WRITTEN BY Alejandra Saragoza
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
Situated just south of Santa Barbara, Ventura County is a picturesque region with exceptional weather for most of the year. It’s also one of the state’s leading agricultural producers; in fact, when combined with the Los Padres National Forest, the fertile valleys at the southern end comprise half of the county’s 1.2 million acres. But what makes the area more special are its miles of pristine coastline and string of delightful, laid-back towns. From the charming village of Ojai to the bustling hub of Ventura, plenty of entertainment awaits in this SoCal destination.
Oxnard is the most populous city in the county and offers an array of activities. Surf at the local favorite Silver Strand State Beach, go for a sunset stroll at Mandalay State Beach, bike or pedal along a coastal trail, or take a day trip to the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary—merely a 90-minute boat ride from the local harbor—for hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling. There’s also plenty to enjoy in the bustling downtown area, which features an impressive assortment of dining options for every palate (make sure to try the famous Oxnard strawberries while you’re there), plus an art museum, galleries, and eclectic shops.
A few miles north of Oxnard, Ventura is another vibrant city boasting cultural attractions, a booming farm-to-table dining scene, and both oceanfront and mountain recreation. Located in the foothills of Ventura, the Los Padres National Forest is a must-see for visitors seeking outdoor adventure, as the expansive forest provides opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and hunting. Beachgoers, meanwhile, can find fun in the sun at Ventura Harbor, which features such activities as stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, sunset cruises, and whale watching. In addition, Ventura Harbor Village enables visitors to shop local, eat freshly caught seafood, and admire artwork at studios and galleries. Ventura’s historic downtown is also worth checking out for its cultural landmarks, including the San Buenaventura Mission and the Museum of Ventura County.
But the small town of Ojai is the place for those in need of a truly relaxing and quiet escape. Set beneath the Topatopa Mountains, this haven features plush accommodations; luxe spas; uncrowded hiking and biking pathways; a scenic lake; and quaint shops selling everything from locally made olive oil, to trendy fashions, to handcrafted furniture. There’s even a handful of wine-tasting rooms for vino aficionados. (Oenophiles may also enjoy partaking in the Ventura County Wine Trail, dotted with nearly 20 wineries and urban tasting rooms.)
But there are many more attractions to see throughout Ventura County, including Point Mugu State Park, Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, Chumash Indian Museum, Boney Peak, and Corriganville Park. Regardless of where you go in the region, you’ll discover a rich, natural landscape, a thriving cultural scene, and seaside escapades.
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