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The Channel Islands, often called the "Galapagos of the north," are home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, 140 of which are endemic to the five islands. From late December through March, though, one species steals the show here: gray whales. The huge mammals swim past—first south and then back north—on their annual migration to the calving grounds along Baja.
You can get a close-up view (though not closer than 100 yards, unless the whales approach you) of these gentle giants from a sea kayak. Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers short sea kayak tours of the islands, but experienced paddlers should plan on longer trips that include backcountry camping for maximum opportunities at spotting wildlife. Dolphins are frequent visitors, and many other species of whale—sperm, minke, blue, humpback and pilot—and even orcas ply these waters at different times of year. All of that lies just 50 miles off the coast of Los Angeles (which gives you a  good idea of how mild the climate is).