Family Travel Destination Spotlight: Ventura, California
Located on the California coast, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Ventura has a casual beach town feel and lots to do and see.
There’s something fun for families with kids of all ages – lounging on the beach, cruising the boardwalk, bike riding, kayaking and paddle boating, boat trips and whale watching, playing at the park, shopping, listening to live music, and much, much more. Here are just a few of the many fun things for families to see and do in Ventura.
Ventura Pier and Beachfront Promenade
The Ventura Pier and Beachfront Promenade (at Harbor Boulevard East of California Street) are perfect for strolling, sightseeing, and enjoying beautiful scenery.
One of California’s oldest wooden piers and designated a Ventura Historic Landmark, the Ventura Pier features interpretive display panels, benches, restrooms, and amazing views of the Channel Islands, coastline, and mountains.
It includes two restaurants, Beach House Fish (previously Erik Erikson’s), with an upstairs deck, fish market, and gift shop (www.beachousefish.com), and Beach House Tacos (www.beach-house-tacos.com), in a casual outdoor setting.
The Ventura Promenade is a pathway that runs between the Ventura Pier and Surfers Point beach. You can rent bicycles or surreys for riding along the path. Visit www.wheelfunrentals.com.
The beach next to the Pier has a playground with swings and climbing structures, making it a favorite beach for families.
Go a few blocks inland from the pier and promenade (straight up California Street), and you’re in Downtown Ventura. The downtown area is located primarily on Main Street, as well as on a few side streets. It features lots of great shops and restaurants, a movie theater, and the San Buenaventura Mission (www.sanbuenaventuramission.org). Visit http://downtownventura.org/. A free trolley runs from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday (www.venturatrolley.com).
The Ventura Harbor is located off Harbor Boulevard, and includes the Channel Islands National Park and Visitor Center, Ventura Harbor Village, Surfer’s Knoll Beach, and Harbor Cove beach.
Ventura Harbor Village (www.venturaharborvillage.com), located on the Channel Islands Coast, at 1583 Spinnaker Drive, is dubbed California’s Seaside Village. It features a beautiful marina, several shops and restaurants, live entertainment, and recreational activities.
While you’re at Ventura Harbor Village, you and your family can:
- Enjoy live outdoor music performances
- Take funny photos with some fun photo op face cut-out props
- Look across the harbor through a telescope
- Rent a boat, paddle boats, or kayaks
- Take a Harbor Cruise
- Go on a whale watching excursion
- Play in the arcade
- Ride on the carousel
Some family-friendly Ventura Harbor Village restaurants include:
- Brophy Bros. Restaurant & Clam Bar – fresh seafood, famous clam chowder, fresh sourdough bread
- 805 Bar & Grilled Cheese – gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, soups, and tapas
- The Greek Mediterranean Steak & Seafood – traditional Greek cuisine, fresh fish, and gourmet burgers – inspired by the isle of Santorini (in the evenings live entertainment features Greek folk musicians and belly dancers)
- The Parlor Restaurant and Soda Fountain – classic, burgers, hot dogs, and a 1940’s vintage-style soda fountain
And for dessert…
- Coastal Cone Ice Cream – they have more than 40 flavors of ice cream, plus custom made sundaes, Dole Whips, and more, and they make their own waffle cones in-house.
More Ventura Harbor Locations
Across the street (on Spinnaker Drive) from the Ventura Harbor Village is the beach. Directly across is Surfer’s Knoll Beach, where the surf breaks at the Santa Clara River Mouth. Next to that is Harbor Cove Beach (Mother’s Beach), named one of the safest beaches in Ventura. This beach is very popular with families, is framed by the jetty, and is a great spot for watching boats going in and out of the harbor.
Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center
Across the street from Harbor Cove Beach (1901 Spinnaker Dr.) is the Channel Island National Park Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is dedicated to the Channel Islands National Park, a United States national park that consists of five islands off the coast (see https://www.nps.gov/chis/index.htm). You can also take a boat trip out to the Channel Islands from the Harbor (www.islandpackers.com).
The Visitor Center has displays of wildlife and sea life from the islands, a live tidal pool, book and gift store, and daily educational talks. Upstairs, there’s a viewing tower with one of the best views of Ventura Harbor, the Channel Islands, and the Ventura coastline. In the center’s auditorium, a 25-minute movie, “A Treasure in the Sea” narrated by Kevin Costner, is shown throughout the day. The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
Harbor Cove Café
Next to the Visitor Center is a little gem of a restaurant, Harbor Cove Café, which serves breakfast and lunch. You can sit indoors or outdoors with a close-up view of the marina.
Near the Ventura Harbor, at the south end of Pierpont Boulevard, Marina Park is a beautiful 15-acre oceanfront park. Set on the beach, this park features palm trees, a huge grassy area, picnic tables, barbecues, restrooms, and a great playground with a replica sailing ship. It’s perfect for a picnic and a day of family fun!
Getting to Ventura
Ventura is right off the 101 freeway. If you live in California, it’s a pretty easy drive from just about anywhere. You can also get here by train – the Amtrak station is located at the Ventura Fairgrounds. Or, from out of state, you can fly into the Santa Barbara Airport, Burbank Airport, or LAX.
Where to stay in Ventura
Our favorite hotel here is the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, which overlooks the beach near the Ventura Pier, on the Beachfront Promenade. All rooms, which have recently been renovated, have ocean views. It has a beachfront pool and patio and dining area (with a fire pit), and two restaurants, the Aqua Beachfront Bar and La Cosecha Modern Mexican Food restaurant. It’s located at 450 E. Harbor Blvd. Call (805) 648-2100 or visit www.cpventura.com
Another recommended hotel is the Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor. It is located at the Ventura Harbor, and has rooms with a harbor view. It has a pool and hot tub, an on-site tennis court and fitness center, and bicycle rentals.
Four Points’ Alexander’s Restaurant has dining indoors and out on the patio, and also has a Grab and Go menu so you can order food from their kitchen and take it with you on your adventures. It’s located at 1050 Schooner Dr. Call (805) 658-1212 or visit www.fourpointsventuraharborresort.com
For more information about Ventura, California, visit www.visitventuraca.com. Enjoy your trip, and feel free to share your discoveries, adventures, and recommendations with us!
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- Lori Granieri