By Dempsey Hall
California is one of those places that has always intimidated the hell out of me.
I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it’s the fact that California is so densely populated, which can be incredibly overwhelming for someone from a small town. It could also have something to do with the seemingly endless adventure opportunities—there are so many national parks, wineries, beaches, restaurants, and must-see sights that it makes my head spin. Perhaps it’s the iconic reputation of awe-inspiring cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, which are so revered that their presence is almost daunting.
Every time I begin to plan a trip to the west coast, I feel this lingering sense of inadequacy, like I’ll never be able to fit all the “must-do” things in California in one lifetime, much less in a single trip. Don’t get me wrong—California is intimidating in the best way, but its presence has always made me feel entirely out of my league.
In comes Ventura. This town has a calming, comforting effect on its visitors, and makes even the most unseasoned traveler feel welcome. Located north of Los Angeles and south of San Francisco, Ventura is so utopian it makes you want to pinch yourself. Family-friendly, with miles of pristine coastline, great restaurants, breweries aplenty, and tons to do, Ventura is one of the best-kept secrets of the California coast.
Planning a trip to the Pacific Coast? We’ve got you covered. Here’s your guide to 24 hours in Ventura, California.
Prospect Coffee Roasters
You can learn a lot about a city from its coffee. Prospect Coffee Roasters serves as a microcosm of everything that is quintessentially Ventura: hip, cozy, and warm. Featuring an eclectic menu of whimsical latte concoctions like oat milk, matcha, and brown sugar flavors, this minimalist coffee shop in Downtown Ventura provides everything you need to kick-start your Ventura adventures. For an extra kick, try one of their standout specialties: The Ventucky, made with their single-origin espresso and bourbon honey syrup.
After breakfast, stroll around Downtown Ventura to check out the small shops, flavorful restaurants, famous museums, and historic homes along the palm tree-lined streets. Whether you’re in the mood to score deals at one of their many thrift stores, peruse local boutiques, chow down at a renowned restaurant, or start your day with a drink, here’s a list of the best choices for every category:
Thrift Shops: I love a good Goodwill. Fortunately, the Goodwill in Downtown Ventura is one of the best I’ve encountered. It’s easy to spend a few hours here thrifting for the best finds. For trendier pieces, head to Buffalo Exchange, a consignment shop featuring brand-name clothing at a budget-friendly price
Boutiques: Passport Habits, a collection of globally-sourced goods from all over the world, makes for one of the most unique shopping experiences on the strip. Ventura is also home to the original Patagonia Headquarters, which currently functions as a retail store with a ski-lodge-style aesthetic. It isn’t unusual to spy wetsuits drying in the parking lot on your way in—many of Patagonia’s employees are lucky enough to test out new products during surf breaks.
Restaurants: While local favorites like The Habit (best burgers and fries in town), Nature’s Grill (locally-sourced vegetarian eats with a sleek outdoor patio), and Lure (incredible seafood dishes in a nautical-themed restaurant) dominate the food scene, my favorite spot is Limon Y Sal, a Mexican restaurant with a rooftop view and tacos are that simply out of this world. Order their $4 award-winning vegan tacos, made with plant-based cotija crumbles and portabellas sautéed in tequila.
Arts: Catch a matinee at the Downtown Century 10 Theatre, which features many 3-D showings and a huge arcade. The best part? The first showing of the day is only $6.25. Nearby, The Majestic Ventura Theatre serves as Ventura’s top concert venue and has welcomed recent performers like X Ambassadors, Trevor Hall, and The Expendables to their stage. For a full-calendar line-up, read more here.
Breweries: While many brew-pubs pop up all over Ventura, the two located in the heart of downtown are Poseidon and Anacapa Brewing Company. Both are walking-distance from each other, making a mini-brewery crawl a breeze.
Bike Ride along San Buenaventura State Beach
Rent a bike downtown and head to San Buenaventura State Beach, the starting point for the Ventura Bike Path. This paved trail hugs the coast, offering great views of the beach as you weave through town. Double the fun by transforming your commute into a crawl by taking time to stop at Ventura’s best breweries along the way. Here are the best pit-stops:
Topa Topa Brewing Co.
Named after the breathtaking Topa Topa mountain range, Topa Topa celebrates all things outdoors. This tiny brewery offers simple, yet refreshing pours in a welcoming atmosphere. Choose from 16 rotating taps and chow down at the neighboring food truck next door
Best Brews: Flatlands Saison and The Weekender Session-IPA
Ventura Coast Brew Co.
New to town, Ventura Coast opened its doors in 2017, but is quickly gaining momentum and gathering a devoted local following. Their massive tasting room and outdoor area are the perfect place to play one of their many board games and knock back a few beers. Ventura Coast features 8 taps of their staple suds, but introduces experimental batches every Thursday on Tap 9 (past favorites include Lavender Lemon Ale, Coconut Guava XIPA Cask, and Thai Chili IPA)
Best Brews: Initial Blonde and Neighborhood Session-IPA
Fluid State Beer Garden
Comfortable and creative, Fluid State Beer Garden is the coolest beer bar in town. This spot features one-of-a-kind pizza creations that you won’t find anywhere else in Ventura. Starting with a sourdough base, the pizza toppings range from the usual (pepperoni, cheese, mushrooms) to the unique (balsamic-glazed figs, fried-eggs, and kale). With an impressive line-up of the best beers in the area, Fluid State is sure to please.
Best Brews: Campfire Stout (High Water Brewing) and Anomaly (Faction Brewing)
Looking for a place to enjoy great beer, outrageous eats, and a spot to catch the game? Barrelhouse 101 is a great dining option for craft beer aficionados, gastropub go-ers, and sports fans alike. Once seated, you’ll notice a paper for placing your flight order (choose 3 beers to sample from 101 different taps).
Must-try pours include: Boochcraft Apple Lime Jasmine (Kombucha with alcohol), Island Brewing Avocado Honey Ale, and Firestone Walker 805 (the local favorite). For dinner, opt for one of their tasty entrees like their caprese salad (pesto aioli, fresh mozz, and balsamic drizzle), seared ahi tuna sandwich (with guacamole, arugula, and onions), or one of their hand-crafted burgers.
Where To Stay
Whether it’s a cozy bungalow downtown or a two-story oceanfront property, Ventura has great places to stay for every preference.
This article originally appeared on ByWildDesire.com.