Preservation Magazine, Summer 2016

Travel Itinerary: Ventura, California

View of Ventura Coast

photo by: Stephen Schafer

A view of the coast from the Ventura Botanical Gardens.

Surf, sand, and sun are the major draws to the quiet Southern California beach city of Ventura. With more than 15 miles of coastline and a warm Mediterranean climate, the area’s robust outdoor offerings, from fishing off the iconic 1872 Ventura Pier to hiking around the Ventura Botanical Gardens in the foothills above the downtown district, can be enjoyed year-round. Ventura also serves as the gateway to Channel Islands National Park, a collection of five remote islands—San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara—that are home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, as well as some of the oldest human remains in North America.

But the town is rich with history, too, dating to the Chumash people, who were the earliest inhabitants of the area. European explorers navigated the region as early as the mid-16th century, and in 1782, Saint Junipero Serra established his ninth and final mission, Mission San Buenaventura, there. The town grew around it, and Ventura was officially established in 1866. In the early 1900s, the downtown boomed, bringing the Spanish Revival, Victorian, and Beaux Arts–style buildings that line the streets today, including the 1912 Ventura County Courthouse and the circa 1928 Majestic Ventura Theater.

To find out the best places to eat, stay, and explore in Ventura, Preservation checked in with three local experts: Anna Rios Bermudez, curator of collections and exhibits at the Museum of Ventura County; Scotty Morris, a longtime Ventura resident and lead vocalist for swing revival band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy; and Stephen Schafer, an architectural photographer and board member of the nonprofit San Buenaventura Conservancy.

Surfers in Ventura

photo by: Henrik Lehnerer/

Surfing near Ventura Pier.

Scotty Morris

Lead vocalist, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

EAT: Breakfast is a great part of Ventura culture. It usually starts around 10 a.m. There’s a debate among Venturans: You either go to Pete’s Breakfast House or Allison’s Country Café. They’re both old-school. I’ve been going to Pete’s for years. For lunch, there’s the family-run Corrales Mexican Food, which has two locations. I’m on the road touring a lot, but whenever I bite into a Corrales burrito, it’s the ultimate “I’m home” feeling.

STAY: The Bella Maggiore Inn on South California Street, which is a bed-and-breakfast [in a 1926 building], is a great place to stay downtown.

DO: I like to go on hikes. Arroyo Verde Park is great; you can hike for 30 minutes or you can hike for two hours. There are so many different trails there. Then there’s C Street, which is our surf spot, and the promenade that runs along the beach, where you can rent bikes [at Wheel Fun Rentals or Ventura Bike Depot] and go for a bike ride, or go for a really great walk in front of a beautiful surf spot. I’m not going to give away the super local surf places, though. Everyone would be so mad at me.

Paradise Pantry

photo by: Stephen Schafer

Paradise Pantry.

Anna Rios Bermudez

Curator, Museum of Ventura County

EAT: I am in a virtual food paradise working in downtown Ventura. My favorite restaurant is Paradise Pantry, a block from the museum. The Killer Mac ‘N’ Cheese is superb, and they serve the most amazing salted butterscotch pot de crème for dessert. Taqueria Tepatitlan on Ventura Avenue serves a delicious shrimp soup. Capriccio is great if you’re in the mood for salads, pastas, and pizza.

STAY: Ventura’s historic Pierpont Inn is a beautiful place to stay. It was built in 1910 to accommodate travelers along the Pacific Coast Highway. The Craftsman bungalow–style building has charming rooms and cottages.

DO: Start with a walk down Main Street in historic Downtown Ventura, where you’ll find lots of antiques and secondhand stores, plus locally owned boutiques and restaurants. Tour the Old Mission San Buenaventura. The Museum of Ventura County across from the mission shares the history and art of Ventura County, with changing exhibits and events. Go north on Ventura Avenue and there’s the Bell Arts Factory, which has artists’ studios and galleries in a former mattress factory. It opens for First Fridays Ventura [a monthly art walk].

Watermark on Main

photo by: Stephen Schafer

Watermark on Main.

Stephen Schafer

Architectural photographer

EAT: I like Café Zack, which is a family-run place that does great lunches and dinners. It’s in a repurposed 1930s cottage. It does mostly California cuisine, and the food is tremendous. There’s also the Watermark on Main, in a restored 1920s building. We have a lot of microbreweries here, too. Poseidon Brewing Company is the best.

STAY: If you want to stay in a 1970s beachside high-rise, then go to the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach. It’s 12 stories tall, it’s right on the water, and it’s centrally located. Every single room has a view.

DO: We have a trifecta here in Ventura: a beach, a mission, and a historic downtown all within five blocks of each other. And it’s all very accessible. We also have Plaza Park, with one of the oldest Moreton Bay fig trees, planted in 1874. It’s a giant tree bigger than most houses. If you want to do a little driving, there’s the San Buenaventura Mission Aqueduct [just outside of town]. There’s also the Old Mission Reservoir. For house museums, there’s the Dudley House, a totally authentic turn-of-the-century Victorian farmhouse. And you can take a tour of the Olivas Adobe, which is an original adobe [built in 1847] that’s been restored and made public.

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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