Dazzling sapphire waters dance along the 40-plus miles of sandy shores as the day’s warm temperatures make way for cool breezes and cotton-candy skies. Arriving at the salty borders of Ventura evokes butterfly-inducing levels of excitement while simultaneously creating a sense of ease that can only be found along the coastline. Unlike the beach towel–filled sands of Southern California or the popular surf towns of Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, the Central Coast city of Ventura welcomes a smaller number of visitors who actively seek out its invigorating waters. If a new adventure and a laid-back lifestyle tickle your fancy, pack up the car, hit the road, and prepare for all the day has in store.
While driving straight to the ocean and diving right into the crisp waters can be unbearably tempting, taking a drive down East Main Street and fueling up at Pete’s Breakfast House will make the rest of the day even more rewarding. Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in 2012, this joint knows how to do breakfast right. Using only fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, Pete’s serves up breakfast favorites all day long. Order the plate of house-made biscuits and gravy for some true comfort food that will keep you satiated; don’t miss out on the pancake roll, either, featuring yogurt, seasonal fruit, and granola—which is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
After filling up, head down to the Ventura Surf Shop to rent a surfboard to take out on the beautiful, temperate waters. Make sure you check out Surfers Point, less than half a mile away, to catch waves with the locals. Its location at the mouth of the Ventura River provides the unique opportunity to ride right-hand waves. These consistent swells also direct surfers toward the rustic Ventura Pier—one of the town’s best-known landmarks.
If the waves are too intimidating or if you want a slightly more secluded surfing experience, head north to Emma Wood State Beach, where the temperatures are moderate and the waters are perfect for swimming, riding waves, and fishing.
With an hour or two of surfing under your belt, head back to the Ventura Surf Shop to drop off your board, and then make your way toward the pier to soak up the sun and watch the nearby windsurfers show off their talents.
You haven’t really been to Ventura if you haven’t walked down Main Street and through Plaza Park. Stroll up Chestnut Street, through the park, and by the ornate city hall before arriving at the Ventura Botanical Gardens. The gardens feature 160-plus species, which are primarily from Mediterranean climates. You will also find pine and eucalyptus forests, sage, and a Chilean succulent garden throughout the lush expanse.
Once you’ve walked around the entirety of the gardens, continue on to Grant Park for some of the best views in town. From here, you will see panoramas of the Pacific Ocean glistening behind the buildings of downtown Ventura. Take some time to breathe in the fresh ocean air, stretch your muscles, and take photographs to capture the moment.
Head back to the car and get ready for a nice lunch along the coast. Drive over to The Jolly Oyster Shuck Shack to savor the fresh oysters and clams that make up the local cuisine. The Jolly Oyster is a small, family-owned business dedicated to serving high-quality, organic seafood and to preserving the planet. Start off with a dozen grilled oysters so you don’t have to choose between the habanero butter oysters (accented with lime, cilantro, and garlic) and the Creole oysters (topped with Cajun spices, sage, green onion, and garlic). Continue the flavor journey with the bay scallop ceviche to experience the bright palette of lime juice, red onions, cilantro, and serrano peppers—with the organic chips acting as a much-needed textural companion. Wash it all down with coconut water for a punch of hydration and a tropical kick that will have you floating on the Pacific.
With a better understanding of the local fishing culture and cuisine, drive over to Ventura Harbor for some fun in the sun. Stop by Ventura Boat Rentals to pick up a paddleboard, pedal boat, or a kayak so you can start exploring the boats, docks, and open waters that border the town’s shoreline. Check out the vast array of bird species that call Ventura home, and you might even be able to spot some whales or other marine life, if you’re lucky.
As the day begins to cool down, head inland to explore the charming eateries and boutiques of East Main Street. You can also see the Mission San Buenaventura, catch a show at the Rubicon Theatre, or wander around the Museum of Ventura County. Sauntering around Ventura’s attractions truly allows you to take in all the town has to offer; from the stunning scenery, to the wide-open water, to the plethora of entertaining activities, it is clear why people choose to call the town home.
In full denial that an entire day has flown by, go to Lure Fish House to drown these woes in succulent seafood. Start off with the creamy spinach and artichoke dip, made extra special by the delectable lobster perched on top. After devouring every last bite, move on to the seafood masterpiece: the Lure cioppino. This dish is a medley of all the good things from the sea—fresh fish mingles with gulf shrimp, clams, mussels, and scallops—while the fire roasted–tomato broth nods to the land-dwellers and the plethora of produce grown in California. (Add on the local brussels sprouts to experience a zing that will clear your palate between bites.) Finish off the meal with the rich flourless chocolate cake served with vanilla-bean ice cream, drizzled with house-made salted caramel, and sprinkled with organic cacao nibs for an ending you will not soon forget.
As the day comes to a close, you may start to entirely rethink your original plans. Should you choose to follow your impulses, head inland to Lake Casitas Recreation Area to spend the night along the waters, rent a canoe in the morning, and ponder becoming a permanent Ventura resident.