Ventura - California

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Ventura - By the Sea

Located 30 minutes south of Santa Barbara and 60 minutes north of Los Angeles, Ventura is a seaside community with much to offer in the way of outdoor adventure and local sightseeing.

Offshore are the Channel Islands, which are now a distinctive national park with an emphasis on marine life and island ecosystems. In the city are a number of historic buildings from the early Spanish and Mexican periods. To the east of town is Los Padres National Forest, which covers the Coast Mountain Range.

One advantage of using Ventura as a base for travel in the area is its lower cost for visitors compared to Santa Barbara and the L.A. area. Motels and hotels are more basic and inexpensive although the beaches and other shoreline attractions are just as good as those in Santa Barbara. There is also a good selection of campgrounds and RV parks.

What to See & Do

Channel Islands National Park

Lying west of Ventura, five of the eight islands in the Channel archipelago are included in the national park and the surrounding National Marine Sanctuary. The islands were not always as protected as they have been since 1980 when the park was created by an act of Congress.

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Chumash Indians lived in settlements on the northern islands. Then, Spanish and English explorers visited the islands and Russian fur traders hunted the valuable sea otter&emdash;almost to extinction. By the mid-1800s, ranches had been established and in the 1900s, the U.S. Navy used the islands for coastal defense.

Now the five islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara) offer nature lovers a unique outdoor experience -- hiking across the islands and exploring the tidepools at low tide. Six nautical miles of sea surrounding each island have been designated as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. While settlers introduced foreign plant and animal species to the islands which has caused concern to environmentalists, there remain many plants which are unique to the archipelago and offer a unique experience.

Sea life to be seen includes giant squid, blue rockfish, Gorgonian (soft) coral, bat star and ocre star. Plants include kelp, sea palms and sea lettuce among many other tidal varieties of plant and animal life. Larger animals to be seen on or around the islands include harbor seal, the gray whale, Pacific (white-sided) dolphin, California brown pelican, cormorants, northern elephant seal, northern fur seal and the Steller sea lion. Plant life covering the rocky islands is similarly varied.

An essential stop before traveling to the islands is the national park visitor center which is located at the end of the Ventura Harbor breakwater. Drive south along Harbor Blvd. and follow the signs past the harbor facilities to the tip of the spit. The center includes an information desk, bookstore and island displays including a fascinating demonstration tidal pool filled with fish, starfish and other island denizens.

There are several ways to get to the islands of the national park. The most popular transportation is via Island Packers ships which depart from docks next to the park visitor center. Travel packages include cruises to different islands in the park lasting from a half day to two days. Overnight cruises include stateroom accommodations with all meals provided. Winter cruises (December through March) include whale-watching as a bonus. For reservations and information, call (805) 642-1393. For recorded information, phone (805) 642-7688. For those in a hurry, flights to the islands are available.

Ventura Harbor

Not only is there a working harbor, but the harbor area has several attractions including Ventura Harbor Village. This complex of stores, marinas and restaurants is located on Spinnaker Drive, off Harbor Blvd. You'll pass it on the drive to the park information center. Included are 15 restaurants serving everything from fresh seafood to burgers, Mexican, Greek and French cuisine. Harbor cruises are available, as are scuba diving services, fishing charters, a grocery store, clothing boutiques, souvenir shops, live theater and a comedy club.

Downtown Attractions

The most notable historic building (among several) is the Olivas Adobe, the restored 1847 hacienda of Raymundo Olivas who was a farmer and community leader in the rancho period. Located at 4200 Olivas Park Drive, this large two-story structure is now an historical park, with 100-year old fuscias and an even older grape vine. The house is furnished with original Olivas pieces and other furniture and oddities of the period including a barrel piano. Other fine old buildings include the Buenaventura City Hall. The downtown streets are lined with antique stores, restaurant, crafts shops and art galleries.

The Ventura Trolley Company operates a daily trolley-bus service, running to major hotels, the shopping area and most of the downtown cultural attractions. The fare is reasonable: ($1.00) and the trolley runs on an hourly schedule to such places as the Mission, Ventura County Museum and the Olivas Adobe, in addition to Ventura Harbor Village where the stopping place is in front of Andria's Seafood Restaurant.

Mission San Buenaventura

This well-preserved building was the ninth in the chain of 21 California missions established by the Spanish Franciscan order and was the last mission to be founded by Father Junipero Serra. Built in 1782, the large stone and adobe church with gardens, museum and gift shop is open daily for tours and is a functioning church.

Ventura County Museum
of History and Art

At 100 East Main St., the museum features artifacts from local native history, the Mexican pioneer period and displays on the growth of agriculture in the region. There is a research library and the nearby Albinger Archeological Museum offers added insights into local history.

 Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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Aside from the hotela, there is a small, comfortable bed and breakfast inn, La Mer, located at 411/413 Poli Street (805-643-3600) with five rooms and, unlike many B and Bs, credit cards are accepted.


An excellent place to camp is Lake Casitas Recreation Area, located northeast of Ventura off Highway 33. This park not only has camping but offers boating and swimming. For information, call (805) 649-2233.

McGrath State Beach at Oxnard -- a few miles south of Ventura -- has a campground (800-444-7275). Ventura Beach RV Resort is a private RV park in Ventura at 800 West Main Street, offering full hookups, showers, supplies and recreational facilities (805-643-9137).

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