Island Packers Seasonal Whale Watching & Excursions to the Channel Islands Now Open

gray whale tail emerges from the Pacific waters on a whale watching excursion with Island Packers
Photo by Lottie Keenan, courtesy of Island Packers

Island Packers, the official boat concessionaire to the Channel Islands National Park, with daily departures to the Channel Islands from Ventura Harbor Village, has now re-opened! The family-owned company founded in 1968 is once again offering daily trips to the Channel Islands National Park as well as winter whale watching excursions.

Island Packers catamaran off the coast of East Anacapa Islands in Channel Islands National Park, part of a whale watching excursion
An Island Packers vessel off East Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park
(Photo by Doug Mangum, courtesy of Island Packers)

Winter Whale Watching

A winter whale watch is a perfect way to gather with family and friends to view Pacific gray whales migrating through the Santa Barbara Channel from their feeding grounds in Alaska to their breeding grounds in Baja. Pacific gray whales are normally sighted in the National Marine Sanctuary near Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. Their migration season began in late December and will extend through to the middle of April this year. This mammoth migration of over 20,000 whales and 6,000 miles, which the whales complete twice a year, is a major attraction in Southern California. 

Island Packers reports that sightings of the southern migration began in December for Pacific gray whales, and they have also recently seen humpback whales, fin whales, and occasionally orcas. Common dolphin are spotted year-round, delighting passengers as they frolic with the boat, and ride the bow and stern waves.  For our most recent sightings visit or find Island Packers on Twitter.

The half-day winter whale watch cruise provides stunning views of the Ventura coastline or the Channel Islands, depending on where the whales may be sighted. Winter whale watch excursions are available now until mid-April from Ventura and/or Channel Islands Harbor departing at 9:30 a.m. and/or 1:30 p.m.  Rates for half-day trips are $40 for adults, $36 for seniors, and $29 for children 3-12. Children 2 years old and younger ride free.  

wildflowers on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands Day Trips

All-day trips with landings to Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island are also available year-round. On Santa Cruz, Prisoner’s Harbor is now open. All-day trips run from $62 to $84 per adult.  Camping is NOT available on the Channel Islands at this time but will resume soon. 

Reasons to go Whale Watching

What makes whale watching a great activity?

  • Affordable family fun – half day excursions start at $40 for adults; $29 for kids
  • Flexible – winter trips depart twice a day, almost daily (weather permitting) until mid-April
  • Educational – crew aboard the whale watching cruises have many years of experience sighting whales on the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel and will narrate and inform guests about all the varieties of marine mammals seen on your cruise
  • Get in touch with nature – it is not just whales that make the area so special; you may also see sea birds, sea lions, and the coastline of the offshore islands while onboard
  • Safety protocols keeping visitors to the Channel Islands safe and comfortable include: Passenger loads limited to under 50% capacity to better facilitate social distancing; Island Packers employees are health screened before every shift; eating and drinking permitted outside cabin area; passengers will be given a health inquiry before being allowed access to office or boats and everyone required to wear face covering on board vessels; office and boat crew wear appropriate PPE when in contact with the public.
a beach and cliffs on Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands National Park

For more information about Island Packers, call 805-642-1393 or book or visit online at

Want to know about whale watching in Northern California? Check out “Pacifica is Perfect for Land-Based Whale Watching.”

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