We visited Ventura in late October 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.
Ventura was really only on our radar because friends had lived there until a few years ago, and they adored it, and they are cool people, so we should like it, right? Right! We loved it. Ventura’s a surprisingly quiet surf town for being pretty close to LA (as the crow flies, not as the car drives). It’s a half hour south of Santa Barbara, and 2.25 hours south of our last location, San Luis Obispo.
Ventura is named for Mission San Buenaventura, one of the 21 Spanish missions established by Franciscans to convert indigenous people to Catholicism and expand the Spanish empire in California. The city today has all that history, plus a quaint downtown area, wide beaches, and outdoor recreation opportunities galore–including a neighboring national park, Channel Islands National Park.
Channel Islands is comprised of five undeveloped islands, the closest of which is about 12 miles off the mainland. The islands are only accessible by boat, and logistically it wasn’t possible for us to schedule a long day trip to a dog-unfriendly park and leave poor Bugsy behind in the Airstream.
Rincon Parkway Campground is probably the most unique campground of Big Trip #4. It’s technically a county park, but in reality it’s 127 RV-sized parking spots, with no hookups and no amenities, stretching along a busy beachfront highway about ten minutes north of downtown Ventura. At first we were dismayed: are we safe from traffic? Will it be noisy?
But then, we fell in love. It helped that we changed sites after the first night. On night #1, we were in a site at the very beginning of the campground, and the first 15 or so spots have a wall between them and the beach. As you move towards town, the beach barrier turns to boulders, making beach access from your campsite much easier.
So J tracked down an employee and asked if we could change sites, and we landed in a super site halfway down the campground for our second night. We had a path to the beach, a fire area, and a stellar view of the ocean. It was phenomenal.
Before we moved sites, we looked at switching to the campground at Emma Wood State Beach a bit farther down the highway. It looks like a sweet little campground, close to the road but not ON it, and more convenient to town–but no dogs are allowed on the beach there.
We loved our stay at Rincon Parkway Campground (well, in our second campsite, specifically) and Bugsy absolutely loved her beach. Note that we visited in late October; during summer the beach is probably a very different scene.
J had morning meetings our first morning in Ventura and kicked us out of the Airstream for a few hours, so Bugsy and I did some tootling around Ventura. We mixed the touristy basics with suggestions from our friends the former Venturians.
Our first stop was high up over the city at Grant Park. The view out to the ocean from the Serra Cross (placed up there in 1782 to aid ship navigation) is super, and on a weekday morning, only a couple other people were up there. I imagine it’s crowded at sunset.
Downtown Ventura is walkable; I recommend following this walking tour centered along Main Street and Figueroa Street Mall for a historic overview of the area. Bugsy and I got coffee and explored the downtown pedestrian area (along with lots of other earlybird exercise walkers) and then took California Street down to the beach.
Ventura is probably best known as a beach town, and part of your downtown wanderings should include a side trip to the Ventura Promenade. Stroll along the ocean for a half mile, watch surfers, and walk out onto the dog-friendly (unusual, in our CA beach experience) fishing pier. It’s the longest pier in California!
The Promenade is short, but you can continue onto the Omer Rains Coastal Bikeway for a longer ride or run along the shore.
Ventura River Trail
The Omer Rains trail also connects up with the Ventura River Trail, which heads north, eventually hitting Ojai Valley Trail and the heart of Ojai, about 16 miles north. We went for a run on the Ventura River Trail, a nice, flat, paved trail paralleling a highway. There was some exhaust from the road, but l also smelled lemon eucalyptus trees! It was a pleasant run and made us wish we had time to go to Ojai–that’s going on the to-do list. Ventura is lucky to have this network of bike/run trails.
Based on his pre-visit brewery research, J was most excited about Topa Topa, MadeWest, and Ventura Coast. Our friends also recommended Topa Topa, so that was our first beer stop.
Topa Topa has two locations in Ventura: one downtown, and one 20 minutes away, southeast of downtown. We decided to drive out to the farther location, where the beer is actually brewed, for the large beer garden, which Bugsy appreciated. J liked his hazy IPA, and my sour was fine. This location has food trucks and is dog-friendly both indoors and outdoors.
MadeWest also has two locations, and we visited both. Their brewery is out near Topa Topa’s brewery, so we hit that after Topa Topa. J loved his hazy IPA there–he said their staple hazy IPA was the best beer in Ventura–and we both loved the live band. We heard their final song and they did a wild rendition of Wipe Out. The brewery, like Topa Topa, is dog-friendly indoors and outdoors, and has food trucks.
We also popped into MadeWest’s downtown location on the Pier. It’s a great spot to have a drink with beach and ocean views.
Our last brewery stop in Ventura was Ventura Coast Brewing, my favorite brewery of the three. My raspberry plum fruited sour was delicious, and I bought some bottles to take home. This was yet another dog-friendly taproom. Yay Ventura!
We only had two restaurants on our list, and we visited them both, and they were both delicious. First was tacos at Spencer Mackensie’s, a cool retro diner with a small patio. As the evening had gotten slightly chilly, we sat at the bar, drank a local beer, and tried the fish tacos and the famous seafood burrito–one of the best burritos in America, per the website FiveThirtyEight.
The next night, we had a tropical cocktail and ordered dinner to go from Ventiki Tiki Lounge. The place was decked out for Halloween, the service and cocktails were super, and our Polynesian bowls were fresh and fab.
Not quite a restaurant, but Palermo coffee shop was a nice place for a warm beverage and wifi. They have an adorable gift shop, tasty-looking treats, and a creative list of unusual chai and mocha options.
Most of the things we want to do next time in Ventura are actually outside of Ventura! We want to check out the neighboring cities of Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Montecito.
We also want to visit the Channel Islands, but that will have to wait until we don’t have a dog, and we can’t imagine when that will be!