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On Santa Cruz, California's largest island, foxes play and a traffic jam is 6 kayaks

Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

SANTA CRUZ ISLAND, Calif.--Before I tell you about my glorious solitude on Santa Cruz Island, let's be clear that there is some congestion among the coastal cliffs and grassy hills.

For instance, if there's a sea caves tour, you might see half a dozen folks dragging yellow plastic vessels into the shallows, all at once. Kayak traffic.

If several couples decide to hike the Potato Harbor Overlook, you might meet them all on the clifftop at lunchtime, surveying the swells below. Foot traffic.

And on weekends, when boats from Ventura arrive, you will see scores of passengers come ashore at Scorpion Anchorage as a National Park Service ranger tells them what to expect here on California's largest island. Tourist traffic, in its mildest form.

What you won't find is cars, which is why I showed up in late spring for 48 hours of hiking, kayaking and camping.

The car-free life, after all, is a slow, quiet echo of how we once lived, a daydream an Angeleno may harbor. Depending on how technology evolves, we may have more car-free days ahead of us.


But I'm not waiting. In the months ahead, I'm hoping to visit several car-free destinations, beginning with this trip.

Santa Cruz, four times the size of Manhattan and not one-millionth as busy, is one of five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. Visitors often describe it as a vision of what California must have looked like 300 years ago.

That's not quite correct, because the island's mix of plants and animals is the result of generations of human importation, extermination and experimentation. But it is a different Southern California from the one at the other end of the boat ride.

More than 10 million Californians live within 75 miles of this island. Many of them pay regular visits to Santa Catalina Island, car-free but busy, about 90 miles southeast. Yet on a weekend night, it's rare to find 100 people on Santa Cruz Island.


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