Star Attractions

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center and Ventura Harbor Village

Revitalized Downtown Offers “Classic Coastal California” Vibes

Arts Scene Thrives Amidst Ventura’s Cultural Renaissance

Ventura is a Hot Spot for Birding Field Trips and Gatherings

Ventura Offers Sights and Walking Tours Celebrating the Birthplace of Perry Mason

Ghost Stalker/Author Leads Tours of “One of America’s Most Haunted Cities”

With Coastal Biking Trail, Surfing and More, Options for Outdoor Recreation Abound

Historic Museums, Sights and Structures

Channel Islands National Park

Just 14 miles offshore, Channel Islands National Park or “America’s Galapagos,” is one of Ventura’s most breathtaking attractions. The five mysterious islands are home to more than 2, 000 species of plants and animals-145 of which are found no where else on earth; sea caves ideal for kayaking and diving; and pristine beaches that hint at what California’s native ecology was once like. Part of an eight-island “chain,” the five islands off the Ventura coast are composed of Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa.

Through Island Packers, Ventura County’s official concessionaire transporting mainlanders to the park, visitors also enjoy camping, snorkeling, hiking, bird watching and walks led by naturalists. Wildlife unique to the islands includes the island scrub jay, the island fox and the Anacapa deer mouse. Visitors en-route to the islands are also frequently treated to sightings of gray whales, blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins, seals and Orcas, depending on the season.

One of 55 National Parks, eight of which are in California, the Channel Islands is buffered by a National Marine Sanctuary, which extends six nautical miles.

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Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center and Ventura Harbor Village

Located just 60 miles north of Los Angeles and 27 miles south of Santa Barbara, Ventura Harbor offers a backyard paradise for the outdoor enthusiast. The harbor is home to the Channel Islands National Park Visitors Center, which features three-dimensional maps of the islands, a museum, bookstore, gift shop, living tide pool, exhibits on the islands and native wildlife, and a 25-minute film. Visitors who enjoy heights with great views can also climb to the tower above via stairs or the elevator for a 45-degree panoramic view of the Channel Islands.

The harbor area itself offers a waterside promenade adorned with more than 35 shops and restaurants as well as opportunities for sport fishing, diving lessons, harbor cruises, paddle boat rentals, bicycles or kayak rentals. A short drive or bike ride away from downtown, Ventura Harbor is a lively center of activity with weekly concerts, festivals and children’s activities. A Saturday Fishermen’s Market provides the fresh catch of the day, while water activities including sailing are also popular.

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Charming Revitalized Downtown is Brimming with “Classic Coastal California” Vibes

Central Coast City’s Eclectic Architecture Now Home to New Boutiques, Bistros, and Galleries.

“I have been a local resident of Ventura since 1976 and was anxiously awaiting the rejuvenation of Main Street,” said Dan Scully, owner of Parts Unknown, a clothing boutique in downtown Ventura. “I believe it has finally occurred and I am proud to be a small part of the phenomenon.” Touted as a “fashion adventure for men and women,” this is the fifth Parts Unknown store to open and follow in the footsteps of its kin in other upscale locations including Scottsdale, Carmel, Santa Fe and Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Indeed, things are changing in this historic city, which began as Father Junipero Serra’s ninth and final mission settlement.

Ventura hotels, too, are polishing, refurbishing and expanding. Owners of the historic Wyndham Garden Ventura Pierpont Inn is a quaint resort. The Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach and the Four Points by Sheraton were renovated recently; and The Marriott Ventura Beach is now a full-service hotel. Other new hotel building projects are in the planning and approval stages.

Main Street is one of the few classic downtown districts left, particularly on the coast. Our downtown is darling, and as the renaissance and revitalization continues, it will only get that much more entertaining. Indeed, art deco, craftsman, neoclassical and Victorian design are prominent architectural styles in Ventura. And as the city is also home to an amazing number of antique shops, it is a mecca for collectors.

Adding to the revitalization, colorful banners now wave above the cultural, waterfront and harbor districts; festive lights twist around the trunks of palm trees that line Main Street; a new information kiosk offers maps and shop listings; and more merchants are extending their evening hours. “Adopt-a-pot,” affectionately referred to as the “downtown pot program”, invites individuals and businesses to donate money toward new decorative planters for the street. In exchange, donors’ names are put on a plaque.

The evolution of these new and revitalized shops, hotels, attractions and cultural offerings is putting Ventura on the map and establishing it as a vacation destination.   And what makes this downtown different? Downtown Ventura is distinctive for its original, eclectic architecture; its many locally owned home accent and antique shops; its historic walking tours and “ghost hunts”; and its “strollability” the fact that it’s small enough to comfortably navigate on foot in an afternoon.

Perhaps Father Serra knew just what he was doing when he named this mission town “San Buenaventura,” translated as the “city of good fortune.” It seems that Ventura’s golden future is beginning to emerge.

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Arts Scene Thrives Amidst Ventura’s Cultural Renaissance

An emerging cultural district for artists and performers of all types is also influencing the momentum and direction of downtown’s development. The city’s busy arts calendar is filled with music, theater, dance, art exhibits, festivals and crafts every month of the year. Hundreds of artists living in the city  share their works with the public at numerous art galleries, while the Rubicon Theatre Company producing professional stage productions at the 200-seat theatre, is attracting big name talent from Hollywood and Broadway to its intimate setting in an old church.

“Ventura’s Downtown Cultural District is quickly becoming known throughout the nation for its world-class artistry and small-town hospitality,” said Karyl Lynn Burns, executive director of Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre Company. “Accomplished actors love to come here because the audience has so much charm.”

Other stage venues include the Livery Theatre, which presents a lively mix of drama and improvisational comedy; the Elite Theatre Company offering stage plays with an emphasis on comedy; and Ventura College Theater a showcase for local thespians.

Twice a year, the city celebrates the work of its local artisans with the  ArtWalk Ventura, where the streets come alive with music, art, performers, childrens’ activities, outdoor dining and more than 15,000 visitors in attendance.

The city’s most prominent center for the visual arts is the Museum of Ventura County, housing both permanent and rotating exhibits in three galleries. Other galleries include Buenaventura Gallery, which features high quality, original, contemporary and traditional artwork from more than 150 of the county’s leading artists; the City Hall Municipal Art Collection on the second floor of San Buenaventura City Hall;  Red Brick Gallery, carrying all local art and specializing in pottery, paintings and mixed media. Stoneworks Studio is ideal for seeing sculpture work by local artists and learning about the process, while over on clandestine Peking Street, Pacific Stoneworks offers an amazing ensemble of craftsmen working in marble, granite and natural stone.

Seasonal musical events include the Ventura Master Chorale, which offers classical and contemporary vocal masterworks; the weekend family concerts and choirs at Ventura Harbor Village; the popular Ventura Music Festival, which features talent from across the globe performing in the city’s architecturally unique settings; and Music under the Stars, a series of outdoor concerts at the historic Olivas Adobe.

The Majestic Ventura Theatre, a renovated and historic landmark offering swing bands, classic rock, jazz, Latin and rhythm and blues, is also popular for live bands. Whatever your taste, it is clear that Ventura is truly a city where creativity comes to life.

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Ventura is a Hot Spot for Birding Field Trips and Gatherings

So many expeditions, expert speakers, field trips and other birding adventures are planned in Ventura that it’s tough to keep up with all the avian activity in this scenic California beach town along what is known as the Pacific Flyway and the Central Coast Birding Trail.

From birds at Channel Islands National Park (which include species found no where else on earth) to nearby wetlands and the birds of Ventura’s ocean environs, the area is rich in natural settings for both resident and migratory creatures. The reasons for this activity are many, according to Art Marshall, vice president of the Ventura Audubon Society.

“Being located on the coast and on a major avian migratory provides ample opportunity to see a multitude of bird species,” said Marshall. “Additionally, the county has a number of water courses flowing into the Pacific Ocean as well as endemic bird species nearby at Channel Islands National Park.”

The City of Ventura alone boasts the Ventura River on the north edge of town and the Santa Clara River to the south. According to Marshall, both rivers provide a number of riverine, riparian and estuarine habitats for both resident and migratory species of birds. In addition, the nearby Callegas watershed on the county’s south end drains at Point Mugu, providing a large amount of protected wetland acreage. If that’s not enough, the large mass of nearby Lake Casitas as well as the 5,500-foot mountain environments are just 10 miles inland.

An identified 445 bird species have been sighted in Ventura County and are listed in “Checklist of the Birds of Ventura County.” The record for sighting the highest number of species within a given year is 333.

In Ventura proper alone, quality birding is available at Camino Real Park, Santa Clara River Estuary, McGrath State Beach, Arroyo Verde State Park, Camino Real Park, Ventura Water Treatment Plant and Wildlife Ponds as well as the Ventura River Estuary, River Trail and Ocean Shore Trail. Regularly scheduled program meetings and field trips are available through Ventura’s two National Audubon Society chapters. The north county chapter meets in the City of Ventura while the Conejo Valley Audubon Society meets in the south county.

A full color county map with detailed descriptions and directions for birding areas is available to the public. For literature and more information on local birding events, please contact the Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau at 800-333-29289 or visit

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Ventura Offers Sights and Walking Tours Celebrating the Birthplace of Perry Mason

If some of the classic sights in Ventura look familiar to the first-time visitor, there is a reason. Many of the city’s buildings, locations and characters were used in Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels, which he began writing while he lived and worked in Ventura as a lawyer before earning literary fame as a mystery novelist. Some of these same locations were later copied for use in the Perry Mason radio show and television series, which starred Raymond Burr.

Erle Stanley Gardner walking tours, which take place two to three times annually, begin at Ventura’s architecturally stunning city hall, which in Gardner’s day was the county courthouse. Visitors see the courtroom where Gardner tried his most famous cases, such as Fairchild vs. Burnett in the 1920s. A stop is also made at the old sheriff’s office, which was featured prominently in Gardner’s “Case of the West Wing.”

The tour moves on to the former site of Gardner’s law office, which is now called the Perry Mason Building. The structure’s design was copied exactly by Hollywood set designers and was used prominently in the Perry Mason television series. It was in this office that Gardner chanced to encounter a “human fly” climbing the side of his building in the 1920s. This publicity stunt, dreamed up by a local hardware store, inspired Gardner’s science fiction character, “Sidney Speed-Dash, who was a detective, but also a fly. While not considered Gardner’s best work, this gave him the money he needed to pursue other goals.

Tour stops also include Gardner’s favorite lunch spot, the shoe store where he purchased his wing tips and the site of his first Ventura home. The tour will also focus on how Gardner became a writer and how he invented Perry Mason-“the world’s best-known lawyer.”

“Mr. Gardner patterned Mason upon his own life using many Ventura businesses and places, in fictionalized form, in his books,” said Richard Senate, Ventura’s unofficial historian and walking tour guide.

Senate adds that Gardner was also a great humanitarian and had an enormous impact on social issues in Ventura during the 15 years that he lived in the area from 1915 to 1917 and from 1921 to 1933. “Gardner was into legal reform and worked to free men who were falsely accused,” he said. “His novels were actually banned by the Nazis because of his stand for Chinese and Hispanic laborers of that day.” Senate adds that the Perry Mason novels did much to de-mythologize courtroom activity and the work of lawyers.

“He is the world’s best-selling author,” says Senate of Gardner’s 150 mystery novels, which influenced the work of Dashiell Hammett. Gardner’s works were translated into 37 languages and continue to be in print. Gardner died in 1970 at his ranch in Temecula.

“Salinas has Steinbeck and Sonoma has London,” said Senate. “Gardner’s Perry Mason is Ventura’s gift to the world.” For information on tour schedules, fees and locations, the public is invited to call the Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau at 800-333-2989, or the City of Ventura at 805-658-4726.

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Ghost Stalker/Author Leads Tours of “One of America’s Most Haunted Cities”

Beneath the surface of this charming California beach town lurk untold phantoms and restless spirits, according to ghost stalker extraordinaire Richard Senate. Now, the curious and skeptical alike are invited to join Senate for one of his many “ghost walk” tours, during which vintage inns, historic government buildings, city back streets and popular restaurants have their ghostly secrets exposed.

“I’ve come to believe that Ventura is one of the most haunted cities in America,” said Senate, coordinator for historical programming for the City of Ventura and a prolific author of titles such as Ghosts of the Haunted Coast, The Haunted Queen Mary and Haunted Hawaii.

Since beginning his research 22 years ago, Senate, has, in fact, recorded more than 800 separate ghost sightings amid Ventura’s historic, unsuspecting and sometimes infamous properties and attractions.

“Some of the sightings are related to happenings as far back as California’s Spanish occupation,” said Senate, citing Ventura’s Olivas Adobe, built in 1847, where a lady in black has been reportedly seen traipsing the grounds for decades. A sighting in 2000 testified that a middle-aged, dark-skinned woman appeared in the kitchen wearing a dark dress with a high collar, white apron and a wooden ladle in her hand. “Indeed, this place is one of the most authentic haunted places in California,” said Senate.

A building on Main Street that once housed the law offices of Ventura’s native son Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, is famed for more than the accomplishments of its prior tenant. One woman who later used the building for storage said she would hear an old-style typewriter tapping away late at night in an unoccupied office. Another man working in the building encountered a phantom party with big band music and people in 1930s-era dress sporting paper party hats and holding wine glasses. Still another building tenant reports a man in a grey suit, thin tie, with slicked hair and horn-rimmed glasses who passes by his offices at the same time every day.

Could any of these phenomena be linked to Mr. Gardner himself? “Dynamic people, driven to make their mark upon the world, do seem to come back in spirit form,” said Senate.

Even the Landmark 78, one of Ventura’s most respected dining establishments, is the site of the ghostly “Rosa,” who hung herself in the ladies restroom decades ago. While guests at the charming Italianate-style Bella Maggiore Inn report incidents in room 17, where the ghost of “Sylvia,” a woman of questionable reputation who once stayed at the inn ages ago, is known to climb into bed with people and leave the smell of cheap rosewater perfume in the air.

Singing phantoms are heard in the old choir loft of a local church that is now The Victorian Rose Bed & Breakfast Inn. And the historic Pierpont Inn has had many reports of a woman in an Edwardian-era satin dress with long white gloves. Sounds of rustling taffeta petticoats have been noted as well as a phantom party that is visible one minute and vanishes the next.

And just why is Ventura so haunted? “I find that places that have had lots of different cultures interacting tend to be more haunted,” said Senate, adding that through the years Ventura has been home to Chumash Indians, Chinese, Mexicans, Spaniards, Portuguese and others of European descent. He adds that places like Ventura that have a high concentration of artists also have a tendency to be haunted. “Creative minds lend themselves to ghosts,” said Senate. “Ventura is an interesting town with a unique heritage and definitely worth visiting.”

Ghost tours are scheduled in Ventura throughout the year. For more information on tour schedules, fees and locations, the public is invited to call The City of Ventura at 805-658-4726. For more information on historian Richard Senate, visit

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With Coastal Biking Trail, Surfing and More, Options for Outdoor Recreation Abound

Outdoor recreation for all ages and skill levels is especially rampant in this city between the mountains and the sea. Miles of uncrowded beaches offer an ideal spot to picnic, as well as coastal trail on which to Rollerblade, bike, jog or walk. Surfer’s Point, along San Buenaventura State Beach, is a renowned spot at which to catch waves, while biking enthusiasts also enjoy the Ventura River Trail, which links the Ventura coastline to the Ojai Bike Trail. The popular Ojai Valley Trail offers the visitor a scenic path that links Ventura’s Foster Park to downtown Ojai.

The Ventura River Trail features 12 miles (round trip) of asphalt trail, locally designed sculptural art, and mileage markers. The trail also links to other routes that lead to the coastline, downtown and through scenic mountain recreation areas. For those who choose not to bring their own bikes, several bicycle rental services provide beach cruisers, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, electric bikes, three wheelers (for children), surreys and quadracycles. Call Wheel Fun Rentals at (805) 650-7770 or Ventura Bike Depot, Inc. at (805) 340-BIKE, (805) 652-1114 .

For those who like golf, Ventura offers two public golf courses – the Buenaventura Golf Course and the Olivas Links. Miniature golf is also available at Golf ‘n Stuff, complete with two courses, bumper boats, racer cars and more.

Camping is available at Faria County Campground, Hobson County Campground and at Lake Casitas Recreation Area in Ojai. Lake Casitas, just 15 minutes from Ventura, is a haven for fisherman and also a great place to hike, ride bikes and camp. In addition, beach-side camping is also available at Emma Wood Beach Park, adjacent to Ventura.

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Historic Museums, Sights and Structures

Sometimes it’s tough to separate art and history. Picturesquely set along Main Street, Mission San Buenaventura is noted as Father Serra’s last masterpiece with its elegant courtyard, statues of saints and 250-year-old paintings. The mission museum, church sanctuary and peaceful grounds are inviting places through which to wander.

To locate more of Ventura’s intriguing historic and cultural offerings, visitors can pick up a Historic Walking Tour Map from the Visitor Information Center. This self-guided tour features attractions such as Mission San Buenaventura, historic adobes, museums of all types as well as Chinatown, murals, theaters and more. Guided walking tours are also popular here.

Ancient wonders and 3,500 years of history unfold at the Albinger Archaeological Museum where relics from Ventura’s Chumash Indian settlements, Spanish occupation and more evoke the community’s changing character. And just paces away, the J. Comstock Fire Museum is a tribute to heroic firefighters of ages past.

The Ortega Adobe is the birthplace of the famous Ortega Green Chilies and the last remaining original adobe of many that once lined Main Street in the 1800s. California Street is home to San Buenaventura City Hall, a neoclassical structure that overlooks city and sea from its picturesque perch.

Just a few miles from the heart of downtown is the must-see Olivas Adobe – an immaculately restored Spanish rancho estate known for its elegant grounds that often play host to special events. It’s also worthwhile to arrange a guided tour (Wednesday – Saturday) of Ventura’s historic craftsman-style Pierpont Inn & Museum. Built in 1910, this casually elegant inn features extensive grounds and regular special events. And if you happen to be in Ventura on the first Sunday of the month, take the time to tour downtown Ventura’s historic Dudley House. Admission is free, and the grand Victorian occasionally hosts teas, mystery plays and other events.

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