By: Linda Ballou
Ventura is a beach town with a laid-back vibe that is the gateway to some great adventures. About an hour north of Los Angeles spectacular day trips in the Channel Islands National Park are waiting for you. Turn up at the Island Packer dock in Ventura Harbor at about 9 AM with a lunch in your backpack and leave your worries behind.
After an hour-long cruise across the channel, passengers are dropped off at Scorpion Anchorage and admonished to be back by 4 PM, or plan on spending the night on the island. Some choose to do exactly that, but most fan out on separate day hikes.
Santa Cruz, the largest of all the Channel Islands, offers the most varied hiking and opportunity for self-exploration. The stiff hike up to Cavern Point overlooking Scorpion Anchorage takes you to the shadeless North Bluff Trail. This easy march traces the bluffs and calls for binoculars for spotting birds in the meadow and marine life in the vast expanse of blue spread out before you.
Far below, kelp forests sway in aquamarine waters where golden Garibaldi and sea lions play. The trail ends at the turquoise horseshoe bay called Potato Harbor which is a perfect spot for your picnic.
If you don’t have a full day to spare you can take the shorter cruise around Anacapa Island to view seal and bird colonies. You are bound to see marine life like dolphins and maybe a whale on the way.
Wrap up this day with the seafood sampler at Brophy Brothers’ upstairs glass-enclosed patio overlooking the yachts tied up in Ventura Harbor. The best viewing of the sunset is on the beach on the other side of the harbor parking lot.
The surf is a bit rough for swimming, but you can take a nice long stroll on a less-traveled stretch of sand to the south where you will meet lots of shorebirds. If you feel energetic, you can rent a kayak and paddle through the marina.
For day two, head over to old town Ventura about ten minutes away for shopping and a host of good eateries. The wonderful thing about the historic district in Ventura is that it is a walking town. The mountains, the sea, the vintage shops, and the eateries are all within easy reach from free all-day parking lots on California Street.
A remnant of the classic California beach town cars are not zooming by, they are cruising and politely stopping for pedestrians browsing shops while enjoying the sea breeze and sunshine. Shady gardens, especially the courtyard at the San Buena Ventura Mission, invite the visitor to sit a spell while bells ringing from City Hall chime out “I Did it My Way.”
The folks in Ventura love the outdoors and have created a fabulous Botanical Garden that begins just behind the City Hall at the top of California Street. It snakes up a canyon switch-backing through rock gardens planted with succulents and cactus found in Mediterranean climes about the globe.
It is an easy climb to flower-infested meadows and vistas that extend from Boney Ridge overlooking Camarillo to the south and the Channel Islands sitting prominently on the horizon. I met the” Social Climbers”, a band of retired teachers, many young women with babies strapped to their chests, and a host of mutts on a leash followed by proud owners. You are advised to come early as there is little shade and it is a popular track.
On Main Street, a block below City Hall, you will find several hiker-friendly restaurants. I liked the Saloon BBQ for its tri-tip salad. Just below Main on California Street, the Lure, an upscale fish house, offers wonderfully fresh seafood.
After lunch, I suggest you saunter down California Street to the ocean for a stroll along the boardwalk tracing the waterfront to Surfer’s Point where windsurfers fill the sky like colorful confetti.
Sadly, the famous Ventura Pier is closed due to damage in El Nino and the high surf has piled rocks along the shore, but you can still walk the 8-miles of the San Buena Ventura Beach. Cap your day off with a cool one at Aqua, the Crown Plaza Hotel‘s open-air beach bar.
Exit 101 on California Street. Parking is free all day at numerous lots on California Street.Stop at the Ventura Visitors Bureau, 101 South California Street, for helpful maps and more day trip suggestions.