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 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.
Featured Photo: Pamela Heckle via Unsplash
Day 1: Hit the Wine Trail
Only about an hour north of Los Angeles, Ventura County is closer than most other California wine regions and offers its own unique vibe. If you want to leave the driving to someone else during your wine tasting adventure, private wine tours are available through the Visit Oxnard with advanced reservations.
A little out of the way, up Route 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. 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.
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 is always fresh. Check out the mural on the wall and see if you can name all the people painted in the picture.
To burn off breakfast calories choose between hiking up to beautiful Grant Park in Ventura (it offers a great view of the ocean and coast), walking along one of Ventura’s many beaches, or exploring one of the area’s historic sites like Olivas Adobe or the San Buenaventura Mission.
When evening falls, head to The Majestic Ventura Theater. The venue 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.
Day 3: Explore the Coast
The nearby 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).
Tooling around by bicycle is another worthy pursuit in Ventura. Bike rentals are available on Main Street 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 paddle boats and kayaks from Wheel Fun for a leisurely tour around the harbor.
At sunset, stroll Ventura Harbor Village to The Greek for the finest Mediterranean food. Afterward, 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. 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. 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, or you can attempt to conquer the Camarillo Premium Outlets. 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. The weather is near perfect year-round — not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter — so come visit anytime.