South of Santa Barbara, US-101 widens into an eight-lane freeway along the coast. Looking out across the Pacific, beyond the partially disguised offshore oil wells, you can’t miss seeing the sharp outlines of the Channel Islands, whose rocky tide-pool-packed shores are protected as a national park. Consisting of eight islands, five of which are part of the park, they sit from 12 to about 60 miles off the mainland. Numerous scenic cruises around the Channel Islands start from Santa Barbara, but only the closest, Anacapa Island, is easily accessible, via daily trips from Ventura Harbor offered by Island Packers (805/642-1393, $59 adults). Bring water, as none is available on the island; camping is possible, but reservations are required.

Map of Pacific Coast through Southern California.
Map of Pacific Coast through Southern California.