Ventura, California may be the West Coast’s best-kept secret… “exactly where is Ventura, California?” you may be asking. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful Topatopa Mountains about 65 miles north of Los Angeles and 25 miles south of Santa Barbara, Ventura is one of the most beautiful little beach towns you’ve always wanted to live in.
Returning home to Ventura after almost a year’s absence, I’m rediscovering its natural beauty and charm. Originally called San Buenaventura, the “city of good fortune,” Ventura’s welcoming community vibe, perfect weather, spectacular sunsets, and eclectic downtown are just a few reasons why it’s such a great place to live and visit. Find it off the Seaward exit along the 101 freeway. Or hop aboard Amtrak and alight at the beachfront Ventura County Fairgrounds stop. This is the perfect starting point to explore this iconic gem like a local.
Stroll the Beachfront
Stroll down Figueroa Street to Surfer’s Point, a popular (and dog-friendly!) spot for surfing, windsurfing, beachcombing, and driftwood sculpture-building. Walk along the sandy beach, on the landscaped promenade, or use Omer Rains Coastal Bike Trail to reach Ventura Pier. Stop at the Crown Plaza Hotel, a great place to stay or just enjoy a cocktail (or two) on its beachfront outdoor patio. At the pier, nosh on tacos at Beach Front Tacos for fresh-caught seafood. Be sure to go upstairs to the MadeWest Brewery to sip local brews on the outdoor patio overlooking the ocean.
The historic Pierpont Inn at 550 Sanjon Road is another favorite beachfront lodging choice located near the pier. And Inn on the Beach at 1175 S. Seaward Avenue is literally on the sand at Pierpont Beach. This quaint little neighborhood is dotted with vintage cottages and newly designed, unique beach bungalows. At Pierpont, you can find food for all palates. Try Sushi House (get the Avocado Bomb!), Duke’s for seafood, Spasso Cucino Italiano, Lucky Thai Cuisine, and Social Tap, a local hangout with a bar and big screens, plus indoor and outdoor seating options.
Check Out Ventura Harbor Village and Pierpont Beach
Hit the less-crowded beaches at Pierpont to hunt for multi-colored sea glass in the winter months. Take in sunsets year-round, swim, walk, and soak up the sun. From Marina Park at the end of Pierpont Boulevard, watch the ships coming in and out of the harbor. This is another must-see destination in Ventura. Visit Ventura Harbor Village at 1583 Spinnaker Drive to rent a swan or dragon pedal boat, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards, or take a whale-watching adventure with Island Packers. Sunset cruises and trips to Channel Islands National Park and Visitor Center—known as North America’s Galapagos—are fun for the whole family (don’t forget the Dramamine).
The harbor also boasts great eateries like The Greek Mediterranean Steak & Seafood, where you can catch lively Greek-style entertainment, Brophy Bros. Clam Bar and Restaurant, and the Sugar Lab Bake Shop, to name a few. Check out the Ventura Pottery Gallery to admire the work of local artists.
The Heart of Ventura
Next stop—the heart of Ventura. Downtown Ventura encompasses the Mission Historic District, stretching from Poli Street to the north to Santa Clara Street to the south, and from Ventura Avenue on the west to Palm Street on the east. The oldest section of Ventura’s downtown area includes 10 historic landmarks. From the striking Mayan Revival-style Center for Spiritual Living building to the Spanish Revival Mission Basilica San Buenaventura and late Victorian-style homes, Ventura’s unique architecture and numerous historical landmarks pay homage to its rich history.
The impressive Ventura City Hall with its gleaming terra cotta exterior, copper-sheathed dome, and Italian marble interior sits on Poli Street at the edge of downtown. Walk behind the building to discover the Ventura Botanical Gardens. The meandering trails wind through the 107 acres of gardens representing the five Mediterranean climate zones of the world. This dog-friendly trail rewards with breathtaking views of the California coast, the Channel Islands, and Ojai’s Topatopa peak.
Wind your way to the summit and definitely take a rest along the way at one of the many benches, where inspirational quotes are carved in marble. At the top, head west to the cross at Grant Park. “You can feel the spirits,” the locals say… and the 360-degree views of the ocean and Ojai Valley are not to be missed. This is a great local favorite spot to watch the sunset, as well as for weddings and Sunday morning yoga.
Head Downtown to Shop
Heading back downtown offers an array of shopping, dining, drinking, and entertainment. This area is walking only, so there’s plenty of room to stroll up and down the buzzing Main Street.
Find a vintage treasure at one of the many thrift stores, buy some local art, or score a unique memento at Passport Habits or Copperfield’s. The clothes at Goldie’s on Main are fashionable and affordable! Stop at Buffalo Exchange for unique consignment offerings, and Hula Girl for casual elegant style. Betty Belts has one-of-a-kind sea glass jewelry, and Ema’s Herbs offers quick health consults—just put up your feet to get an analysis from the in-house homeopath and grab some herbs to boost your health. Stop in The Refill Shoppe for sustainable options for liquid products from shampoo to laundry detergent and choose your custom scents. Spice-Topia is the place for spices, teas, rubs, and kitchen supplies.
Grab a Brew and a Bite to Eat
My favorite place to grab a craft beer on Main Street is Fluid State Beer Garden, complete with tasty wood-fired specialty pizza (clams, honey, ricotta? Yes!) rotating beers and ciders, and the best hair-of-the-dog margaritas. Lucky for Ventura locals, we have 365 days a year to try the city’s many award-winning breweries and restaurants.
A few more local faves include Topa Topa Brewing Co., Ventura Coast Brewing Co., Transmission Brewery (check out their rooftop seating), and Leashless Brewing for all organic beers and live music. At Barrelhouse 101—with 101 different taps—everyone can find something they like.
Irish coffee? Dargan’s Irish Pub has it. For amazing cocktails and Brazilian-inspired dishes, go to Rumfish y Vino. Get a meaty burger or steak at Winchesters Grill and Saloon, and for traditional Italian, try Capriccio. Check out Paradise Pantry’s artisan market. Try their curated cheese and wine selections. Visit Peirano’s Deli for family-style dining in or to-go fare.
Enjoy Some Live Music
While strolling through downtown, check out the historic and huge fig tree on the corner of Chestnut and Santa Clara. And catch a concert at Ventura Theater—a beautifully preserved and restored architectural Spanish colonial gem built in 1928. In Ventura, live music can be found almost nightly. Café Fiore (another place for great Italian food), Ventura Music Hall, Bombay Bar and Grill, Tony’s Pizza, The Six Chow House, and many others on Main Street and throughout town offer live music. Check out the listings in the VC Reporter—which you can find free around town or at The Ventura Visitors Center. It’s a great resource for all things Ventura—and cute stickers and shirts too.
A few more area restaurants locals love in Ventura include The Blue Agave, Casa de Soria, and Spencer Makenzie’s for their “world-famous fish tacos.”
Browse a Museum or Farmer’s Market
The Ventura Farmers’ Market is the place to find local fresh food, produce, and unique offerings on Sundays downtown. It’s also open on Wednesdays at the Pacific View Mall. I love Wild at Heart’s beet kvass and fresh fish from Santa Barbara Channel Seafood Company to start. Then there are fresh juices, tamales, Mediterranean dishes, sweets, and specialty foods, fruits, and vegetables of all kinds. The Farmers’ Market is the best place to find healthy food, support locals, and mingle with the friendly community. Talented musicians at the market sing and strum, reminiscent of European street performers.
For even more local treasures, visit the Museum of Ventura County with its unique exhibits and special events. Pop into the original Patagonia store, opened in 1972. The quaint shop in a remodeled building from the 1920s is fun to visit for great deals and the newest Patagonia outdoor clothing and gear. The last but not least local special spot is the House of Stone. Art lovers must walk through their outdoor patio where giant statues and flowing fountains inspire dreams. Inside, Art Deco sinks and tiles, marble pieces, furniture, and whimsical, artistic creations wow the senses.
With so much to see in Ventura, you’ll want to explore this iconic surf town again and again. Or, perhaps even make it your home sweet home.
Interested in learning about other beautiful beach towns to visit? Check out this guide to planning the perfect stay in Puerto Vallarta resorts next.