Ventura, California

Posted by on June 28, 2005
We spent a week in Ventura, California this winter, because it seemed like a good location in the mid-California coast – not too far from Los Angeles, but far enough away, and close to the sea, and not too far from Santa Barbara, which we both remembered as a lovely city.  Perhaps most important, we were trading a time-share week, and this place became available.  It proved to be a mixed bag, in some ways, but all in all, a great adventure. Ventura was not named for Jesse, the former governor of Minnesota.  In fact, it was incorporated in 1866, and early missionaries named it in honor of St. Bonaventure.Mission San Buenaventura (the Spanish spelling, later shortened to Ventura,) was the most successful and influential of the California missions founded by Father Junipero Serra, (one of those names you somehow remember from grammar school.)

The Spanish missionaries who started the famous California missions unwittingly set the stage for the extremely influential and ubiquitous Spanish décor, which is seen everywhere in California.

I was very surprised to learn that this very old (by California standards) town was isolated from the rest of California until as recently as 1969. Because of the mountains to the north and south, travel to Ventura was limited to bad roads over high passes for all of that time.

Strangely, the place has a 20’s Art Deco feel, which luckily has not been too modernized.  Many of the streets looked to me exactly like streets of bungalows I remember from New Zealand.

Since the new highway, Route 101, was built over the mountain from Los Angeles area, the area has surged in size.  The population is now greater than 100,000, having quadrupled in the last 20 years.

Much of Ventura, just behind the beaches, is flat bottomland, which until recently was all used for truck farming, and a lot of which is now being made into instant shopping centers.  This also seems true for the Oxnard area, just south of Ventura. It’s called progress.

Harbortown Point Resort seems quite isolated, though it is just north of the Ventura Harbor entrance, and just behind the dune and the beach.  It is a small resort and it was very quiet when we were there, which is probably why were able to get an apartment.  In season, I am certain it is very busy.  Our studio apartment was very large, with a spacious glass walled porch, perfect for watching sunsets over the Pacific.  It was cleverly arranged, with a bedroom area off in the back, which could be isolated, and a huge bathroom, with two sinks, excellent lighting, lots of drawer space and a dressing table area.  The kitchen was complete and bright and very clean, as was the whole place.  We decided we could easily live in that much space (at least on vacation.)

Though it was quiet, and the staff was minimal, with not much activity in the restaurant, we used the resort as our jumping off point for various adventures.

Among our discoveries was a big one, and that is that the Channel Island National Park is right off the coast of Ventura.  These islands are extremely popular and are known as the North American Galapagos, a reference to the magnificent wildlife thereon.  I regret that the “Marine Layer,” a coastal fog, kept us from a planned whale watch and visit to the islands.  We did get a view of some of the islands on the one day when we did not experience the often present “marine Layer.”

We took advantage of our location to take several day trips: to Ojai, to The Reagan Library, to Santa Barbara, and to Pasadena.

Ojai is just one-half hour from Ventura, inland in to the mountains.  It has been a center for Yoga and alternative life style for a very long period, a sort of Woodstock-like place.  Ojai is in a bowl between mountains, with a rather Shangri-La kind of ambience: low-key, sunny and calm.  It is easy to see what has attracted people over the years.  Following the alternate life style folks have come the golfers and the sun-worshipers. The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa is now one of the chic destinations of the area, and we could easily see why. We lunched there in an outdoor dining room overlooking a pristine golf course under a bright blue sky bathed in sunlight, with mountains all around.  In the distance were orange groves as far as the eye could see.

Winter mudslides had closed one of the routes back down to the sea, so we headed homeward toward Carpenteria but were stopped and detoured to Santa Barbara.  Thus we got to see Santa Barbara twice on this trip, no great hardship.

It is a beautiful city – (Julia Child, who lived there until her death early this year, declared that it was a very European city in which to live, and much less crowded than Europe.)

Santa Barbara has indeed grown more sophisticated, as if that were possible, and well groomed in all its fancy shops, and stunning Spanish buildings, including a drop-dead courthouse, with unforgettable murals.  You could spend a lot of time in Santa Barbara.  Its beach and waterfront esplanade are worth long walks and much attention.

We drove back home that evening to our little nest in Ventura, not displeased that we were staying in the “under appreciated stepsister” of Santa Barbara.  We were very happy to have, by chance, discovered a place not really well known, but well worth a week or more of your time.

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