I remember as a kid driving north through Ventura County with my parents and seeing nothing but fields and farmland. Coming from L.A., I might as well have been on another planet. But times they are a changin’ and now the county’s three cities—Camarillo, Oxnard, and Ventura, otherwise known as Ventura County Coast—have become popular destinations for a California vacation. And with so much of land devoted to farming, Ventura County is home to a wide range of up-and-coming wineries and restaurants. Here’s what I recommend for first-timers wanting to get a flavor of the region.
Day 1: Hit the Wine Trail
Only about an hour north from Los Angeles, Ventura County is closer than most other California wine regions and offers its own unique vibe. The area has more than 15 wineries with pouring rooms located on what has become known as the Ventura County Wine Trail.
I suggest starting in Camarillo with a stop at the Bella Victorian Tasting Room & Bistro in Old Town Camarillo. Owners Jerry and Kimberly Monahan’s vineyards in Camarillo are growing Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, and Viognier grapes. The tasting room at the Bistro gives you a chance to pair wines with the chef’s “farm to table” menu. A little further into Camarillo is Cantara Cellars, a bustling place that comes alive on the weekends with a cozy area for tasting its award-winning wines.
A little out of the way, up the 33 on the way to Ojai, is Old Creek Ranch Winery. Its winemaking history dates back to the late 1800s and the vineyard even produced wine during Prohibition. Old Creek’s acres of ranch land, fruit trees, and grape vines make it a perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch and a glass or two of vino.
If you want to leave the driving to someone else during your wine tasting adventure, private wine tours are available through the California Visitors Center in Oxnard and the Ventura Visitors Center with advanced reservations.
After dinner, check into your ocean or mountain view guestroom at the Crown Plaza Ventura, the only hotel on the beach and just two blocks from historic downtown Ventura.
Day 2: A Little History and Lots of Great Food
Spend a morning enjoying breakfast at Pete’s Breakfast House in Ventura. The small restaurant is owned by two British ex-pats who love cooking up American breakfasts and lunches. Featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives,” the place is always crowded and the food always fresh. Check out the mural on the wall and see if you can name all the people painted into the picture.
To burn off some of those breakfast calories you can choose between hiking up to beautiful Grant Park in Ventura (it offers a great view of the ocean and coast), strolling along one of the many beaches, or exploring one of the area’s historic sites like Olivas Adobe or the San Buenaventura Mission.
In the evening, if you’re looking for some casual elegance, dine at the The SideCar Restaurant in Ventura. The restaurant is in a fully restored 1910 Pullman dining car. Executive chef and owner Tim Kiloyne grew up on his family’s ranch in Antelope Valley, leading him to develop a taste for simple cuisine created from locally grown products. Many of his signature dishes feature ingredients sourced from nearby Underwood Family Farms, McGrath Family Farms, and Watkins Cattle Ranch.
Not ready to call it a night? Amazing music from local, national, and international musicians awaits at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura. From acoustical to rock, check Zoey’s online calendar for what’s playing. The Majestic Ventura Theater is another hot venue. It features well-known artists as well as local bands. Musical offerings at this 1920s mission style theater include everything from alternative rock, reggae, classic rock, metal, and blues to country, jazz, Latin, and more. Check ahead to see who’s headlining.
Day 3: Explore the Coast
For those who love the outdoors as I do, the Channel Islands are definitely worth visiting. Just 11 miles offshore, yet worlds away, the Channel Islands National Park is a perfect place for anyone who enjoys hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking. Or you can just breathe in the fresh ocean air. Pop a Dramamine and sign up for an excursion through Island Packers out of either Ventura Harbor or Channel Islands Harbor (Oxnard). Depending on the season, plan a whale-watching trip (gray whales in winter, blue whales and humpbacks in summer).
Bike rentals are available on Main St. in Ventura at Ventura Bike Depot and near area beach hotels at Wheel Fun Rentals (locations in Oxnard and Ventura). Start your bicycle adventure at the mouth of the Ventura River and head south. You’ll pass the Ventura County Fair Grounds and a bird sanctuary while taking in magnificent ocean views. You can also rent paddleboats and kayaks from Wheel Fun for a leisurely tour around the harbor.
At sunset, enjoy a stroll along Ventura Harbor Village to the Greek at the Harbor for the finest Mediterranean food. Weekends feature live music, belly dancing, and waiters who have absolutely no problem dancing while holding a table in their teeth. Afterwards, catch standup routines at the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club. You’ll see up-and-comers as well as veteran comedians. It’s an intimate setting, so don’t be surprised if a comedian singles you out for some laughs (as they did my husband). Just take it in stride.
Day 4: Hit the Links…Or Go On A Shopping Spree
If you’re into golf, the area offers five great public golf courses with spectacular ocean and mountain views without long wait times or high green fees. In Camarillo, choose from Sterling Hills in Camarillo, an 18-hole championship course surrounded by lush avocado and citrus groves, and Camarillo Springs at the base of Conejo Mountain just off the 101 freeway. Designed by Ted Robinson, its views include towering rock formations and gentle natural springs.
In Oxnard, try one of two beautiful courses at River Ridge. The Vineyard offers panoramic ocean views while Victoria Lakes boasts beautiful water features, bent/poa grass greens and Greg Norman hybrid Bermuda tees and fairways.
Ventura has Olivas Links. Voted the “Best Municipal Golf Course in the Nation” for the last three years by Golf Week, this 6,818-yard course features a rolling links-style layout defined by seaside grasses and natural habitat. The adjoining course, Buenaventura, is a step back in time with classic 1930s-era shapes and designs.
If shopping is more your thing, check out the over 20 antique stores in and around Main Street in Ventura. There are lots of great finds without high prices, and plenty of art and photography on display as well. Or, you can attempt to conquer the Camarillo Premium Outlets. It actually spans three centers. I suggest that you download a map of the place from its website and plan your shopping strategy from there. It’s so big, a lot of shoppers make it a several day event. You’ll find great savings at stores such as Barneys New York, Coach, Giorgio Armani, Kenneth Cole & Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, and Tommy Hilfiger.
There are lots more things to see and do in the area if you have the time—car and air museums, historic downtowns, farmers markets, plus art, music, and food festivals. Of course, you can always just relax and enjoy the ocean and surrounding mountains. A visit anytime is fine, the weather is near perfect year round—not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter. Now that’s my idea of an ideal local getaway!
For more inspiring things to do and explore in Camarillo, Oxnard, and Ventura, including where to stay, log onto the official Ventura County website by clicking here.
And for more insider tips on California activities and tours, California vacation spots, California tourist attractions, California vacation packages, and California inns, B&Bs, lodges, hotels, and restaurants, explore LocalGetaways.com, where you’ll always find best California travel deals.