VenturaCountyWest is Fun Central

It's not often that you can drive a short distance from home to a weekend getaway filled with all kinds of fun and unique things to do. From soaking up the sun on a beautiful uncrowded beach to exploring the Channel Islands to sampling wines from California's newest wine region, you can find it all at www.VenturaCountyWest.com, (the cities of Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura). Once past the Conejo Grade (which separates east and west Ventura County) on the 101 Freeway North and not too far from the county's acres of orange groves and strawberry fields, you'll find a surprising abundance of inspiring choices to experience the very best of California.

Oxnard & Ventura Beaches, Water Adventures

Both Oxnard and Ventura offer miles of pristine beaches. If you're looking for a good family beach, check out Pierpont Beach and San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura or Hollywood Beach and Silverstrand Beach in Oxnard. For the best surf spots, try Surfer’s Point or the renowned Rincon Beach in Ventura or Oxnard Shores in Oxnard. There are also bike rental shops along the shore.

Rent a kayak to explore the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard through Channel Islands Kayak Center, right in Channel Islands Village. Paddleboats, electric boats, paddleboards and kayaks are also available for rent at Hopper Boat Rentals in Oxnard and at Ventura Boat Rentals in Ventura.

Gateway to the Channel Islands

Most of us don't give much thought about the islands that dot our coastline, yet just 11 miles offshore, the Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands--Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. The islands are an all-natural playground for those interested in hiking, camping, diving, kayaking or just exploring the ocean environment and sea life. You can book a tour through Island Packers from both its Channel Islands Harbor and Ventura Harbor locations. Island Packers also schedules harbor cruises, whale watching and tall ship sailing cruises.

Ventura County Wine Trail

VenturaCountyWest has a growing assortment of wineries/pouring rooms located on the Ventura County Wine Trail. Instead of driving all the way to Santa Barbara County or Paso Robles, take a leisurely trip along the trail, which links wineries in Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura and beyond. We started in Camarillo with a stop at the quaint Bella Victorian Tasting Room & Bistro in Old Town Camarillo. Owners Jerry and Kimberly Monahan grow Syrah, Grenache, Counoise and Viognier grapes in their local Camarillo vineyards. The Bistro gives you a chance to pair wines with the chef's “farm to table” menu.

One of the country's only kosher wineries is in Oxnard. If you come to Herzog Wine Cellars during the week, you can see the state-of-the-art wine fermentation and bottling process in action. Taste wine in a beautiful setting before enjoying Mediterranean-influenced cuisine by Chef Todd Aarons at Tierra Sur Restaurant. Also in Oxnard is Rancho Ventavo Cellars. The tasting room is in Heritage Square, home to vintage homes, a live theatre company and fine dining.

Ever fancy yourself being your own vintner? At http://www.squashedgrapes.com/Squashed Grapes in Ventura, you can make your own personalized wine. You decide on varietal, and when the time comes, you fill and cork each bottle and apply your own custom-designed label. It's on our list of things to do.

Group and private wine tours are available through the California Visitors Center in Oxnard and the Ventura Visitors Center with advanced reservations.

Golfer's Paradise

www.VenturaCountyWest.com features public golf courses with spectacular ocean and mountain views usually found only at private clubs.

In Ventura, Olivas Links is an 18-hole championship golf facility designed by Forrest Richardson. This 6,818-yard course features a rolling links-style layout defined by seaside grasses and natural habitat. You could choose, instead, to play at the adjoining course, Buenaventura. At just over 6,000 yards to a par of 70, its classic 1930s-era shapes and designs make you feel you've stepped back in time.

Oxnard is home to two beautiful courses at River Ridge. The Vineyard offers breathtaking panoramic ocean views while Victoria Lakes boasts beautiful water features, bent/poa grass greens and Greg Norman hybrid Bermuda tees and fairways.

You can choose from one of two terrific courses in Camarillo. Sterling Hills is surrounded by lush avocado and citrus groves. This 18-hole championship golf course includes features that take advantage of the natural topography. Camarillo Springs is at the base of Conejo Mountain off the 101 freeway. Designed by Ted Robinson, its views include towering rock formations and gentle natural springs.

What's nice is that green fee rates are reasonable and most courses allow you to book tee times online.

Arts, Culture & Museums

VenturaCountyWest includes a diverse art, cultural and historical scene. Ventura has been dubbed “California's New Art City” and has galleries and showings, especially along Main Street. For a list of galleries, studios and show dates throughout the county go to Ventura Arts. We like Red Brick Gallery with its photography, paintings, glass and jewelry displays.

Top Ventura historical attractions include the San Buenaventura Mission, the ninth and last California mission founded by Junipero Serra and the beautifully restored Camarillo Ranch House, a fascinating glimpse back to Camarillo's early days. A docent-led tour takes you through the history of the era, with furnishings, documents, photos, right down to period-correct wallpaper.

If kids are in tow, the family can enjoy the Gull Wings Children's Museum in downtown Oxnard. This hands-on discovery museum is a fun way for children to learn about the world around them with an emphasis on California and its environment.

Any car aficionado will want to stop by the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard. It's open Saturdays and features classic French automobiles from the 1920s and 1930s including Bugattis, Voisins and Delahayes. If World War II airplanes peak your interest, the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Camarillo is a must stop. It features vintage aircraft and an extensive collection of World War II memorabilia--from guns and ammo to military uniforms to newspapers from the war eras. The museum even offers flights in its vintage aircraft.

Food & Nightlife

We had two great dining experiences--at Cafe Fiore and Watermark on Main. Both restaurants offer live entertainment, amazing food and an evolving selection of signature cocktails, many featuring locally made liquors. For something more exotic, try Moqueca Brazilian Cuisine in Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Many entrées are created in clay pots (as is the tradition in the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil).Brewpubs are becoming the rage. Lots have opened over the past few years including Anacapa Brewing Company and Surf Brewery in Ventura and BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse in Oxnard.

Dinner is just the beginning of things to do once the sun goes down. From acoustic to rock, check Ventura's Zoey's Cafe online calendar for what's playing. The Majestic Ventura Theater is another popular venue that features well-known artists as well as local bands. Musical tastes at this 1920s mission-style theater range from alternative rock, reggae, classic rock, metal, blues, country, jazz, Latin and more. You can also enjoy a night of laughs at the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club. Well-known comedians and up-and-comers can be found at the club trying out their latest routines.

Shopping Sprees

The 160-store Camarillo Premium Outlets is a top destination for designer labels and brands at outlet prices--and is so big that it spans three centers, so plan to spend some time there! For a different kind of shopping experience, stop in at one of the dozens of antique shops in and around Main Street in Ventura. You'll find great one-of-a-kind treasures. There are plenty of sidewalk cafes offering all sorts of food fare.

Places to Stay in VenturaCountyWest

From beachfront hotels, to B&Bs to RV Parks, Ventura County has accommodations to fit every budget. For a list of accommodations, go to www.VenturaCountyWest.com. The site includes travel itinerary suggestions, a calendar of events, dining options and links to other vacation resources and discounts.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: VenturaCountyWest cities are about an hour's drive up the coast from Los Angeles and about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara.

WHAT: VenturaCountyWest is the gateway to the Channel Islands and all of the island sea life and natural beauty. It also boasts a growing wine industry, miles of sandy beaches and charming main streets. Accommodations range from beachfront resorts to B&Bs to RV camping.

WHEN: Year-round. The weather is typically mild throughout the year. Best vacation deals are usually in fall and winter.

WHY: The area is easily accessible from Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Orange County and from the Inland Empire Ventura County West is California’s coastal value destination with all the amenities that you would find farther north and more.

HOW: For more information on Ventura County West, phone 800-648-2124, visit www.VenturaCountyWest.com or Facebook at www.Facebook.com/VenturaCountyWest.com.

Photos, from top: Ventura's California Street is a popular beach town shopping area (photo by Jeff Greenberg); Ventura Beach (photo by Peter Zuehlke); River Ridge Golf Course; Camarillo Premium Outlets offer extraordinary bargains

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