Go Back in Time to Ventura – A Classic California Beach Town
Summer is winding down, but it’s not too late to plan that beach getaway. If you’re looking for a relaxed weekend – or longer – in a laid-back Southern California beach community, look no further than Ventura.
Ventura will feel familiar to long-time Southern California natives – it has that funky, sleepy feel that used to be common of beach communities in San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties but has been all but lost to development in many areas. But don’t be fooled by Ventura’s easygoing feel – you’ll find dining, lodging, and recreation options here that rival tony Santa Barbara to the north and Malibu to the south.
Downtown Ventura has long been known as a mecca of second-hand stores, but the city has so much more to offer – spacious, dog-friendly beaches, classic architecture, historic buildings, and the breathtaking beauty of the Channel Islands. The city is home to one of the California missions and numerous art galleries.
Whether you want to relax on an uncrowded beach, browse quirky shops, or have active adventures, Ventura has something for everyone.
The Pierpont Inn – The Pierpont has been a fixture in the community since it was built in 1910. The revitalized inn is under new management and features 77 guest rooms, two 1925 Tudor revival cottages, and a 1935 Spanish-style banquet center. It’s within walking distance of several beaches, the Ventura Pier, downtown, and Mission Buenaventura. Long a favorite location for weddings, family reunions, meetings, and other events, the Pierpont also hosts barbecue and live music on its back lawn overlooking the ocean every Thursday evening from 5 to 8 pm in the summer.
Crowne Plaza is Ventura’s only beachfront hotel, and offers sweeping views of the ocean and the promenade. The Crowne Plaza features 258 guest rooms along with a glass-walled, top-floor meeting room, an oceanfront swimming pool, and a gallery of paintings that includes work by local artists. The Crowne Plaza is within easy walking distance of downtown Ventura, the pier, the mission, and the fairgrounds.
Things to Do
Visit the Channel Islands with Island Packers and go on a kayaking adventure with Channel Islands Outfitters. The experienced, friendly guides from Channel Islands Outfitters steer experienced and novice kayakers through the breathtaking caves that dot the base of Santa Cruz Island while providing a wealth of knowledge about the ecology, wildlife, and history of the island. Santa Cruz Island sustained populations of Chumash Indians for centuries and has long been used to graze livestock, but now a quarter of the largest of the eight Channel Islands is administered by the National Park Service. Once you’re finished with your paddling adventure, enjoy a picnic, tour the visitor’s center, or go for a hike. It’s easy to imagine that you’re a turn-of-the-century land baron when exploring the high cliffs and lonely, wind-swept grasslands of the 22-mile-long island.
Whether you’re interested in art, history, agriculture, or kids’ activities, there is a self-guided walking tour for you. If you’re looking for something less structured, stroll down Main Street and browse the many gift stores, antique shops, and thrift stores that give downtown Ventura its character. Drop by the Museum of Ventura County. Be sure to check out the Mission and the Ventura Pier. The original pier was built in 1872, making it one of the oldest wooden piers in California. Cruise the oceanfront bike path on a set of wheels from Wheel Fun Bike and Skate. Whatever your recreational preferences, Ventura is jam-packed with options.
Eat and Drink
The Rhumb Line is one of Ventura’s newest fine-dining restaurants. With its bright interiors and stunning views of Channel Islands Harbor, the Rhumb Line is the perfect place to enjoy lunch, dinner, brunch, or cocktails. Owner Karen Fitzgerald has put her personal touch on everything in the restaurant. The tuna tartare starter and the lobster mac and crispy-skinned Norwegian salmon entrees are all divine.
Barrelhouse 101 is another recent addition to Ventura’s drinking and dining lineup that’s already popular with locals and visitors alike. Barrelhouse 101 serves an incredible 101 beers on tap, along with cocktails, wine, and a menu of appetizers and entrees.
The Jolly Oyster offers fresh Kumamoto and Pacific oysters and Manila clams in a casual setting from a stand at San Buenaventura State Beach. Pack everything you need to accompany your shellfish – a salad, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine will do nicely – fire up one of the nearby grills, and enjoy your fresh seafood feast on the picnic tables next to the stand.
The Sidecar Restaurant serves an ever-changing menu of mouthwatering dishes made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Owner and executive chef Tim Kilcoyne launched the restaurant, which is housed in a 1910 Pullman dining car, in 2003. He was a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement and creates dishes that reflect his philosophy of simplicity and his own agricultural roots. Don’t miss grilled cheese and jazz night every Tuesday.
Petite Reve Chocolates and Dessert Company serves up coffee and tea along with a variety of scrumptious sweet treats. Owner Kate Dunbar uses only pure and natural ingredients when crafting her scones, croissants, cakes, and her signature truffle collection made with Zhena’s Gypsy Tea. Call ahead to find out what’s on the menu for the day – if you’re lucky it will include delicate French macarons in flavors like lavender and raspberry.
Tutti’s Off Main is a charming restaurant, bakery, and coffee house serving Italian and Mediterranean food in a historic building that used to house Ventura’s livery stables. Owners Susan and Winston Sullivan decided to relocate to Ventura after 19 years in Montecito, and chose their current rustic location for its off-the-beaten-path ambience. Dine alfresco in the sun-dappled brick patio or head inside to enjoy cocktails or a hearty meal.
W20 is the Watermark restaurant’s elegant rooftop cocktail lounge. Enjoy cocktails, live music, and small bites on the rooftop or head downstairs for a full-fledged meal. Watermark is located in a historic 1920s brick building that once housed the Ventura Guarantee Building and Loan Association. Check out the murals depicting El Camino Real and the original bank vault, which is now used to store wine and liquor.
Ventura is an undiscovered gem for many travelers and is home to first-class restaurants, watering holes, bakeries, and hotels. With its mild weather, it’s the perfect getaway at any time of year.