Smugglers Cove’s history entices visitors

SANTA CRUZ ISLAND, Calif.— Along with the island’s nature and visual marvels, Santa Cruz Island shares a history carried on by Ventura’s local residents and Channel Island National Park interpretive rangers.

The Chumash were Native Americans that once occupied this land — what they called “Limuw” which means “in the sea,” hunted, cultivated crops along the island for at least 9,000 years.

Click on the video at the left to view a slide show about Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, prepared by Nicole List and photographed by writers Alicia Abalo and Nicole List.

“Limuw” or Santa Cruz Island was home to a dozen villages that housed over more than 1,000 people.


Large canoes built by the people were used to transport between the islands and mainland.


“The Chumash were very self-sufficient and used the island caves to keep their dairy products cold,” said Tara Brown, a Channel Islands volunteer since 2005.


Remnants of the Chumash civilization can still be seen throughout the landscape of the island. Barns, ranch houses, saddle shops and cooking areas that are still in existence on the island.


Walking along the trail to Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz Island, nearby Anacapa Island is easily viewed (Photo by Nicole List). Below, writer Nicole List stops at the Smugglers Cove sign (Photo by Alicia Abalo).

“Bread was produced for the whole island just with one big oven in Scorpion Ranch,” said Brown.



Justinian Caire


Along with the Chumash, a European settler named Justinian Caire in the late 1800s made the entire island one big ranch. Scorpion became the granary for the island, providing food, hay and grain as well as pasture for sheep.


“People say that Caire brought over non-native plants to the island to make his wife feel more at home because she was from Italy. There are a lot of plants seen around the island that would only be found in a Mediterranean atmosphere,” said Sabine Faulhaber, a volunteer for the Channel Islands National Park since 2004.



Prohibition Era


Besides the hunter-gatherers using the land for agricultural purposes and Justinian Caire’s influence, it is believed that during the Prohibition era people found it advantageous to hide illegal alcohol in the Channel Islands.


Since the island is part of the state of California and not federally owned, it secured the illegal migration of alcohol into the states, said Faulhaber.


According to locals, Smugglers Cove became the name of the place where people smuggled unauthorized alcohol into the man-made ranch houses on Santa Cruz Island during the 1930s.


“It was an good hiding spot because it was secluded from the mainland and easily brought in by boat,” said Faulhaber.


The surrounding area of Smugglers Cove was also the main fertile grounds for the where the Chumash grew their crops.


Nowadays, wild citrus trees and flowers grow around the smuggler’s covert spots where they hid the bootleg alcohol.


On Santa Cruz Island, residents used a single large oven for cooking and baking. This exhibit displays the process for breadmaking in the ranch kitchen of the island (Photo by Nicole List).

If You Go:


Smugglers Trail:


Island Packers offers a 30-minute ferry to Santa Cruz Island. Starting from the docking point and canoe area, visitors can explore the island with help of island volunteers and rangers or at their own discretion.


There’s a trail starting around the base of Scorpion’s Ranch adjacent to where the Island Packer’s ferry docks. An uphill trail leads the hiker towards the infamous Smugglers Cove. Signs lead you to the charming spot. During the trek, Anacapa Island can be viewed clearly from a distance, as well as Scorpion Canyon and Scorpion Rock.


The whole hike takes approximately five hours, which gives the visitor enough time to peruse the ranch houses and wild crops surrounding the area.


While sitting on the park’s picnic table, visitors can rest, eat and enjoy the Pacific Ocean’s soothing breeze before making the trek back to catch the ferry. A restroom is within a few feet from the picnic table.


Make sure to keep hydrated with at least one liter of water. Snacks should be brought along with the right active attire.


Warning: The trail is not an easy walk. There are sharp turns, rocky paths and steep hills. If a person has certain health conditions, it’s not recommended to go.


For information, visit or call 805-642-1393.

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