Oxnard Historic Farm Park is home to multiple preserved structures from the 19th century. // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
Feature image (above): Don’t miss the seaside playground by Ventura Pier or shopping along Main Street. // © 2016 iStock
Despite miles of sandy beaches, acres of scenic farm land and loads of outdoor possibilities, California’s Ventura County can get overlooked, perhaps in part due to its proximity to flashier neighboring counties such as Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. It takes but a day or so strolling the streets of Oxnard, Ventura and Camarillo to realize the error of your ways, however, as these quaint beach towns offer many treasures for those willing to hunt for them. Following are six ways to begin exploring the region — though we’re certain you’ll be back for more.
For History Buffs
At Oxnard Historic Farm Park, visitors can get up close to a few pieces of antique farm equipment — there’s even an old wooden thresher, recently donated by a local family who had it in their barn for decades — and begin to understand what life in rural Ventura looked like in the late 1800s. The site is also home to a small demonstration garden and the oldest standing structures in the area, including a 1870s farmhouse and winery. Once the nonprofit raises enough funds, it plans to restore the structures in their original style. Jeff Maulhardt, who is actually a descendant of the original family who lived here, is usually on the premises and is willing to share his knowledge with any interested parties who stop by.
For Future Farmers
If families are willing to get their hands (and shoes) a little dirty, they might head to McGrath Family Farm for a you-pick experience. At McGrath, located in Camarillo just a short drive from Camarillo Premium Outlets, kids can hunt for plump red strawberries during the summer season. Multiple varieties of heirloom tomatoes are pickable, too — it’s good fun walking the rows in search of the ripest fruit and watching grasshoppers and butterflies flit about. Call ahead to hear what’s available to pick, as offerings vary by season. Even if you can’t pick something right off the plant, stop by to shop at the farm’s roadside market, where the latest and greatest from the fields is for sale.
For Budding Surfers
Ask any local in the area where folks learn to ride waves, and they’ll likely point you to Mondos Beach. Here, a south-facing cove makes for protected waters and smaller waves. That means it’s an ideal landing place for parents with little ones who want to splash in a calmer sea, not to mention beginning paddleboarders and surfers. Local outfitters such as Ventura Makos Surf Camp and Ventura Surf School offer private lessons and group experiences at Mondos.
For Fun at the Harbor
The Ventura Port District is the jumping-off point for harbor tours, whale-watching excursions and journeys to Channel Islands National Park. But even if families stay on land, there’s fun to be had. Visit the Village Carousel and Arcade for a pretend pony ride or chances to win tickets and redeem them for trinkets and candy. Other options include a sit-down meal at the vintage-inspired Parlor Restaurant and Soda Fountain or a quick treat stop at Coastal Cone Ice Cream. To expend any extra energy, drive just north to play around at Oxnard Beach Park, another local favorite.
For Future Seals
The small beach town of Port Hueneme has a long history. In fact, it is believed that people of the Chumash Nation used the area as a jumping-off point for fishing expeditions. Today, it is home to Naval Base Ventura County and the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, which was established in 1947 and moved into a new facility in 2011. The museum collects and preserves historic material related to the Naval Construction Force (or Seabees) and the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. Admission is free, and there’s an interactive area for kids.
For Playing by the Pier
Just below Ventura Pier is a nice stretch of sand and a seaside jungle gym — the ultimate duo for ocean-going families. After young travelers have swung and slid to their hearts’ content, they can race to the waves, build a sandcastle or have a picnic lunch. Another perk: It’s an easy walk to Ventura’s Main Street, where shops and eateries abound.