There are so many reasons we are lucky to live on the Central Coast of California and the Channel Islands are one of them.
The Channel Islands are part of one of the richest ecosystems on the planet and are often referred to as “The Galapagos of California”. They have a long history of human occupation and the oldest remains date back 13,000 years ago. The first native populations to inhabit the islands were mainly Chumash. A true maritime culture, the Chumash hunted and gathered natural resources from both the ocean and coastal mountains and maintained a highly developed way of life.
I was fortunate to be part of one of the archeological trips organized by The Natural History Museum of Santa Barbara a few years back, that was working on radio carbon dating of the Arlington Springs site. I was hired as the group’s private chef on the excursion. We loaded up coolers with all sorts of local organic ingredients, my knives, and a few other essentials and jumped on board the Island Packers boat.
The journey to Santa Rosa that day took about 3 hours. Crossing the channel to the islands is an adventure and the boat always comes with a naturalist on board. The ocean surrounding the islands is teeming with wildlife and is part of a protected marine sanctuary. Twelve miles off shore, the sea floor abruptly drops to create a rich deep water ecosystem. Whales, seals, and pelagic fish are everywhere. It is common to see pods of dolphins of a hundred or more. They are super curious, playful, and love to surf the wake of the boat.
After landing on Santa Cruz Island and dropping off day trippers and campers we continued our journey to Santa Rosa Island. Skirting the western end of the island, we passed numerous sea caves and sweet little harbors. Santa Cruz Island is a great place to go kayaking; there are outfitters and guides to take you to the most epic spots.
We landed on Santa Rosa and unloaded our huge amount of gear and headed up to the lodge. Back in the day, before Santa Rosa was part of the National Park, the island was privately owned and used for ranching and hunting. The historical buildings we were staying in had a lot of history!
We immediately set out to explore the many beaches and surf breaks in the vicinity. After a fun surf session, we headed back into the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. It was early fall and our menu for the evening was: A fig and La Nogalera walnut salad on greens with caramelized balsamic dressing and ricotta salatta with olive flat bread, seared scallops with a fennel relish, Bistecca California with pepperonata, garden eggplant, heirloom tomato and smoked mozzarella bake, and creamy heirloom corn polenta with rio grande beans. For dessert, we had a rich dark chocolate and coffee bean cake with Carpinteria berries.
We were blessed to spend a solid week on Santa Rosa Island. It was so exciting to be a part of the excavation and also to explore the island. The Channel Islands are an incredible place to go for the day or a week to take in the rich heritage of California history, ocean culture, and coastal environment.