Baby’s First Island Trip! The Painted Cave & Cueva Valdez, Santa Cruz Island

Just off the coast of southern California, there’s an enormous, record-holding sea cave that almost no one sees. Named from its colorful rock formations, lichens, and algae, the Painted Cave (the second largest sea cave in the entire world!) plunges a quarter-mile deep into the side of Santa Cruz Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park. It is 100 feet wide, with an entrance ceiling of 160 feet, and when the tide is right, and the seas are calm, the opening is big enough to drive a boat almost halfway into the tunnel!


I had been wanting to come out to the Channel Islands since my son was born, but wasn’t able to due to the issues we were having with breastfeeding (he couldn’t latch, I couldn’t figure out how to show him, and so I had to pump milk around the clock and needed constant access to electricity). As much as I dreamed about it, I really couldn’t go to a national park for the day. 🙁 After trying and trying over and over and over again, we finallllllllly got the hang of breastfeeding at 5 months, and I stopped pumping milk. Life became soooooooo much easier! It was truly amazing. 🙂 This trip was a very special one, as it was my first time back in a looooong time, and Ocean’s very first time seeing these beautiful islands.

I fell in love with the Channel Islands after my first visit back in 2014 (I went on a day trip to Santa Barbara, Anacapa, and Santa Cruz Islands, and had also visited the Painted Cave), and had always wanted to come back, but wasn’t able to for various reasons. I then went through some drastic changes in my life, and knew that I wanted to visit again as soon as I could. These islands have always felt so special to me, and I always felt such a strong connection to them. Being here feels like you’re stepping back in time, and you have the rare opportunity to experience one of the most pristine and beautiful environments along the California coast.

The Painted Cave and Cueva Valdez anchorage are located on Santa Cruz Island — the largest of the five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park. We went on a trip organized by Island Packers, a tour and charter operator based in Ventura, CA.

Our adventure began with a two-hour passage across the Santa Barbara Channel, an area rich with marine life including multiple species of whales and dolphins. We were lucky to see several common dolphins along the way!

The first stop of Island was the Painted Cave. We all rushed to the front of the boat as it drove deep into the cave, it got dark, and we could almost reach out and touch the wall with our hands! We could hear the sea lions barking in the darkness. The walls glistened with psychedelic swatches of color. Such a beautiful place! One day I plan to paddle board or kayak deep into the cave and explore it further. 

The next stop was Cueva Valdez, a tranquil cove with several smaller sea caves along the shore. The rocks formations here are incredible! And the caves are really cool. There is even a protected beach within one of the caves with very calm water – perfect for little explorers! After coming to shore, we spent the day hiking along the rocks and later beachcombing on empty stretches of sand. Ocean splashed around in the beautiful crystal clear water and then played along the shore. I also took some time to explore an inland canyon with a naturalist guide. I highly recommend visiting and enjoying this small slice of paradise for the day. 🙂





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