We live in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and the first days of October are often toasty. On one particular weekend, it was over 100 degrees! We needed a break from the heat, and also from some stress that had been making both of us crazy. It was time for a breather so we decided to escape and spend the weekend in Ventura.
Downtown Ventura is about an hour from Los Angeles. To avoid the traffic, we took a back route we knew about off the 118 freeway through Moorpark. It’s a picturesque drive through country fields, farm stands, nurseries, and gentle hills.
A short hop on the 126 freeway landed us almost smack in the middle of the charming and quirky downtown section of Ventura.
A sweaty but fun Harvest Festival
One reason we chose to spend the weekend in Ventura was that the Harvest Festival was taking place at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. We’d been to the Strawberry Festival in Oxnard and were expecting something similar with tent vendors and food trucks.
The Harvest Festival was different and was housed 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 majesty of the European backdrop.
Even though the fairground is located near the ocean, the temperature was still oppressively warm and humid, which is not normally the case in Ventura. It’s usually wonderfully pleasant.
When we walked into the vendor buildings it felt like walking into a steam bath. I felt sorry for those who had to stay inside all day.
Despite the sticky heat, 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.
We ate lunch at the festival, but there weren’t many food trucks to choose from. I dumbly decided to gobble down a plate of greasy Pad Thai that I’m sure had a zillion calories. The outdoor eating area didn’t have enough umbrellas on the tables, and I thought I was going to pass out from the heat.
Air conditioning and a brew
We headed downtown to find a place to chill out that had air conditioning 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
After cooling off and enjoying a cold glass of beer, we checked into our hotel room so Doug could take a snooze.
We reserved our room at the last minute and it wasn’t what we expected. The motel was located outside of the downtown area on a busy street and wasn’t close enough to walk to the beach.
The outside of it looked sketchy and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go in. Fortunately, it turned out to be clean and comfortable, but I would have preferred an ocean view.
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. In fact, I wouldn’t mind moving there. Downtown Ventura 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. We started off with a tantalizing tomato bruschetta that we spread on fresh garlic bread.
I ordered cioppino (seafood soup in tomato broth) and it came with crusty and freshly baked crostini. Doug had linguini with seafood. Both meals were sublime and we were happy campers.
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 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 bit 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. Lynn, a woman from a networking group I belong to is the owner of Greek at the Harbor.
I’ve eaten there before and loved the food. We were still too full from breakfast but enjoyed a tasty appetizer of roasted artichoke hearts at their Santorini bar with a glass of cold chardonnay.
A place to relax and chill
Spending the weekend in Ventura is a wonderful way to relieve stress and regroup. Next time we come back, we want to take our two little dogs so they’ll be able to have a change of scenery too. Downtown Ventura is dog-friendly with plenty of available pooper scoopers and dog-friendly outdoor cafes.
Planning on coming to visit in the future?
Where do you love to go to enjoy some R & R when you’re feeling stressed? Please leave a comment below.