California's Ventura County Coast: Surf, Style & Shakespeare

California Street VenturaCalifornia Street Ventura
Courtesy Ventura County Coast

On a recent visit to this beautiful stretch of the Golden State’s central coast, my family and I reveled in the region’s glorious juxtaposition of urban sophistication with natural beauty.

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you.”

The words, written by William Shakespeare around 1598, resounded in the small theater, a converted church, on a balmy July afternoon, beautifully and simply spoken by an excellent young actor, Seryozha La Porte, playing Signor Benedick opposite the equally excellent Juliet Johnson as Beatrice. I brushed away a tear and smiled, not only because Rubicon Theatre Company’s Much Ado About Nothing was one of the most energetic, polished, and insightful productions of the play I’d ever seen, but also because those words were not being delivered at the Globe Theater in London or in New York’s Central Park, but in beautiful Ventura, California, a few blocks from a perfect Pacific beach and a short walk from a vibrant, bustling historic downtown.

As I learned firsthand this summer, the entire Ventura County Coast, comprising the cities of Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, and Hueneme, on the southern end of California’s central coast, offers many such glorious juxtapositions, embracing surfing, style, Shakespeare, and much more.

VENTURA

From our spacious room at the Ventura Beach Marriott, my family and I were able to walk to the beach - a bracing, foggy place to start your morning, or a relaxing, sunny place to spend an afternoon or early summer evening. We loved wading in the relatively calm waters, standing on the jetty, and engaging in searches for cool rocks and shells with other visiting families. The Ventura Beach Marriott was a great base of operations for exploring the Ventura County Coast region, with a big courtyard that includes a pool, hot tub, and koi pond with waterfalls. We also really appreciated the on-site laundry facilities and round-the-clock services. As lovely as the property is, I got a sneak peek at an upcoming renovation that will bump every room up in terms of eye-popping, contemporary beach-inspired design.

If you can ever pull yourself away from the beach, the Ventura Beach Bike Trail is pedestrian-friendly and leads you past breathtaking ocean views, the historic 1872 Ventura pier and promenade, and to the city’s wonderful downtown. My kids loved visiting City Hall for the great view back down toward the ocean, and we enjoyed family-friendly comfort food at the Busy Bee Cafe, which sports retro-chic decor and an old-fashioned jukebox that feels like a neon-colored time machine. (“Yes,” I explained, “a jukebox was like Spotify for Baby Boomers.”) For more grown-up fare, I relished Anacapa Brewing Company’s beer-tasting flight and satisfying (to say the least) brewhouse burger. If unique-yet-affordable shopping is your thing (it’s ours), drop by Rosie Lee Imports for British foods, teas, and nicknacks (my kids insisted that I honor my favorite author by browsing the Dickens-themed souvenirs) or Iron & Resin Garage for great original T-shirts. From Ventura Harbor to San Buenaventura State Beach and beyond, the city offers great seafood, fine local wines, and the chance to watch truly accomplished surfers in action.

OXNARD

Neighboring Oxnard, a quick drive south on Highway 1 from Ventura, is home to a busy harbor and beautiful beaches. Known as the gateway to the Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Oxnard also offers the annual California Strawberry Festival (trust me, you haven’t tasted a strawberry until you’ve tasted a fresh-picked California strawberry), kayaking in the harbor (you may get up-close-and-personal with a harbor seal), and the Henry T. Oxnard National Historic District and Heritage Square, including the rich collection at the Carnegie Art Museum. Fuel up at Seafresh Grill, rent a paddle boat or electric boat to explore the harbor, stop by the Channel Islands Maritime Museum for its cool models of sailing ships, or just relax at Oxnard Beach Park.

CAMARILLO

Camarillo may be best known for the Premium Outlets, which draw an international crowd of visitors for more than 150 designer and name-brand stores. But the city is also a beautiful weekend (or longer) escape, offering gorgeous views of central coast farmland, a Commemorative Air Force Aviation Museum featuring vintage aircraft, and (speaking of vintage) great wine bars spotlighting the local vino scene in Old Town. You can also get a taste of local produce at the farmers market, sip local craft beers, tour a restored ranch house, visit the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, and find unique boutique hotels that match the city’s historic vibe.

PORT HUENEME

We love the origin of this beach city’s name. “Hueneme” is derived from the native Chumash people’s word for “resting place.” Needless to say, you’ll relax here visiting 50-acre Hueneme Beach Park with its walking paths, fishing pier, seafood snack bar, and ample picnic table and barbecue pits; touring the Naval Battalion Construction Center; or sightseeing at the Port Hueneme Lighthouse, built in 1941, with its scenic shorefront Promenade Walkway.

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK

My visit to Ventura County Coast this summer was too short to include a trip to the Channel Islands National Park, 11 miles offshore and accessible by ferry or small plane, but it’s on my list of must-sees next time I’m in the area. Nicknamed the “American Galapagos” for its diversity of unique species of animals and plants. Almost any outdoor activity you can name can be found here, including hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, birdwatching, and camping. Bicycles are not allowed, and you won’t find cars or public transportation here either, so peace and quiet are almost guaranteed. When you’re ready for your Channel Islands adventure, book an excursion with Santa Barbara Adventure Company.

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