle in a range of conditions. We recommend that participants be in reasonable physical shape and comfortable on the ocean.
Yes, prices vary based on day of week and season. Please call or email with the dates you are interested in and we’ll get you a quote.
Difference between CIEx Sea Cave Kayaking Trips:
- This trip to Santa Cruz is longer and might be more challenging depending on weather conditions.
- The highlight of this trip is Painted Cave (one of the largest sea caves in the world); at Anacapa, the arches are the highlights in addition to many smaller sea caves.
- The water is typically a bit colder on the north side of Santa Cruz Island compared to Anacapa, and so we provide farmer John-style wetsuits.
- We provide breakfast, lunch, snacks, and beverages on this trip. You do not need to bring your own food.
Difference between CIEx Sea Cave Kayaking Trips and Scorpion Ranch Trips:
- All CIEx kayaking trips are vessel-supported. Rather than launching and landing through surf at the Scorpion Ranch beach, all CIEx trips launch kayaks from our motherships with crew assistance from our easy access water-level swim step. On our trips, you paddle in one direction with the wind and get picked up at the end of your paddle by the mothership. You’ll have the support vessel nearby at all times to assist you if needed.
- You are our exclusive purpose. All CIEx kayak guests are here for the same reason… to kayak into sea caves! Scorpion Ranch trips require ferry transportation to get to the island paddling destination, which can result in wait times between activities.
- We paddle at areas where we barely encounter other boaters or visitors to the islands. This means fewer crowds and more wildlife. Scorpion Ranch is the most heavily visited part of Channel Islands National Park – if you’re looking to get a more remote experience, join us!
We assign one bunk per person as per Coast Guard requirements. Each bunk has a privacy curtain and a reading light.
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