When you exit California Highway 101 to Ventura County West in Southern California you’re going to find seaside adventures you might not expect. Beyond the beautiful beaches, there is also music, wine and beer tasting, fascinating museums and inspiring offshore explorations waiting for you. So bring your bathing suit and flip flops, but save some time for the “other” Ventura experience in the west part of the county.
Ventura County West is comprised of three different cities, Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura. Together they offer everything from whale watching, wine and craft beer tasting, hiking in Channel Islands National Park, championship golf – including foot golf, premium outlets shopping, and one of the best year-round climates in the U.S. There’s plenty to do here. Plan on spending two to three days. This is California coastal value at its best.
On my recent three day stay I rediscovered what makes this slightly quirky, somewhat sophisticated, but always charming area a great place to relax with family and friends. The good thing about this particular community is that it is ever changing. What you saw last year is probably even better this year, and what you most enjoy about a seaside escape is now probably waiting for you. By-the-way it’s also a totally suitable place to go solo. The weather is so mild here, you could book your reservations any time of year. My suggestion is late spring or early fall when the crowds are less evident.
Here’s my top suggestions for some unique coastline fun.
Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort is a great mid-priced place to stay. Pretty much whatever you’re looking to do –or not do- can be found here. The all-suite property offers a variety of rooms, some with spectacular oceanfront views. My suggestion is to reserve one of the view rooms on the top floor. Internet is available for an additional cost.
Spend your entire vacay relaxing on the beach or sipping your favorite drink poolside. The grounds are beautiful and the beach is literally steps away. Take advantage of the Spa offerings or rent a bike and peddle off some the amazing food from the on-property Coastal Grill. The bar is people friendly. Hook up with friends or find some new ones.
Surprisingly, this is the perfect place for parents and grandparents to connect with extended family. This place offers some quality children- focused activities. A large pool and spa will keep the kids entertained for hours. Burgers and soft drinks poolside complete the daily fun. Movie night is next to the pool. Grab a lounge chair and relax or take a dip while watching some great flicks.
Completing the picture is a tasty morning buffet. Check to see if your room reservation includes this benefit. Made to order omelets, yummy pastries, a choice of proteins, yogurt, cereal and more make this wake up call a pleasure to attend.
When was the last time you went to the symphony while on vacation? The New West Symphony (Oxnard Performing Arts Center) is just a short couple of miles away. Founded in 1995, this professional orchestra draws its players from professional Los Angeles-area musicians. Led by music director Marcelo Lehninger, the Symphony is the resident company of the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, and Barnum Hall in Santa Monica. It presents six Masterpiece Series concerts annually, performing major works from the symphonic repertoire with internationally-acclaimed artists as guest soloists. Call ahead to see what might be offered. Not to worry – this non-stuffy gem welcomes you just as you are. You will find an array of dress and attitude. And with tickets starting as low as $29.00, there’s a seat with your name on it. Plenty of parking.
Wine and Beer Tasting
I highly recommend you spend some quality time at Anacapa Brewing Company for some serious craft beer tasting, and at Rancho Ventavo Cellars for some premium wine tasting. Both are just a few minutes by car or taxi. Anacapa is a family run business. You’ll find big bold comfort foot right alongside some of the best craft beers in America like Pissy Pelican Pale Ale, Seaward Golden Ale, Benyhana Espresso Stout, ‘Tis the Seasonator, Santa Rosa Red, Pierpont IPA. Affordable, casual and fun.
Rancho Ventavo Cellars is another family owned operation featuring some fruit forward wines that will definitely get your attention. Their signature reds wines are bold. Relaxed friendly tasting room atmosphere. Owners Faye Hawes and George Gilpatrick are dedicated to producing handcrafted, small lot, artisan wines from select vineyards across California. If you enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Syrah, this is the place for you.
Just steps from Rancho Ventavo Cellars find La Dolce Vita restaurant. Michelle Kenney, owner and executive chef rocks a sophisticated but comfortable Italian menu in Heritage Square. Portions are generous and delicious. You will not be disappointed. Farm to table dinners, wine maker dinners and cooking classes are also available. Check their website to see what’s up. Music and a full bar complete the picture. Try the spicy Jumbo Gulf Shrimp Cocktail, Linguini a la Bolognese and the Eggplant Parmesan.
Ventura County West has several museums, but two, The Mullin Automotive Museum and the Commemorative Air Force Museum stand out for me. The sleek and sassy Mullin Automotive Museum is a privately owned automobile museum established in 2010. It displays the personal car collection of businessman and philanthropist Peter Mullin. The museum has a large collection of vintage Bugattis. Many of the cars displayed are fully restored and able to be driven. The 50,000 square foot building has been remodeled to be more energy efficient, making use of solar panels and reflective roofing to reduce heat, yet incorporating elements that retain the Art Deco style and motifs in order to match the era of the cars, many of which were made in the 1920’s and ’30s. This is fun for both the gals and guys.
The Commemorative Air Force Museum is a walk down memory lane. World War II commemorative aircraft is on display near Camarillo Airport daily from 10 am to 4 pm. You can tour on your own or call ahead and reserve a docent lead tour. The docent lead tours are really the ticket to understanding what is there, how it got there and what part it played in American history. Sometimes touching, ever changing, always inspiring …take your time to do the entire tour. Allow at least 90 minutes. No ticket price, just a donation is requested.
Off Shore Fun
Gray Whale watching (December – April) is a big deal for both locals and tourists. Island packers in Ventura Harbor makes it easy. A three hour cruise in the Southern California waters of the Santa Barbara Channel fly by. The waters are known for their marine mammal diversity. Most times you will also see other species of marine mammals along with the migrating Gray Whales. Seals, Sea Lions and several species of Dolphins along with occasional Orca Whale pods. The captains have many years of experience sighting whales on the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel, narrating and informing guests about all the varieties or marine mammals seen during the cruise.
Gray Whale watching is a winter event so dress in layers of warm clothing, and wear comfortable flat shoes. Bring along your camera and binoculars for added viewing options. There is both inside and outside viewing options available as well as snacks and beverages. About $27-$37. Blue & Humpback Whale Watching run June through mid-September. Call for days, times and prices.