The Tide is High for this Revitalized South Coast Gem
San Buenaventura, as it is officially known, is fast becoming a destination in its own right for its eclectic dining options and bustling, supportive arts community. Hip boutiques and topnotch eateries are popping up like seeds in the sun alongside the plentiful antique stores and historical sights for which the area is known, creating a navigable and friendly downtown region serving many tastes and well worth the half-hour trip south. But fear not, the boom isn’t going to Ventura’s head—its casual and welcoming beach-town vibe is refreshingly intact, and as long as there are waves to be caught right offshore, surf culture will always influence the character of this small coastal city. What follows is a compendium of ideas to get you started on your Ventura visit, be it a quick afternoon stop or an easy weekend away.
Wine and Dine
Locals have a special place in their hearts for the family-owned-and-operated Café Zack (1095 Thompson Blvd., 643-9445, www.cafezack.com), and visitors are sure to share the sentiment. A California haute cuisine menu hits on the favorites while homemade sauces and rotating nightly specials allow the chef to flex his culinary muscles. Make sure to save room for Zack’s Pie—a pecan, caramel, chocolate-laden slice of dessert heaven. El Rey Cantina (294 E. Main St., 653-1111) serves unpretentious Mexican food with a California twist and a side of rockabilly, all under the watchful eye of The King himself, paintings of whom adorn this happy hole in the wall. Destined not to be secret forever, Mary’s Secret Garden (100 N. Fir St., 641-3663) exists to offer patrons no less than the best in organic cuisine designed to nourish body, mind and spirit, including raw specialties and vegan pastries so good they’ll fool you. Watermark on Main (598 E. Main St., 643-6800, www.watermarkonmain.com) raises the bar for Ventura restaurants yet again, with a fine dining menu emphasizing locally grown ingredients, an elegant redesign of a 1907 building, which pays homage to both Spanish Colonial and art deco motifs, and a rooftop bar. Signature entrees include house-made artichoke ravioli and linguini with clams and chorizo.
On the Go
If you’ve got a picnic in mind, stop by Paradise Pantry (677 E. Main St., 641-9940, www.paradisepantry.com) to peruse the tasteful selection of boutique wines, cheeses, handmade chocolates and cured meats—plus gourmet accessories to add to a gift basket or keep for yourself. Owners Kelly and Tina are happy to help customers pick the perfect delicacies, whatever the occasion requires.
Get Thee to a Gallery
Not for nothing has Ventura earned the title “California’s New Art City.” First Fridays (www.firstfridaysventura.com) offer a readymade opportunity to browse the most happening art venues on a self-guided tour. Bell Arts Factory (432 N. Ventura Ave., 643-1960, www.bellartsfactory.org) is a gathering place for the creatively minded. This old mattress factory houses artist studios, classes, exhibits and other events throughout the month. Sylvia White Gallery (1783 E. Main St., 643-8300, www.sylviawhite.com) recently moved from Santa Monica to Main Street, signaling an impending shift in the art-world locus. White maintains an active roster of internationally known artists.
Winter’s north and northwest swells make this the optimum surf season in Ventura County. Whether you’re a novice who can’t wait to get your feet wet or a seasoned pro, these shops will help get you outfitted. Fletcher Chuoinard Designs (43 S. Olive St., 641-9428, www.fcdsurfboards.com) is run by Ventura native Fletcher Chouinard, who has been surfing these breaks—and plenty others around the world—his whole life. The son of Patagonia founder Yvon, Chouinard and team continuously push the boundaries of technology to create the lightest, strongest and most environmentally friendly boards on the market. Known by many as the “father of the modern longboard,” Steve Walden began shaping in 1961 at age 13. Visit the retail store Waldens (853 E. Front St., 653-1717, www.waldensurfboards.com) for a selection of boards, accessories and clothing.
Majestic Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chestnut St., 653-0721; www.venturatheater.net.
Zoey’s Café, 451 E. Main St.; 652-1137; www.zoeyscafe.com.
Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St.; 667-2900; www.rubicontheatre.org.
Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, 450 E. Harbor Blvd., 648-2100; www.cpventura.com.
Bella Maggiore Inn, 67 S. California St., 523-8479.
For more information and to find out about special events throughout the year, contact Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau at 648-2075 or visit www.ventura-usa.com.
All area codes are 805.