Best things to do in Ventura County

I grew up just 50 miles south of Ventura County, California and have so many fond memories of this retreat from LA…Mission San Buenaventura was my 4th-grade project, Oxnard was our spot for strawberry picking, Ventura Beach is where I had my 17th birthday party, Camarillo Outlets got me decked out for prom, and the Channel Islands was home to my summer camp for years. With so many awesome childhood experiences and things to do in Ventura County, it was time to see what new wonders were in store!

Map of Ventura County Coast California

While there are numerous towns in Ventura County, we honed in on their coastal cities of Oxnard, Camarillo, Ventura, and Port Hueneme, plus the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary for a proper sand and sea getaway. We spent nine days road-tripping and sailing between these destinations to pinpoint the best things to do in Ventura County for beach lovers! From surfing their epic breaks to whale watching in the “Galapagos of the North” to taking the wildest scenic flight of our entire lives, our time on the Ventura County Coast was packed with adventures.

Check out our Ventura County Coast travel guide and start planning your own trip to one of Southern California’s best beach destinations!

THINGS TO DO IN VENTURA

things to do ventura

We kicked off our trip in the county’s namesake town of Ventura. With its roots as an 18th-century Spanish Mission town, it has nearly 250 years of history, yet its rugged location at the foot of the Los Padres National Forest and the Pacific Ocean kept it hidden from travelers for the better part of the 20th century. Until the Ventura Freeway came in 1969, it was a working-class town and a mecca for surfers in the know. What we love about Ventura is that, even though it’s become a popular beach destination, it’s remained down to earth, preserving its natural beauty and small-town vibe. 

With a lively Main Street, just three blocks off the beach and the mountains, the day flows between cultural offerings to outdoor fun and a nightlife that pulses. Below you will find our favorite things to do in Ventura, including the best places to eat, drink, and sleep!

Tour Mission San Buenaventura

Mission San Buenaventura, California

To get your bearings on this historic city, start at Mission San Buenaventura right on Main Street. I’ve long had a connection to this mission…we share the same birthday of March 31st (exactly 200 years apart) and I made a model of this colonial beauty for my 4th-grade project on California’s Mission History…so I know and love every inch of this place. With a nominal entrance fee, you can explore the museum to learn about the mission’s founding by (recently canonized) Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, the impressive aqueduct work by the Chumash Indians that allowed the town to thrive, and the beautiful church still in use today. We wandered the lush courtyard and caught the tail end of a service to soak up this city oasis.

Shop Main Street Ventura

Forget traffic and parked cars, Ventura has turned five blocks of its Main Street into a pedestrian-only zone with tons of outdoor cafes, artisan pop-ups, vintage shops, and one of the most pleasant places to stroll, shop, and dine. Better yet, 90% of their businesses are locally owned…including Patagonia (this is where the eco-conscious gear company opened its first shop and is still headquartered). The thrill of the strip is popping in and out of stores that call to you, but here is our must-shop list: 

  • Iron & Resin Garage for the coolest clothes
  • The Refill Shoppe for eco-friendly household & beauty needs
  • Latitudes Art Gallery for awesome local photography and gifts
  • El Jardin Courtyard for the serenity of this shopping area’s green space
  • Cat’s Cradle Rescue, Bargain Box, and more thrift shops that support charities and sustainable fashion

Explore the Ventura Botanical Gardens

Ventura Botanical Gardens, California

In the hills above City Hall, 107 acres have been reserved for natural beauty, education, and recreation. Founded in 2011, the Ventura Botanical Gardens are just in phase two of a 40-year masterplan, but have already cultivated over 100,000 plants! Mindfully designed with fire-adapted, drought-resistant species from Mediterranean zones around the world, it’s an incredible showcase of gardens inspired by South Africa, Chile, Southern Australia, the Mediterranean Basin, and California. 

What we love most about Ventura Botanical Gardens is the community aspect. This non-profit is supported by 2,100 Perrenial Society members who donate, and volunteer their time. Pocket gardens are enhanced by sculptures, inspiring quotes, and benches to further encourage people to take a closer look. Entrance is $7, or get in free on Fridays or while volunteering in their lovely gardens. Enjoy the diversity of flowers, hiking trails, sweeping coastal views, and spirit of this special place!

Surf Mondos Beach

As a native Californian, I’m embarrassed to admit I never really surfed. Mike and I took lessons back in our first country of Brazil, but it never stuck…until Ventura! We signed up with the Mary Osborne Surf Academy, founded by this pro-surfer and champion longboarder, and hit the gorgeous Mondos Beach. The quality of the waves, instruction, and scenery made something click for me! I was up by the second round and Mike and I were hanging ten for a full morning of fun. Mary Osborne’s school has taught over 1,200 kids and nearly a thousand women over 40 how to surf, so it’s never too early or late to catch a wave. And no matter what, you gotta get to Mondos Beach to watch the surfers and soak up one of the prettiest beaches in SoCal. 

Best Restaurants in Ventura

where to eat ventura county

Ventura has an impressive food scene with a focus on local ingredients and their multicultural influences. As plant-based eaters, we found a ton of fantastic options, from ethnic restaurants to pure vegan eateries.

Beach House Tacos: More than Mexican food, this is a classic Ventura outdoor dining experience on the city’s 19th-century wooden pier, where you can watch the surfers as you savor every spicy bite. We loved Beach House Tacos‘ veggie Burrito Bowl, washed down with a Ventura Coast Pale Ale. 

Seed Ranger: Aka, “The Great Vegan Food Station,” this 100% plant-based restaurant has an unbelievable amount of options, from Mexican to Hawaiian, Japanese, and American comfort food. More of a to-go joint or for a quick bite on the patio, Seed Ranger nails it when it comes to friendly service and fresh plant-based eats, particularly their sushi and “spam” musubi!

Rice by Mama: If you ask any Venturan for their favorite restaurants, Rice by Mama makes the list! This family-owned Thai restaurant has all the classic curries, noodle dishes, and unique twists for a flavorful feast. On the heart of Main Street, their patio also offers some great people-watching.

Harvest Cafe: We absolutely adored this health-conscious restaurant and its slew of plant-based options and globally-inspired dishes. Harvest Cafe’s airy contemporary space is perfect for breakfast lunch or relaxing over coffee. Vegans, don’t miss their unbelievable “cheese” platter!

Rumfish y Vino: Our Ventura County friends said this Belizian-fusion restaurant is their go-to for date night and it was as romantic as they said. Rumfish y Vino’s expansive outdoor patio and airy dining room had Caribbean-cool vibes and, considering their first location is actually in Belize, this place is authentic!

Historic Bar Crawl: Not only do these watering holes mix a mean drink, but they are in some of Ventura’s prettiest old buildings. Beer lovers head to Finney’s Craft House, discerning mixed drinkers go to Italy Cocktail Trust, and for those who want it all, Fluid State has such good vibes and libations. If you’re still up for a fun nightcap, The Saloon pulls in great DJs and a dancing crowd.

THINGS TO DO IN OXNARD

Oxnard California

The Strawberry Capital of the World, Gateway to Channel Islands National Park, and home to 2023’s “Best Beach on the West Coast,” Oxnard has a lot going for it! Downtown has a ton of character, from its Victorian Homes, funky old theaters, grand Plaza Park, and top-notch taco scene. Oxnard is the most diverse city in Ventura County, with particularly vibrant Latino and Asian communities, that have historically supported the farming and shipping industry at Port Hueneme (the only deepwater port between LA and the Bay Area). With a long history of community organizing in the civil rights and farmworker movement, Oxnard pride runs deep and comes through in everything from the food to the street art!

Stroll Plaza Park

This European-style square anchors downtown with an expansive green space, a beautiful pagoda, and the grand Carnegie Art Museum. It’s a lovely place to sit or play any day of the week, but most lively at their Thursday farmer’s market, summer concerts, and festivals throughout the year. 

Get Cultured at Heritage Square

Heritage Square Oxnard

When some of Oxnard’s most unique and historic buildings were at risk of being demolished in the 1980s, citizens banded together to safeguard them in what is now Heritage Square. Today 11 Victorian houses, a church, a water tower, and a storehouse have been turned into 25 fabulous businesses and event spaces. We happened to meet one of the Heritage Square directors while strolling this lovely block of buildings, and he tipped us off to the Rancho Ventana artisan winery in the Scarlet House, the ultra-cool Pipiripau clothing brand making modern Mexican heritage designs, the Square’s summer concert series, and themed tea parties (Steampunk and Celyon anyone?). Drop by on a Saturday for their history and architecture tours or book a private hour any other day of the week for just $2 more. 

Beach Day at Oxnard Beach Park

USA Today 2023 Reader’s Choice Awards for “Best Beaches on the West Coast” gave Oxnard Beach Park the #1 spot!!! Framed by the Channel Islands, mountains, and towering sand dunes, this beach is a stunner! Plus it’s an outdoor recreation heaven with great surf, volleyball courts, bike paths, playgrounds, picnic areas, and beautiful grassy knolls.

Sunset at Hollywood Beach & Channel Islands Harbor  

Hollywood Beach

Hollywood Beach was a favorite of early 20th-century stars for their movie shoots and vacation homes. We came for a cerveza at the awesomely old-school Rudder Room and a sunset beach walk. It was one of the best sundowners we’d had all year, with the Channel Islands in the distance, birds playing in the glowing surf, and the lack of crowds! Adjacent to the Channel Islands Harbor, Hollywood Beach is also a fun place to watch the boats or take out a watercraft for yourself. Multiple rental companies in the marina offer SUP boards, jet skis, electric boats, kayaks, and even parasailing.

Nosh Along The Oxnard Taco Trail

Best tacos in Oxnard, Ventura County

With arguably the densest concentration of Mexican restaurants, food trucks, and taquerias per capita, Oxnard is contending to be The Taco Capital of The USA. They have so many, that Visit Oxnard narrowed down the top 15 into an interactive pass to help people navigate all this deliciosa. We started at Tacos La Bonita, a food truck so successful it’s turned into a proper outdoor restaurant across from Plaza Park. Their homemade tortillas melt in your mouth and their salsa bar has just the right kick. 

We’re a sucker for micheladas and mariachis so after dinner, we went to El Chilto. The beer creations at “El Rey de Micheladas” come out like works of art, with everything from chamoy gummy worms, fire Cheetos, and a sparkler light show, with a Norteña serenade! If we weren’t stuffed to the gills, we would have hit up the highly recommended House of Tacos and La Huerta. If you can visit all 15 eateries on the Taco Trail you win a T-shirt boasting your glory…send us a photo if you do!

Best Restaurants in Oxnard

best restaurants in oxnard, ventura county

You could certainly eat Mexican the entire time in Oxnard (we would happily), but Oxnard has far more than tacos. Here are our favorite restaurants in Oxnard.

Honey Cup Coffee: With beautifully crafted oat lattes, gooey Nutella pastries, and a tree-shaded patio, this is a great place to start your day. Save a little Honey Cup coffee for your stroll along the adjacent Channel Islands Harbor and watch the sea lions basking in the morning sun. 

La Jannelle Natural Cafe: This new eatery in Silver Strand Beach is a health-food dream for vegans, gluten-free, and organic devotees. The husband-wife team has a background in soil biology and wellness, and puts so much love into their food! We ordered La Jannelle’s Nard Nachos with jackfruit carnitas and El Capitan BBQ Pulled Porc with plant-based gouda cheese and slaw on a pretzel bun and savored every bite! 

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars: Did you know the largest producer of Kosher wine on the West Coast is in Oxnard? And that within Herzog Wine Cellar’s headquarters is a gourmet restaurant that draws kosher diners from around the world? Walking into the corporate office, we weren’t sure this was the right place, then a long hall led us to white tablecloths and candlelight. We ordered Tierra Sur’s Grilled Lion’s Mane with toasted quinoa and red pepper emulsion, followed by the rigatoni with honeynut squash puree and toasted hazelnuts. Each dish, including our poached pear dessert, came with a complimentary wine pairing to bring out the flavors…and they were all divine! 

Tacos La Bonita: While we did not conquer the whole Oxnard Taco Trail, we can say Tacos La Bonita were some of the best tacos we’ve had in the USA! Plus, it’s unusually atmospheric for a glorified taco truck, with cafe lights and views of Plaza Park.

Ox & Ocean: Tucked within Zachari Dunes Resort, Ox & Ocean’s outdoor patio with lounge chairs and firepits is so sexy for sunset apps and cocktails. Plus, they run great happy hour specials. Their fine dining restaurant would delight any omnivore, and plant-based peeps will adore their mushroom bao buns. 

THINGS TO DO IN CAMARILLO

Camarillo CA

Famous for Camarillo Premium Outlets, this town draws people from all over Southern California to shop their 160+ stores. I came here in high school to gear up for back to school (and even my prom dress) but made the common mistake of overlooking Camarillo’s Old Town, atmospheric farms, and unique opportunities for adventure. Surrounded by mountains and 15 minutes from the beach, they still get ocean breeze and 300+ days of sunshine, for an awesome outdoor lifestyle that we totally got into. Here are the best things to do in Ventura County’s very own Camarillo

Shop Old Town Camarillo

A tree-lined street with historic buildings filled with boutiques and cafes, Camarillo’s Old Town is classic, with some edgy surprises for a town known to be more conservative. For example, the American Pie Records vinyl shop is doing so well, that it’s adding a second location as a listening room and late-night coffee shop. Across the street is Studio Channel Islands, a fantastic free art venue with exhibits that rotate every two months, cultural events, regular classes for kids, and a great boutique. Then the shop that really made us headbang was The Rockin’ Edge, a clothing store run by the fashion queen of 80s Metal. Melissa Cantor has made clothes for Slash, The Doors, Megadeth, and one-of-a-kind threads for the rockstar in all of us. 

U-Pick Garden & Wine Tasting at McGrath Family Farm

Camarillo Farm, Ventura County CA

Founded in 1868, the McGrath property is the oldest organic farm in Ventura County and is still run by the same family…five generations later! In their early days, they had land all the way to the sea (hence McGrath State Beach), and the remaining 300 acres are still thriving with sustainably grown vegetables, flowers, and a winery in the works! We checked in for our McGrath Farm tour at the charming farm store, with produce from the grounds and local sellers, specifically women or minority-owned! The store’s mother-daughter team Hilary & Kennedy explained more about their regenerative practices as we explored the rows of microgreens, flowers, berry patches, and outdoor tasting room. The McGraths have been in the wine business for years and are excited to announce that their label Public Domain is going to open a winery on the farm in the coming year! With our freshly picked produce, we cracked a bottle of their rosé for the freshest picnic. 

Tip: McGrath Farm has a year-round U-pick garden and in March and April they are always looking for volunteers for harvest if you want a truly organic experience.

Hike Point Mugu State Park & The Chumash Trail

hiking point magu state park

The Santa Monica mountains span from the Hollywood Hills to Camarillo, with Point Mugu State Park as the grand finale. We drove through Camarillo’s veggie farms to the Pacific Coast Highway and reached the popular Chumash Trail. Hiking switchbacks up through cactus groves and vista points to the sea, we reached a stunning valley. Another short and steep climb led us to Point Mugu Peak for sweeping ocean views and jagged mountains that I couldn’t believe were in my home range! With a 2.5-mile round-trip hike, this is the fastest and most rewarding way to enjoy the state park. To dive deeper, continue along the ridge to the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail through the Natural Preserve. 

Ultralight Flying

Microlight flights in california

Bungee jumping, skydiving, gorge swings…we’ve flown through the air in a variety of batty ways. When it comes to experiencing the adrenaline and beauty of flight, nothing, and we mean NOTHING, compares to this Skyrider Ultralights flight. Taking off from Camarillo Airport just before sunset, our open-sided aircraft banked the Santa Monica Mountains and skimmed the Pacific Ocean for breathtaking views and serious thrills. Read the full post and watch the video above for one of the absolute best ways to see the Southern California Coast!

Best Restaurants in Camarillo

best restaurants in camarillo, ventura county

Check out our favorite eats in Camarillo, from old-school restaurants to modern food courts to do-good cafes.

The Mark: Old Town’s hottest new hangout brings together a brewery, wood-fired pizzeria, bakery, and creamery to satisfy all your cravings. These four businesses face inwards to a common seating area for a modern food court and great community hang space. The Mark was packed on a Thursday night, with Topa Topa Brewing pouring a steady stream of craft beers and Freda’s Artisan Pizza tossing pies in the air for a happy crowd. The plant-based pizza was excellent and washed down nicely with a Nitro Milk Stout.

Old New York Deli: Serving some of the best bagels this side of New York and showing their NYC pride with subway maps and Yankee decor, this place brought us back to our Manhattan days with the good schmear and dough.

Braxton’s Kitchen: Comfort food with a farm-fresh twist, Braxton’s is a winner for breakfast and lunch. Better yet, a portion of their monthly sales go towards local animal rescues and nonprofits! Continue looking out for the animal kingdom with their vegan offerings like Soyriz Power Bowl and the Somis Sammy.

Lamplighter: We love a dive bar and we could tell from the neon sign and windowless stone facade that this was a good one. Order Lamplighter’s legit bloody marys and play a round of pool. There are a few sharks in here, but none of them bite 😉

Adolfo Grill: Named after the founder of town, Adolfo Camarillo, this restaurant plays into the history with old-time photographs and classic decor. Upscale American fare with a Ventura County sense of place makes Adolfo Grill a particularly great dinner option.

THINGS TO DO IN CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Channel Islands National Park

Fondly called The Galapagos of the North, the eight Channel Islands and National Park are a biodiversity dream with over 2,000 species of plants and animals. Just 12 miles off the Ventura County Coast, yet never connected to the mainland, these isles evolved in isolation, leaving 145 species found nowhere else on Earth! Layer on the fact that people lived here for 13,000 years (with the oldest human bone ever found in North America to prove it!) the Channel Islands are a place of epic proportions. 

Note: Channel Islands National Park has virtually no facilities (lodging, restaurants, shops, or first aid), so come prepared! Santa Cruz Island is the most “developed” with a visitor center, bathrooms, potable water, and regular ferry service. Outside of summer, days are short and the ferry is infrequent, so make the most of your time on the island and keep track of it, so you don’t miss the return boat…or you’ll be camping!

Scenic Ferry with Island Packers

island packers ferry
@honeytrek There are an estimated 25,000 dolphins that live in the waters around Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary…and I feel like we saw ALL of them at once! Watch this massive pod of dolphins try to outrun our boat on this sunset sail! A wild end to an epic day of in this must-see national park. #dolphins #channelislandsnationalpark #vccvibes #partner #visitcalifornia #marinesanctuary #nationalpark ♬ original sound – HoneyTrek

We headed to the Ventura Harbor to catch the official national park ferry, Island Packers. They’ve been cruising this national marine sanctuary since 1968 in the name of recreation, research, and education, and they treat this hour ride to Santa Cruz Island as an opportunity to introduce The Channel Islands and spot wildlife! A third of cetacean species worldwide can be seen in these very waters, so we saw multiple whales and, no joke…a pod of 600 dolphins (watch the video above)! We got off at Santa Cruz, but Island Packers also runs trips to the outer islands for dedicated wildlife watching, pelagic birding trips, and can help facilitate overnight camping trips. 

Hike Cavern Point Loop

Cavern Point Loop Hike Channel Islands National park

The best short overview hike on Santa Cruz Island, Cavern Point Loop offers incredible vistas of Scorpion Harbor, sea cliffs, and neighboring islands. If you have time continue two more miles to the beautiful Potato Harbor. If you want to keep your hike nice and easy, start at the campground near site #22 for a more gradual ascent and a clockwise two-mile loop back to the Visitor Center. 

Sea Cave Kayaking

Channel Islands Santa Cruz Island Kayaking trip

Channel Islands’ wave action has carved incredible sea caves into their cliffs, making it a kayaker’s playground! We joined Channel Islands Adventure Company for their 2.5-hour Discovery Kayak Tour from Scorpion Anchorage. The first thing that struck us was the incredible kelp forests swaying in the teal waters. We paddled along the sheer cliffs and timed the waves to ride through the rock arches. Dipping into a sea cave we saw a family of sea lions playing in the surf. What a morning!

Tip: The Discovery Tour offers the perfect amount of time if you want to fit in other activities like hiking or snorkeling and still make the afternoon ferry. Even though we love to kayak, we are glad we split our time so we could also explore the park by land.

Snorkeling the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is known to have some of the country’s best snorkeling and diving. With cold currents traveling down from the North Pacific and warm currents moving up from the tropics, there is an upwelling of nutrients that make the waters’ biodiversity off the charts! Channel Islands Adventure Company runs snorkel trips (some you can combo with kayaking for a full-day adventure) and the responses we heard from snorkelers made us jealous! Swimming through the kelp forests and sea caves, they saw girabaldi, lion sharks, and playful baby sea lions! 

For more photos and videos from Channel Islands National Park, see our Facebook gallery.

Hotels in Ventura County

The towns on the Ventura County Coast are only 20 minutes apart, so you can easily base camp in one to explore the whole area. Though for us to get to know the county better and give our hotel recommendations from experience, we stayed a few nights in Ventura, Camarillo, and Oxnard. So whether you like to mix up your accommodations on a trip or nest into one, here are three fantastic Ventura County hotels.

Ventura: Waypoint Vintage Trailer Hotel

best glamping ventura county

Retro-cool campers just blocks off the beach and Main Street? Waypoint Vintage Trailer Hotel had our name all over it! Started by a brother-sister team in 2014, the twins have been curating and renovating their perfect collection of travel trailers–from a 1946 Spartan Manor to a 50-foot tour bus with stories to tell, and more in the works!  We stayed in the 1948 Palace Royale, with its original stove and fridge, birch interior, and candy-shell blue exterior. Waypoint’s attention to detail was spot on, from the s’mores kits, complimentary bicycles, cornhole courts, and sculptural firepits that had us gathering round with our fellow glampers. If you have your own swanky camper, you can also BYO and join the neighborhood.

Oxnard: Zarchari Dunes

Hilton Zachari Dunes, Ventura County

During our three days in Oxnard, we made our home base at the gorgeous Zachari Dunes Resort, set right on the sugar-sand Mandalay Beach with views of the Channel Islands. With Spanish-style architecture and a recent renovation, this all-suites hotel has done a fabulous job with the decor and amenities…multiple restaurants, an expansive pool, modern gym, fun rec room, and a robust activities program. At Henry’s Gear Rental, we took out a complimentary hoverboard, SUP Skate, and skateboard, plus two Polaroid cameras to capture it all. Fun, romantic, and perfectly situated on the beach, Zachari Dunes is the best hotel in Oxnard!

Camarillo: Sonesta Select

Best hotels camarillo, ventura county ca

We stayed at the Sonesta Select and this recently renovated, affordable, and conveniently located hotel was a great jumping-off point and soft landing from our Camarillo adventures. 

Ventura Land Trust

In every place we visit, we try to find awesome environmental nonprofits that are keeping wild spaces beautiful and making them even more fun for residents and visitors, like Ventura Land Trust. This org is preserving thousands of acres for public recreation and education, with so many awesome programs. We joined their Harmon Canyon naturalist-led hike and they made us fall in love with the area. Hike or bike Harmon’s trails any day or join VLT for a variety of awesome events around Ventura, from their Wild & Scenic Film Festival, River Restoration Days, Lecture Series, Beach Cleanups, and weekly wildlife restoration. 

#VCCvibes

Things to do in Ventura County

We absolutely loved our time on the Ventura County Coast! To show our gratitude to the locals and help preserve the area’s natural beauty, we have donated to the Ventura Land Trust, Channel Islands Restoration, and Ventura Food Share. Many thanks to Ventura County Coast and their amazing towns of Oxnard, Ventura, Port Hueneme, and Camarillo, for inviting us to their region and supporting our storytelling. For more on this incredible slice of California, check out VenturaCountyCoast.com and see our VCC Vibes Instagram Highlight Reel.

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