Among southern California’s best kept secrets are miles of uncrowded, beautiful sandy beaches in Ventura County, just a few miles northwest of Los Angeles. Boating, whale watching, and kayaking are among top things to do on a getaway to Ventura County.
18 Fun Things to Do in Oxnard & Ventura CA
From the time my three kids were tots, our favorite California beach hangouts have been in Ventura County. The county’s sandy beaches are just as lovely as those in San Diego and Malibu – but minus the crowds. Situated between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Ventura County has miles of beaches, historic sites and outdoor activities. The county includes the towns of Oxnard, the City of Ventura, Ojai and Camarillo.
Neighboring Oxnard and Ventura each boast unique attractions and outdoor activities. Oxnard is an agricultural city with farmers markets, tasting rooms and a historic downtown. Ventura also has a historic downtown, farmers markets and tasting rooms. In addition, it’s the gateway to Channel Islands National Park.
Things to Do in Oxnard
1. Discover Oxnard’s Hidden Beaches
Not visible from the freeway, the beaches are usually not crowded and are a great place to enjoy a swim and a sunset.
Silver Strand Beach
Named for the silver screen, Silver Strand Beach is the southernmost beach in Oxnard. Situated seven miles from the highway, the mile-long beach is somewhat isolated. This makes it a favorite with locals for surfing, kayaking and fishing.
Located on the south end of the peninsula that separates Channel Islands Harbor from the ocean, Hollywood Beach (guess how it got its name?) is wide and about a mile long. Amenities include free street parking, volleyball courts, lifeguards (in summer) and restrooms.
Oxnard Beach Park
Nestled between the Oxnard Shores neighborhood and the Embassy Suites Resort, the beach park has many family amenities. These include a kid’s play area, jogging paths and picnic area. The park also features sand dunes and a bicycle path. Bring a picnic or dine at a restaurant at the nearby Channel Islands Harbor. Across the bike path is a white sand beach. Fun things to do include sunbathing, kayaking, fishing, body boarding and flying a kite.
Mandalay State Beach
Oxnard State Beach/Mandalay State Beach is a family-friendly white sandy beach with a Marine Sanctuary and views of Chanel Islands National Park.
2. Play at Channel Islands Harbor
Kids too young to paddle through Channel Island National Park’s authentic sea caves can still get out on the water. The History & Wildlife Tour through the Channel Islands Harbor is fun for both kids and adults. A group of friends and I enjoyed the laid-back kayak tour through an artificial cave decked out with a mural, pirate skulls and brightly-colored starfish. Then we paddled through the calm waters of the harbor by boats, sea lions and seagulls. This leisurely-paced kayak tour is ideal for all ages.
3. Dine at Marine Emporium Landing
Situated at Channel islands Harbor, Marine Emporium Landing features waterfront dining, watersports and whale watching cruises.
4. Enjoy an Outdoor Concert
Channel Islands Harbor is also the site for year-round events, including free summer concerts, fall festivals, holiday festivities and fireworks.
5. Explore Heritage Square
History and architecture buffs in the family? Check out Heritage Square in Downtown Oxnard. The area is comprised of historic sites and original homes built between 1876 and 1912. Docent-led tours ($5 per person) start at the Heritage Square Visitor Center at 715 South A Street, across from the water tower. In addition, Heritage Square offers community festivals and events, a restaurant and wine tasting room.
The 1901 Restaurant & Speakeasy
SheBuysTravel Founder, Kim Orlando checked out The 1901 restaurant and speakeasy in Heritage Square. She says, “My kids grew up on authentic southern Italian food thanks to their Nonna so we had to start off our meal with arancini. My son gave it a B+, saying it was a little too cheesy, and then proceeded to polish off 8 lamb chops that he said were cooked perfectly.
I prefer to avoid garlic, which was a challenge at The 1901 because most of their dishes included it. They were very attentive and were able to accommodate me with a halibut and roasted vegetables entree that was very good. The real highlight for me was the very vibe-y speakeasy in the basement (of course). It’s dark and cozy with leather couches facing a huge fireplace and a black & white movie on a large screen TV. The bartender poured us a taste of his shiitake-infused bourbon and he made an excellent amaro Montenegro.”
6. Soak Up History at Channel Islands Maritime Museum
The maritime museum features galleries with seascape paintings and ship models.
7. Shop at The Collection RiverPark
RiverPark is Oxnard’s premier shopping and entertainment center. The Collection features retail stores, restaurants, grocery, a public art program and outdoor spaces. There’s also a Saturday Farmers Market.
8. See Vintage Cars at the Murphy Auto Museum
Car buffs will enjoy the museum’s exhibits featuring classic cars from 1903 to the present day. The museum also features auto-themed special events.
9. Enjoy the Annual Strawberry Festival
Oxnard hosts several family-friendly events. The annual Strawberry Festival features strawberries (of course!), live concerts, arts & crafts showcase, contests and cooking demonstrations. Strawberryland has rides and activities for kids.
Things to do in Ventura
City of Ventura
Located northwest of Los Angeles, the City of Ventura has miles of beaches, hiking trails and outdoor activities. The historic Ventura Pier and promenade offer scenic views and walking paths. There’s also a dog-friendly beach by Marina Park at San Buenaventura. Ventura is a great day trip from Los Angeles, and offers many fun things to do.
10. Swim at Ventura Beaches
When our three kids were little, Marina Park Beach was our go-to ocean and sandy playground. We would pack a picnic and arrive early to find a table at the grassy park at the edge of the beach where Christina, Michael and Megan could swing and play on a pirate ship.
Now we sink our toes into sand just a stone’s throw away and mingle with the locals lucky enough to live or own a vacation home near San Buenaventura State Beach. We park on a side street near an elementary school where the beach is dog-friendly.
11. Kayak at Channel Islands National Park
It is amazing to me that most of my friends have never visited this pristine, natural park encompassing five of the eight California Channel Islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara). Island Packers Cruises, the park’s official concessionaire for boat trips departing from Ventura and Channel Islands Harbors, provides several thrilling excursions. Among them: whale watching and kayaking through sea caves on guided tours.
We arrived at the crack of the dawn to check in for our snorkeling and kayaking tour at Santa Cruz Island. As our kayak guide expertly led us through several sea caves, I couldn’t believe how clear the water was. We could see plants and colorful fish, including Garibaldi (California’s state fish) just below the surface from our kayaks. And while paddling near a blowhole, I was (pleasantly) startled by two sea lions bopping alongside my kayak. So cute!
12. Fish from the Ventura Pier
The Ventura Pier is an old fashioned wooden pier with benches, picnic tables, a taco shack and seafood restaurant. Pier fishing is popular. Take a stroll to enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean.
13. Hang Out at Surfers Point at Seaside Park
Even if you don’t surf, it’s fun to watch people surfing and windsurfing. Bring a picnic and hang out while they hang ten. Beach and park facilities include restrooms, showers, a spacious lawn, picnic tables and grills.
14. Explore Downtown Ventura
After a day at the beach, it’s fun to stroll along Ventura’s Main Street in the historic downtown. The area has evolved into a cultural center with art galleries, tasting rooms and dining options from flip-flop eateries to elegant restaurants. Downtown is also home to the Rubicon Theatre company.
15. Buy Fresh Produce at the Ventura Certified Farmers’ Market
Shop the original Ventura County certified farmers’ market with over 45 California farmers and food vendors. Intimate wine bars, breweries and a variety of restaurants with delicious nibbles are all within walking distance.
16. Take a Stroll at Ventura Harbor Village
A popular day trip, Ventura Harbor Village is the hub for waterfront dining and shopping. It’s a no-frills, laid-back waterfront with a large marina, home to small and large boats. There’s a scenic walkway with benches that circles the harbor. The harbor is home to the Island Packers Cruise company, that offers several day trips to the islands. Excursions include whale watching, kayaking and snorkeling.
17. Visit Mission San Buenaventura
Founded in 1782, the mission is the ninth and last mission consecrated by Saint Junipero Serra. Take a self-guided walking tour to learn abut the mission and the Chumash Indians who once lived on the land.
18. Peddle Along the Ventura Beach Bike Path
Unlike the bustling and funky (albeit entertaining) Venice Boardwalk, this coastal bike path is clean and serene. We usually walk, but you can ride a bike along the scenic paved path that leads to a picturesque estuary where the Ventura River meets the Pacific Ocean.