Ventures In Ventura

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Hiker on the beach

Ventura, Calif. lies just 62 miles north of Los Angeles and some refer to it as where the real California lifestyle exists. It has maintained its authenticity, history and agricultural ties. It sits on the shores of the Pacific, but Ventura claims to be more than just another beach town. You’ll find artists of all disciplines, surfers, famous chefs and CEOs of leading corporations simply lying back and enjoying the area’s easy lifestyle.

Nestled between the rugged Los Padres National Forest and the Pacific, it became an oil town and agricultural hub. Today, it has bloomed into a mix of sophistication, resorts, surfer action, artist colony and regional theatre center. The historic downtown section has been revitalized and embodies many of Ventura’s assets. You’ll find Mission San Buenaventura, historic homes, museums, locally owned shops, art galleries and some of Southern California’s finest restaurants along the palm-lined streets. This is a “strolling” town and small enough to navigate on foot. If you’re driving to Ventura from the Los Angeles area take Highway 101 and exit at California Street and you’re in Ventura. You might say to yourself, this is what I thought California was all about. Amtrak can also deliver you to Ventura from either San Francisco or Los Angeles and the station is also downtown.

The climate is near perfect and any season is ideal. It’s sunny here 250 days per year, with daytime temperatures averaging 70 degrees year-round, and rain typically arrives in town only 35 days a year from November through March.

Upon arrival I suggest you stop by the Visitors Center located at South California and Santa Clara Streets. Here, you can ask questions, pick up brochures and get some ideas on sights to see and perhaps where to stay.

Be sure to see the Buenaventura Art Gallery at Santa Clara and Fir Streets and nearby is the Museum of Ventura County with visual art designs and permanent and rotating exhibits of nationally known artists. Take in the Earl Stanley Gardener Building — the birthplace of “Perry Mason.” At the Albinger Archaeological Museum history comes alive at the site of an archeological dig that began in the 1970s. You can see the China Alley Mural across from the Mission San Buenaventura, which was founded in 1782. The mural commemorates the Chinese Fire Brigade, which protected not only Chinese settlers’ wooden shacks, but also other Ventura structures in the late 1800s. Nearby is the Ortega Adobe, built in 1857 and the birthplace of the famous Ortega Green Chilies.

At Plaza Park (at Santa Clara St.) you can see one of the oldest and largest Moreton Bay Fig trees planted in 1874 and this four-acre park includes a children’s play area. You’ll want to drive up to Grant Park Lookout Point toward the hilltops at sunset to enjoy the lights of the area and view the Channel Islands. There are also scenic walking trails.

I would suggest finding a hotel near the ocean. There is a good selection near the harbor. Four Seasons by Sheraton and Holiday Inn Express are only two of several. Here you have the salty air and breezes with deep-sea adventure. This is the bustling heart of coastal Ventura County. You’ll enjoy the shops and tasty restaurants at Harbor Village and if you choose to, board a boat for a half or full day of fishing near the Channel Islands or perhaps a narrated harbor cruise. At certain times of the year there are whale-watching trips to the Channel Islands or you might be content renting a paddleboat or kayak. You’ll find this is a relaxed retreat from the resort crowds.

At the harbor, there is a 36-animal carousel and arcade games to delight the kids and parents can enjoy specialty shops, cafes, a bakery, ice cream parlor and restaurants serving fresh, locally caught seafood and on most weekends there are outdoor concerts and other special events.

You can explore the breathtaking beauty and amazing richness of life in the underwater world of Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary. Several boats depart for single and multi-day dive trips out of Ventura Harbor. They offer dive classes, excursions and equipment rentals. Contact Ventura Dive and Sport for more information.

The Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center is a one-stop resource for information on the five northern Channel Islands. If ocean fishing is your interest, contact Coroloma Sportfishing to arrange day and summer twilight fishing excursions and charters. Calico bass, lingcod, whitefish, rockfish and barracuda swim the Channel with halibut and sea bass also plentiful.

From late December through March the California gray whales migrate through the Channel Islands and this is the best opportunity to get up close to these sea giants.

Want to rent your own boat for a day? Contact Pacific Sailing for lessons and the boat.

Another world of Ventura is at the East End near Victoria Avenue and Eastword. Here architecture and climate that make the region seem like another part of the state. This is the home of Ventura College and the Ventura County Government Center and holds a remarkable intellectual character. The mild inland climate, vast open space, farms, and easy access to Highways 126 and 101, have attracted many new residents in the last decade. This is kid and family action center with parks and activities and fine golf courses, some nine in all. The Arroyo Verde Park is a lovely natural preserve with 132 acres of rugged land. It includes tree-lined open grass areas, individual picnic/barbecue sites, a nature center, hiking trails and children’s play areas.

Outdoors there is birdwatching, hiking and swimming along with quiet relaxation on a cool beach. If you wish to camp on one of the Channel Islands, permits are available and rangers are often available for hiking tours. Each island’s network of nature trails showcases its particular flora and fauna and long stretches of white sand beaches remain unspoiled. The islands you may visit are: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and further away is San Miguel. Santa Barbara Island rewards visitors with excellent wildlife viewing and clear water for diving and snorkeling. Island Packers is Ventura’s official concessionaire for the national park.

If you wish to camp, take the State Beaches or Sea Cliff exit off 101 at the north end of town. Camping is also found just south of town and also in the surrounding areas. RVers take the Pacific Coast Highway six miles north of Ventura, here there is roadside parking for self-contained vehicles available by permit only, which may be obtained through pay vaults. Hobson Beach County Campground, seven miles north of Ventura has 31 sites for tents and RVs. Call (805) 654-3951 for information. Ventura Beach RV Resort at 800 W. Main St. has 144 RV sites and 36 tent sites. Phone (805) 643-9137 for details.

If you choose to fly in, major airlines serve Ventura through nearby Oxnard, Santa Barbara and Burbank airports with coach connections into Ventura.

Beach adventures, fine hotels, fishing, hiking, swimming and relaxation — what more could you want away from the maddening California crowds? Ventura has it all.

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