Venture just a few miles off the famous coastline of California, and there are numerous islands to explore. Each offers a unique experience, including the so-called Galapagos Islands of California and a Victorian lighthouse turned bed and breakfast. These islands – listed from south to north – are all worthy of a visit.
Coronado is actually a tied island, as it’s connected to San Diego by a thin strip of land known as the Silver Strand. But it still has a distinct island feel, plus, wide beaches with soft sand. While it can be reached by car via the Coronado Bridge, there’s also a ferry that departs from downtown. Once on the island, it’s hard to miss the red Spanish-style turrets of the Hotel del Coronado. Built in 1888, the hotel is full of history and even, some say, ghosts. You can grab lunch or drinks at the hotel and explore the grounds, or spend the day on the beach, bike riding through town or browsing the shops and galleries on Orange Avenue. For more ideas, see our post on 10 Things to Do in Coronado.
Part of a pair of islands known collectively as the Brothers, East Brother Island is home to a Victorian lighthouse that doubles as a bed and breakfast (and also serves dinner). The lighthouse was first built in 1873 to aid ships passing through the foggy waters of the San Francisco and San Pablo bays. Built back when lighthouses required someone to maintain them, it included lodging for the lighthouse keeper. Instead of tearing it down, the lodging was preserved and turned into an inn in 1979. Open to visitors Thursday to Sunday, the lighthouse has just five rooms, offering a secluded experience – although it’s only a short boat ride away from downtown San Francisco. Day visits are available on select Saturdays during the summer for those who want to see the historic lighthouse without spending the night.
Woodley Island, in Humboldt Bay off the coast of Eureka, is accessible via bridge or boat. It has a large marina for both commercial and recreational boats. During the open fishing season, visitors can purchase fresh crab and fish from the vessels coming in. A significant portion of the island is also a protected habitat, making it a favorite among birdwatchers who come to see the godwits, pelicans, egrets and other birds that frequent the area. Humboats is the only dockside rental place, offering kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards. They also have several nature kayaking tours, including a whale-watching option and an eco-tour that explores parts of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.