Weekend Escape: Seaside City of Oxnard Gets Makeover for Wine Lovers
Once upon a time, 10 years ago to be exact, the sleeper-hit film “Sideways” dismissed the city of Oxnard, California, as a ho-hum suburb. To be fair, there really wasn’t much of a food and wine scene to keep Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church entertained when the movie was made 10 years ago. But a decade later, Angelenos planning an easy weekend escape and out-of-towners seeking a classic California experience will find Oxnard to be a Mecca for fine wine (I’m looking at you, Merlot), farm-to-table cuisine, and adventure on the Pacific.
Oxnard’s diverse array of restaurants offers something for every palate. The only feature you’re likely to see repeated on every menu is a commitment to locally sourced, farm-to-table ingredients.
For those who prefer hops to vines, check out The Kitchen for a thoughtfully paired menu of comfort food bar bites (such as herb-infused bacon and mozzarella grilled cheese) with hand-selected brews. The casual-cool vibe and savory eats mesh so well, celebrity chef Guy Fieri featured The Kitchen on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
For a Friday night happy hour on the water, head to the Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar—live music on the patio, the slapping tide of the harbor below, and a California-Mediterranean fusion that is playful (check out the board games on every table) yet sophisticated.
When searching for a restaurant that has that little je ne sais quoi, look no further than La Dolce Vita. Housed in one of the historic Victorians that make up Heritage Square, the Italian restaurant is truly a treat for the senses and perfect for a romantic dinner for two or a celebratory private party.
Tierra Sur Restaurant at the Herzog Wine Cellars is Zagat rated (the highest in Ventura County) for its exquisite kosher cooking. A beautiful lunch starts off with a trio of the tantalizing appetizers for the table, especially the chili rellenos and vegetable fritters, and is followed by something fresh and hearty, such as the vegetable sandwich with fried butternut squash and roasted eggplant. After you eat, step into the cavernous tasting room for a selection of Barron Herzog’s world-renown wines and an incredible story of the six-centuries of Jewish tradition that brought them to life.
Fifteen wineries dot the Ventura County Wine Trail. And just like its restaurant selection, Oxnard’s share of wineries offers an experience for every type of wine taster.
Magnavino Cellars is a relaxed, Tuscan-inspired and dog-friendly tasting room while Strey Cellars—just down the road—offers an edgy-yet-approachable spin for young wine drinkers that like to “stray” from the norm.
Don’t forget Rancho Ventavo, which exclusively serves red wines and is snuggled in its own historic Victorian craftsman across from La Dolce Vita.
But how, you may be wondering, can one enjoy such a selection of wineries all in one day? Simple: Call Lisa Stoll, a trained sommelier and owner of Explore Wines, and arrange for a luxury van service that’s relaxed, hilarious, and educational (I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but make sure you try her jelly bean trick). Lisa’s door-to-door tours—which include bottled waters, lunch, and tasting fees—make for a fun and refined bachelorette party or group outing.
As seductive as the food and wine culture is, it would be a shame to not take advantage of Oxnard’s original attraction: a pristine slice of the Pacific. Adrenaline junkies can kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and surf, while those looking for a more laid back adventure can hop on one of the Island Packers charters for the Channel Islands. Not that anyone can schedule a pod of dolphins, but chances are pretty good you’ll spot at least a few members of the colossal population that inhabits the waters around the Channel Islands. You can choose from a variety of tours that offer historical anecdotes, whale watching, or camping trips.
With so much to sip, taste, and see, comfortable lodging is a must. The Residence Inn by Marriott has roomy, full-amenity suites. Book summer stays extra early because the Dallas Cowboys’ annual training camp uses the condo-style suites for their VIPs.
If oceanfront terraces, resort-style pools, and on-site fine dining sound like your kind of hotel, check out the newly remodeled Embassy Suites at Mandalay Beach. Having come to the Embassy Suites every summer as a kid, I can attest to how far the resort has come with this latest renovation. Book a room or stop in for an indulgent desert and cocktail pairing for a mini escape at the Coastal Grill.