Ever since I moved to California, I’ve been spending a great deal of time in Ventura—a lazy, historical town splayed out by a cobalt-blue ocean. Sure, it’s about an hour drive from where I live, but sandwiched between orange groves and lemon orchards, the road is so pleasant (and mostly, traffic-free) that I hardly notice time flying by. And parking? A breeze.
In Ventura, every other day is foggy. The beach I frequent is quiet and unfussy. The shore is dotted with pebbles and the occasional lime-green lettuce seaweed that washes up. Seagulls flock there, squabbling as they look for a crumb of something someone has left behind. There’s that smell of the ocean, too, of course. In a way, Ventura has an identity entirely of its own—a sleepy one at that, but it’s all the more charming because of it. And most days, it’s exactly what I’m looking for. Just in case you’re thinking of making a trip out to Ventura, I’ve tailored a perfect schedule for you. (You can thank me later).
Get your morning java fix at: Kay’s Coffee Shop
First things first: Forget your usual Starbucks pick-me-up for a second and give Kay’s java a, um, shot. Nestled between two eateries along the quaint Seaward Avenue, this little coffee shop’s menu of hot and cold drinks really hits the mark. Not to mention, the folks at Kay stock an assortment of drool-worthy baked goods they cook up in-house.
Pull up a chair on the cozy patio and enjoy the laid-back-ness of it all. Or if you feel like having your cuppa joe with a splendid view and a matching soundtrack—like, oh, let’s say, in the form of waves lapping the shore—Kay’s is just a short, minute-ish walk from the beach.
(1124 S Seaward Ave, Ventura)
Soak up the sun at: San Buenaventura State Beach
Got that blended mocha in hand? Good. Now whip out that book you’ve been meaning to read but never had the time. Because if there’s anything about this humble beach town that’s different, it’s that it boasts a slower pace of life.
You can chit-chat, people watch, or body-surf if you’re brave enough to take a dip in the ocean (every time I’ve been there, the water has been too cold for my liking). Or you can just do nothing at all, which is totally, absolutely and completely fine.
Grab a slice of pie for lunch at: Tony’s Pizzaria
With close-to 60 years in the business, Tony’s Pizzaria is one of those neighborhood joints that has held on to its tried-and-true formula for a great pizza-eating experience—a deliciously burnished crust, a great cheese pull, a perfect ratio of sauce to mutz and the right amount of dough sag. You can choose one of the items off the menu, or garnish your own. (I was pleased to spot anchovies on their toppings list).
And if you’re the sort who hates waiting for food, there’s a slew of games—a giant Jenga, Connect Four and a cornhole board—on the patio to indulge in while you wait. Alternatively, you can walk a few blocks down to Topa Topa and enjoy a pint or two while your pizza bakes and bubbles in the fire pit. (And yes, the joint’s coaster pager has a mighty range that extends all the way to the brewery).
(Tony’s: 186 E Thompson Blvd, Ventura | Topa Topa: 104 E Thompson Blvd, Ventura)
Stroll around: E. Main St
The Mission San Buenaventura, with its imposing bell tower and 209-year-history definitely steals the show, so make sure to plan a pit stop if you’ve never been to the area before. When you’re done exploring the gardens around the mission, you can get your shopping fix at local boutiques like Goldie’s on Main, Hey Beautiful or B. on Main. There are plenty of quirky stores to go around, too. Take, Rocket Fizz Ventura, for example, which offers up a nostalgic assortment of candy and sodas. Or Ventura’s Little Shop Of Horrors, which carries bizarre things like taxidermy, insects, books, horror toys and home décor, to name a few.
Hunker down for some dinner at: Ventura Harbor Village
The Ventura Harbor Village is peppered with many restaurants to choose from. You can’t go wrong with Brophy Bros., a casual seafood eatery locals are particularly fond of. People flock to this institution for a helping of their New England clam chowder and fish and chips. If you have a choice (as the restaurant tends to get really busy) opt for a seat on the patio for a dinner replete with views of the mountains and harbor boats. But hold off on that dessert. Head over to Coastal Cone & Parlor instead and grab a scoop from the shop’s extensive roster of over 40 flavors. Don’t forget to ask for fish waffle cone the place is famous for!
(Brophy Bros.: 1559 Spinnaker Dr, Ventura | Coastal Cone: 1583 Spinnaker Dr #104, Ventura)