Ventura, Calif., is surrounded by water. The coastal Pacific city, known for its beaches, lies between the Santa Clara and Ventura rivers at the base of Mount Pinos. The seaside harbor village attracts locals and tourists and is the jumping-off point to reach Channel Islands National Park, a habitat for rare island foxes and scrub jays.
Getting there: Frequent sale rates to Santa Barbara (30 miles north) start from $160 each way; American or United with connection service. One-way rates to Los Angeles (60 miles south) start from $93; nonstop American.
Stay: The bluffside 1910 Craftsman-style Wyndham Garden Ventura Pierpont Inn is about 4 miles from downtown and an eight-minute walk to San Buenaventura State Beach. Choose from a stylish guest room (from $127), suites or a historic cottage (from $299). Some have private patios or balconies with ocean views, hot tub and fireplace. On site are a restaurant, lounge and outdoor pool. 550 San Jon Road, Ventura. 805-947-4757, www.wyndhamhotels.com/wyndham-garden.
Eat: Dine in or take out at Seaward Fish & Chips, a tiny eatery with a menu of fish tacos ($7.95-$9.95), Alaskan cod ($7.95, two pieces), calamari ($9.95) or scallops ($10.95). 1125 S. Seaward Ave., Ventura. 805-653-1511, www.facebook.com/SeawardFishAndChips.
Experience: The historic San Buenaventura Mission, built in 1749, still holds Mass regularly. Take a tour with an expert docent of the 1809 altar, the small museum with local artifacts and gardens. Adults $4; $1 under age 18. 225 E. Main St., Ventura. 805-648-4496, www.sanbuenaventuramission.org. Pick up self-guided walking tour brochures of the adjacent Mission Archaeological Site or for the historic downtown area at the Ventura Visitors Bureau, 101 S. California St., Ventura. https://visitventuraca.com.
Head out from the 1,700-foot Pier (circa 1872) onto the paved Ventura Bike Path to Ojai, known locally as “Shangri-La” due to its gorgeous landscapes. Hybrid bike rentals are $35 full day or $14 per hour. 850 Harbor Blvd., Ventura. 805-650-7770, http://wheelfunrentals.com.
Stay: Rates at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach start from $165 and include full buffet-style breakfast and an evening wine and cheese hour. Uniquely decorated rooms have bathrobes, coffeemakers and either a fireplace or a warming stove. On site are an outdoor pool, a Tequila Grill and a 24-hour fitness center. The 8-mile-long boardwalk, popular with morning joggers, runs between the hotel and the surf. 450 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. 805-648-2100, www.ihg.com/crowneplaza.
Eat: The best downtown happy hour is at Lure Fish House (4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday). Small plates include mesquite charbroiler oysters or crabcakes, $9.50; steamed mussels or clams, $6.50; and fish tacos, $3.75. Entrees range from rockfish, $17, to Icelandic char or steelhead, $23. 60 S. California St., Ventura. 805-567-4400, www.lurefishhouse.com.
Experience: Set sail for Santa Cruz, one of the five islands of Channel Islands National Park, known as the American Galapagos with indigenous wildlife. Head up to the highest peak (2,000 feet) for island and mainland views. The island features deep canyons with springs and streams, 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs and expansive cobblestone beaches. Water conditions are ideal for snorkeling and kayaking through autumn. The trip from Ventura Harbor is about an hour aboard an Island Packers catamaran. Bring your own provisions as there are no restaurants, stores or shops. Adult Day Pass $59; $54 age 55-plus; $41 ages 3-12. 1691 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura. 805-642-1393, http://islandpackers.com.
Stay: The Ventura Beach Marriott has an unbeatable oceanview location and is within walking distance to San Buenaventura State Beach. The hotel features an outdoor pool and whirlpool, a fitness center and Pacifico Restaurant & Lounge, serving California cuisine and handmade cocktails. The Beach Shopping package, with rates from $194 a night, includes a $50 Visa gift card for galleries, shops and museums in town or at the Camarillo Outlet Center, a 10-minute drive. Valid on stays through Dec. 27. Refer to promo code SHO. 2055 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. 805-643-6000, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/oxrvb-ventura-beach-marriott.
Eat: Every seat at the Shoals has an ocean view, making it the spot for romantic sunset dining. The ever-changing menu specializes in fresh local seafood. Entrees, $22-$34. The restaurant is at the Cliff House Inn, an 18-minute drive north. 6602 Old Pacific Coast Highway, Mussel Shoals. 805-652-1381, www.cliffhouseinn.com/shoals.htm.
Experience: Visit four of the 11 vineyards on the Ventura County Wine Trail on an all-day public tour (11 a.m.-5 p.m.) that departs from the Ventura Visitors Bureau. Visit the tasting rooms, meet the vintners, and take in the beautiful scenery and historic locations; $125 per person. 101 S. California St., Ventura. 805-648-2075, www.venturawinetours.com. Take a two-hour surfing lesson for all skill levels and ages including board and wetsuit; $100 per person (two-person minimum). Mondos Beach, 3647 Pacific Coast Highway, Ventura. 805-426-0765, http://venturamakossurfcamp.com.
Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.
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