Los Angelenos looking for an escape from the heat in the summer often escape for the weekend to Ventura, North of the city because it’s only an hour away. We went there in October during a heatwave.
We were coming from the Northern end of the valley and took the 118 freeway through Moorpark to escape the traffic on the 101. It’s a picturesque drive through the country fields, farm stands, nurseries, and gentle hills of Ventura County.
A short hop on the 126 freeway will land you almost smack in the middle of the charming and quirky downtown section of the city of Ventura.
A sweaty but fun Harvest Festival
The Harvest Festival took place in 3 large buildings at the fairgrounds. Each was packed to the gills with vendors selling gourmet food items, crafts, holiday decorations, clothing, and more. It reminded me of our Christmas Market tour of Eastern and Central Europe without the atmosphere of a medieval backdrop.
The fairground is near the ocean, but the heat was still oppressively warm and humid. That was unusual for Ventura because it normally has a pleasant sea breeze during the warmer months.
That made the festival buildings feel like a steam bath and I felt sorry for those who had to stay inside.
Despite that inconvenience, we made off with a ton of booty, and there were plenty of free food samples to sample. I bought homemade pasta, artichoke tapenade, natural marinades, scone mix with lemon and orange curd, and a cool lotus backpack.
Air conditioning and a brew
We headed downtown to find a place with air conditioning to chill out and stopped in to have a cold glass of beer at Grapes and Hops. It’s a trendy and “cool” beer and wine bar. Ahhh! What a relief!
Hotel booking fail
Our hotel was an epic fail. Not because it wasn’t clean. It turned out to be a bad location that was located on a busy street far from the beach.
Part of the reason for that was because we decided to escape at the last minute and didn’t take much time to do research. There are plenty of nice places to stay Downtown and on the shore.
One small hotel we love is called the Cliff House Inn on the Ocean at Muscle Shoals not far away. It’s tiny but has an amazing restaurant and is right on the shore. One time we stayed there, we saw a huge pod of dolphins playing in the cove in front of it.
Just the right amount of funkiness in Downtown Ventura
Our room may have been boring, but we were thrilled to spend the weekend in Ventura. The Downtown section has an old-fashioned hometown feel but is also artsy, bohemian, and pet-friendly.
East Main Street is lined with casual restaurants, boutiques, vintage stores, thrift shops, and pubs that buzz with activity. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual and doesn’t have the crazy traffic typical of LA beach towns.
Dinner Italian style
That night, we went to dinner at Café Fiore, a restaurant that features authentic Italian cuisine. It’s located on California Street, off East Main.
If you love Italian food, you’ll be more than happy eating there.
The Iconic Pier
After dinner, we walked to the end of the old pier. It was built in 1872, is unusually long and a bit rickety. Standing at the end of it felt like we were in the middle of the ocean. The calm evening breeze was a welcome relief from the day’s heat and we enjoyed watching the fisherman, residents, and tourists who had also ventured out into the night.
You can’t visit Ventura without going to the beach
We drove a little south of downtown and found a neighborhood near the water that had free parking. It was only a block from the sand. The sky was foggy at first, but the mist burned off quickly.
Dipping our tootsies into the water was complete bliss. A couple of happy dogs pranced on the sand and in the water and you could tell they were having a great time.
A big black Labrador came up to me with a tennis ball in his mouth. He knew a sucker when he saw one and offered me his ball hoping that I’d throw it. His longing eyes were difficult to resist. I threw the ball a few times as he scrambled to fetch it.
Our last stop before heading back to the San Fernando Valley was at the Marina. One of my friends owns the Greek at the Harbor. I’ve eaten there before and love their cuisine.
The marina is also where you can take an Island Packers boat to the Channel Islands and spend the day there. Part of it is a National Park and it’s gorgeous. We took the boat to Santa Rosa Island on one occasion and hiked around it.
A place to relax and chill
Spending the weekend in Ventura is a wonderful way to relieve stress and regroup. Downtown Ventura is dog-friendly with plenty of available pooper scoopers and dog-friendly outdoor cafes so bring your pooch along.
Where do you love to go to enjoy some R & R when you’re feeling stressed? Please leave a comment below.