You’ll find uncrowded beaches, beautiful trails, historic places and ferries to Channel Islands National Park in towns like Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo and Port Hueneme along California’s undiscovered coast. Here are our top seven sights to see before heading up the coast and east to Yosemite.
1. Ventura Botanical Gardens
Why go: A few minutes walk from the beautiful beachside city of Ventura, go on a breathtaking uphill hike lined with flowers and plants from five Mediterranean climate zones. Popular with the locals, it offers sweeping views of the Pacific coastline and the Channel Islands. It was restored in 2018 after being damaged in the Thomas Fire. Park in the lot behind the San Buenaventura City Hall next to the trailhead and stop in and visit the Merewether Welcome Center. Fridays are free, as are children under 18. Admission is $7 for those 18 and older.
Tip: If you’re looking for additional hikes or places to bike, head to Harmon Canyon Preserve, Ventura’s new hillside nature preserve. Spanning 2,100 acres, it offers gorgeous biking and hiking among oak groves, grassy landscapes and beautiful views. Harmon Canyon Preserve is located at 7511 Foothill Rd. Free parking is available at the preserve trailhead off of McVittie Place. www.venturalandtrust.org/harmoncanyon
2. San Buenaventura City Hall
Why go: Overlooking the city of Ventura, this gorgeous building was built between 1912-13 and is a State of California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register for Historic Places.
Tip: Check out the mesmerizing 24 faces that appear between the first and second floor windows. They are priests placed as a reminder that the city was founded by Father Junipero Serra and Franciscan friars in 1782.
3. Port Hueneme Beach Park
Why go: A Chumash Indian word meaning “resting place,” Port Hueneme Beach Park has a long pier to stroll on, as well as picnic areas and volleyball nets.
Tip: Take the promenade trail that connects the pier to the Port Hueneme Lighthouse.
4. Downtown Ventura
Why go: Lined with historic buildings filled with boutiques and unique restaurants, it’s easy to spend an afternoon exploring this lively downtown.
Tip: Outdoor retailer Patagonia is based here, and you’ll find its store on West Santa Clara Street, a short walk from the bustle of downtown.
5. Channel Islands National Park
Why go: The Channel Islands are home to eight unique mammal species, including the curious island fox.
Tip: Depending on which island you visit, you will catch your Island Packers boat in Oxnard at the Channel Islands Harbor or the Ventura Harbor Village in Ventura.
6. Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard
Why go: Catch the one-hour Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island from the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. You’ll see shell debris sites left behind by the Chumash people thousands of years ago. In the harbor, you’ll find the Ventura County Maritime Museum, seafood restaurants, parks and a Sunday Farmers Market.
Tip: You can also take Island Packers boats to other Channel Islands from Ventura Harbor Village. The village offers a harborside promenade lined by restaurants, locally owned boutiques filled with artisan wares, two hotels and the Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center at Channel Islands National Park. A huge perk not easily found in California? Parking is free at Harbor Cove Beach, one of Ventura’s calmest, across the street.
7. Silver Strand Beach
Why go: This mile-long stretch of white sand beach is a great place to enjoy southern California’s legendary coast line. Sit back and watch longboard surfers and seasoned surfers riding the waves at The Jetty and surfers who are lefties at La Janelle Jetty. Lifeguards are on duty Memorial Day through Labor Day. The beach is at the end of South Victoria Road, putting it in close proximity to Channel Islands Harbor. Rent a kayak in the harbor and paddle along the beach toward La Janelle Jetty.
Tip: Dogs aren’t allowed on Silver Strand Beach, so if you’re traveling with your furry friend, head to Oxnard Beach Park instead. It’s gorgeous, as well.
8. Camarillo Premium Outlets
Why go: These outlet stores include fashion giants like Armani and Prada, as well as activewear retailers like Nike, The North Face, lululemon and Columbia Factory Store. Around the corner is Old Town Camarillo. Get a cup of coffee and the best brownie of your life at Kay’s Coffee Shop here. “I always tell people those brownies solve all the problems in the world,” says LaDonna Hambrick, owner of Kay’s.
Tip: Afterwards, head to the Hill Canyon trailhead to hike to Hawk Canyon, a 3.6-mile, one-way trail in Camarillo that’s great for beginning mountain bikers or those who want to take an easy hike that offers mountain views and shady areas.
For more information:
Ventura County Coast
Central Coast Tourism
Tours and Transportation to Channel Islands