If you want to visit Ventura County Like a Local, this travel guide is for you. Are you visiting the Ventura County Coast for the first time? Below is a list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do in Ventura County.
An hour north of Los Angeles, California, Ventura County Coast is an outdoor lovers dream. From kayaking and snorkeling the Channel Islands to thrift stores and museums, there’s plenty to do here.
How to visit Ventura County like a local
First of all, what I discovered about the city of Ventura is that the local residents support local businesses. Downtown Main Street is lined with thrift stores, restaurants and museums. Chain stores like Urban Outfitters do not thrive here. Places like Lure Fish House and Paradise Pantry were filled with locals. For more on Ventura County Like a local see my restaurant recommendations below.
I met a friendly couple at one of the diners we visited and they beamed with enthusiasm for Ventura. Bettina Behal and her husband, Doug Lindebaum, both grew up in Ventura and love living in this coastal community. “It offers a small town feel with access to culture and great food. Ventura is a great place to raise kids.”
Doug Lindebaum added, “We are within an hour and a half to the mountains where you can snow ski.”
“Ventura is a great place to raise kids.” Bettina Behal Ventura local.
Channels Islands National Park
Second, when I have a visitor from out of town, the place they want to see is Channel Islands National Park. I also take them to Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard for another local, authentic experience. Besides those two places there are plenty of other options to visit. Therefore, when I want to escape the tourists, my favorite place to visit is Mandalay Beach in Oxnard.
If this is a romantic trip, I recommend the historic Ventura Pier for kissing with a view. Traveling with your pet? The best place to walk the dog is Ventura Harbor Village.
Ventura County Coast Cuisine
If you like California cuisine, I recommend Lure Fish House and Paradise Pantry in downtown Ventura. Locally owned Paradise Pantry has an amazing cheese shop next door to the restaurant and a wonderful happy hour with plenty of local California wines and a farm to table menu. If the Pantry S’more on graham cookie with milk chocolate and homemade marshmallow is on the dessert menu, order it. I think this S’more is one of the best around.
While restaurants come and go, these have a long shelf life. If you visit Ventura County like a local, the best place to go for coffee & a breakfast treat is Portola Coffee in Downtown Ventura and Waypoint Cafe in Camarillo. The Waypoint is tucked in the back corner at Camarillo Airport and is filled with Ventura Coast locals. They serve a cinnamon roll the size of a small airplane!
Looking for cheap food in Ventura County, go to Spencer-Mackenzie’s for fish tacos. For an expensive, yet quality meal, go to Lure Fish House in Ventura. After dinner, walk along the Ventura Boardwalk. Take that Instagram-worthy sunset picture to remind you of your ultimate beach vacation.
Ventura Coast wildlife
Seeing a lot of dolphins? Ventura County Coast is well known for their water wildlife. Bird lovers will find plenty of bird watching opportunities. While driving the Pacific Coast Highway, I spotted the Yellow Crown Night Heron.
Here’s an idea how to visit Ventura County like a local. Get your picture taken at the beach – especially during sunset. The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Scorpion Island cliffs. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll have plenty of things to see and do on the Southern California coast. Hike Arroyo Verde, bike Ventura boardwalk, or try water activities. Swim and surf the beaches. Go kayaking or rent SUP and peddle boats at Ventura Boat Rentals in Ventura Harbor Village.
Ventura County Coast Museums
Let’s be honest; not everyone wants to visit a museum when they are on a beach vacation. However, the Museum of Ventura County and Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (aka Bird Museum) are worth a stop. The Channel Islands Maritime Museum in Oxnard and Mission San Buenaventura are also worthwhile.
The Museum of Ventura County represents the changing face of Ventura County Coast. I love the Artist in Residence program. Check out Ryan Carr’s mural in the courtyard. See if you can spot the tile mural of Ventura County when you visit.
The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology is for bird watchers and school kids will love this museum. The museum is open by appointment with two tours offered monthly. Take the self-guided walk-in tour. The live mounts (taxidermy) give visitors a chance to see an amazing amount of birds up close. Be sure to see the Elephant bird egg. It’s huge compared to the tiny humming bird eggs on display. Ask about the Condor cam, too.
“This is an awesome place to visit,” says Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology Collections Manager Rene Corado. “I started here as a gardener 35 years ago. Now I’m educating the public about birds and their habitat.”
Another museum that captured my attention was the Channel Islands Maritime Museum. After visiting the Channel Islands National Park, I wrongly assumed that Channel Islands Maritime Museum was about the Channel Islands. The museum is a way to experience art that sails. Visitors take a visual journey through history via the extensive collection of art and model ships displayed within its walls. Located in the beautiful Channel Islands Harbor, the museum features 5 centuries of maritime art that rivals European collections. A docent guides you through the collection, including a wide variety of historic ship models. Traveling with children? Head to the second floor of the museum for more educational exhibits and a wonderful resource library.
Museums are educational excursions. If you are traveling with kids, visit Ventura County like a local at Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme. The second oldest Navy museum in the Naval History and Heritage Command System, it is a STEM Champion.
Things to do in Ventura County
Finally, you can tell a lot about the Ventura County Coast while whale watching with Island Packers. Whether you kayak, snorkel or walk Santa Rosa Island, Island Packers will take you there. Once docked on island, we joined Channel Islands Adventure Company on a Sea Cave Kayak Tour. I’ll share more about visiting the Channel Islands in another article.
I also enjoyed the Ventura County Coast for its ingredient-driven dining with over 125,000 acres of farms, orchards and vineyards. Fruit stands are abundant on the back roads here.
- In May attend the Oxnard Strawberry Festival.
- During summer check out Surf Rodeo, Salsa Festival or the Camarillo Air Show.
- If you are visiting in August, spend a day at the Ventura County Fair. This family-friendly fair has been a Ventura coast tradition since 1875.
- In the fall, go to Farm Day in November and come to Ventura County for harbor lights in the winter.
- Just outside of Ventura County, there are plenty of things to do in the OC aka Orange County and Santa Barbara, California is nearby.
Insider Tips: Check out the often over-looked Port Hueneme State Beach in Ventura County. The pier and beach are pristine and quiet. The port receives a lot of cars and bananas. How do I know this to be true? Port Hueneme hosts the annual Banana Festival every year in September. Looking for exciting night life? Go dancing at The Majestic Ventura Theater for live music. For something completely different, try Footgolf at River Ridge Club in Oxnard. If you read the newspaper, the Ventura County Star will keep you posted on what’s happening in Ventura County. For additional insider tips follow @Nancydbrown on Instagram and Twitter and @visitvccoast on Instagram.
If You Go
Want to take this trip? I drove from the San Francisco Bay Area. Many airlines fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) It’s an easy flight from San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK). I stayed at Four Points Sheraton Ventura Harbor as it was situated in an ideal location for the area. To learn more about how to Visit Ventura County Like a Local go here. Ventura County Coast, https://www.venturacountycoast.com, hosted me while researching Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura and Channel Islands National Park stories.
Visit Ventura County Like a Local article and all photography by Travel Blogger Nancy D. Brown.