Scuba Diving just published my Santa Barbara story.
Below I've run my original copy (mileage may vary), as the magazine doesn't everything archive online...
Sea lions torpedo past skeins of playful seals and kelp forests offshore from surfer-chic Santa Barbara. One of the eastern Pacific's most pristine ecosystems, the Channel Island National Park protects 200 square miles, renowned for isolated evolution, much like the Galapagos. Its scope includes five islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara.
Together they protect the park system's highest concentration of endangered and endemic species. No wonder documentarian Ken Burns showcased the area.
The 50ft average viz makes it easy to spot the rare flora and fauna most days. Octopuses writhe past bat rays under the 55–70°F waves, which shelter 27 whale and dolphin species. Expect gray whales from mid-December to mid-March, and blues and humpbacks during the summer. But the brag-worthy moment often has sunset-pastel hues. As the boat plows homeward, several hundred dolphins could crest and swirl in the sea. And you can watch it all from the hot tub, clutching a $3 beer.
Make It Happen
Weekend warriors favor Santa Barbara’s Truth Aquatics (truthaquatics.com). But Mon–Fri, divers can cast off more reliably 30 miles south in Ventura. The Cal Boat Diving liveaboards often run as day charters, though clients can doze overnight, pre-departure (calboatdiving.com; $95 for 3 dives, air and lunch).