Framed on one side by mountains and on the other by the Channel Islands, Ventura’s beachy setting along California’s Central Coast can make visitors feel as if they’ve stumbled upon a bit of magic.
That makes perfect sense, because the original name of this city, San Buenaventura, labels it as a city of good fortune.
The Pacific Ocean is a main character in the daily life of Ventura, and while water fans may go for the full aqua immersion, it’s easy to keep it at arm’s length if you want to enjoy the seaside vibe without getting wet.
Here’s how to enjoy a perfect day exploring the best that Ventura has to offer.
Go back to the 1950s (even if you weren’t around then) with a breakfast stop at the Busy Bee Cafe. Fuel your day with classic egg, pancake and waffle dishes, or step it up with a variety of gourmet pancakes or gigantic omelets. If you’ve got a history of sea queasiness and are headed out on the water after breakfast, keep it light.
Next, head over to the Ventura Harbor Village to catch a boat trip to visit the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. This string of five islands and its surrounding waters are called North America’s Galapagos by many, and are home to an abundance of wildlife, including whales, dolphins, foxes and bald eagles. Once you arrive, hike along miles of island trails to enjoy the rugged beauty, always with an ocean view. Trails range from 2 to 21 miles and are varied in difficulty, from the maintained, relatively flat signed trails of Scorpion Valley to the dramatic overlooks on Anacapa Island.
The marine sanctuary surrounding the islands is known for diving and snorkeling, with visibility reaching 100 feet, and kayakers can paddle around the islands’ towering cliffs, as well as ducking into one of the largest sea caves in the world.
If your focus is less on the islands and much more on wildlife, try a whale-watching cruise to spy California gray whales (late December through mid-April) or blue and humpback whales (mid-June through mid-September) on their annual migrations. Feeding whales tend to be near the western end of the northern Channel Islands, and the journey there is often filled with visits from dolphins, seals, California sea lions, and sometimes pods of orcas.
Nothing in Ventura’s downtown district, which began as Father Junipero Serra’s final mission settlement, is far from the beach and the salty breeze. Mission San Buenaventura is one of only three mission sites (of a total of 21 California missions) in historic downtown commercial business districts. Visit at your own pace and take a self-guided tour of the mission grounds, which include the mission church, its garden and grotto, and the museum. Nearby, the Museum of Ventura County has more than 30,000 pieces of fine art and historical objects that tell the story of Ventura County and its people. Drop by Paradise Pantry to refuel when you get hungry.
Ideal for families and folks who just want to stroll and take in the sights, the Ventura Harbor Village is a perfect afternoon adventure. Kids can enjoy the arcade, carousel and ice cream shop. Shoppers can investigate a handful of seaside boutiques. Nature-watchers can cozy up on one of the patios overlooking the water. The more adventurous can rent a kayak, pedal boat or paddleboard to enjoy time on the water in the protected harbor and soak up the sunshine.
After a long, active day, take it easy at happy hour time with wine or cocktails at Rumfish Y Vino, a Central American-style gastrobar — especially when the weather is good and you can sit out on the patio. For dinner, head over to Lure Fish House for a celebration of all things seafood. The seasonally focused menu offers classics like mussels, fish tacos, chowders, ceviche, lobster and simply served fish. But if you’re looking for something different from what other seafood restaurants offer, ask for the charbroiled oysters and cioppino.