The Channel Islands have attracted many explorers, scientists and historians during the past few centuries. Today, island visitors can explore the world of the native Chumash, walk the shores where European explorers landed, discover new tales from California’s ranching history, and witness the remains of off-shore shipwrecks.
The northern Channel Islands were home to many native Chumash communities who are believed to have inhabited the islands for thousands of years. When Europeans first reached the islands in the 16th century, they discovered a rich culture dependent upon the resources of the land and the sea for sustenance and survival. By the nineteenth century, the islands were fulfilling different purposes: vast sheep and cattle ranches occupied Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel islands and the channel waters were aggressively harvested for fish and marine mammals. The remains of ancient Chumash villages are intermingled with historic ranch complexes and later military structures, testifying to the diverse heritage of human experience on these offshore islands.
Each of the five Channel Islands has a unique history. Park Rangers offer guided tours of the rich local heritage. While the mainland visitor centers in Ventura and Santa Barbara are readily accessible by car or public transportation, the islands are only accessible by park concessionaire boats and planes or private boat. Advanced planning is highly recommended. Two visitor centers, one in Ventura and one in Santa Barbara, provide exhibits about the Island, while the companies "Island Packers", "Truth Aquatics", and "Channel Islands Aviation" provide boat and plane trips to the islands.