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Where is Ventura County? And what are the best things to do in Ventura County California?
We knew nothing about Ventura County before our Southern California road trip last month, not even where it was located. I had only ever heard of Ventura Boulevard in a few song lyrics and that thoroughfare is in LA.
Ventura County, California is about an hour north of LA and 30-minutes south of Santa Barbara. Be sure to leave your pretense and busyness on the highway out of LA, because it doesn’t belong in Ventura County.
It’s slower paced and less crowded.
I’m glad we know about Ventura County Ca now and can share with you the many amazing things to do in Ventura with kids. It’s full of unexpected surprises and adventures.
We stopped here for three days to enjoy the coastal living, and one of the main tourist attractions in Ventura, the Channel Islands National Park.
We visited on a paid partnership with Visit California and Ventura County Coast on the Kidifornia Adventures campaign.
Keep reading down below for all our best tips on Ventura, and then for even more tips on the Central Coast of California check out the most instagramable town in California.
17 Things to do in Ventura County California
Ventura Harbor Village
Ventura Harbor Village is located on a small strip of land in the middle of the beach and the harbor.
The beach, Surfers knoll, has a popular surf break at the Santa Clara River Mouth, and the harbor is one of the largest harbors in North America for offloading squid.
It is a working harbor and fishing marina which also has shops, galleries, restaurants and waterfront activities.
Just wandering around this harbor will elevate your happiness with the bougainvillea laden paths, the brilliant blue water filled with sailing ships, and the stunning Topatopa mountains in the background.
Their magnetic power kept pulling my eyes back to gaze in wonder.
In the moments between gazing, there are these fun things to do in Ventura Village Harbor.
2. Soak up Harbor life on a Pedal Boat Ride
We were a little wary to take out the pedal boats.
Not because we didn’t think it would be a fun way to explore the harbor, but because the last couple of times we’ve taken out pedal boats they’ve been an excruciating workout.
We swore we’d never take out another pedal boat again.
But, we could not resist the lure of sea lions resting on the wharves and swimming in the waters.
Thankfully, these pedal boats were really easy to peddle! We had a fun half hour adventure peddling between the young children sailing and the sea lions resting on the wharves.
One sea lion had taken over the back of someone’s parked boat for a little sunning, the other was resting out on a jetty.
You can rent the pedal boats from Ventura Boat Rentals. They also offer harbor tours, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, electric boats and jet skis!
3. Enjoy a Seafood Lunch with a View at Brophy Bros Restaurant
You can’t beat the views from this second story restaurant on Ventura Harbor. Aim for a table on the enclosed patio.
At Brophy Bros you’ll find any kind of seafood dish that you like. We went for some local pan blackened Cajun sea bass and Mahi Mahi with a mango and papaya relish.
A steamed mussels in broth starter was the perfect accompaniment to the stunning views. Those mountains!!
Friday nights are the popular time for locals to come sit at the full length bar facing the marina to eat oysters and enjoy happy hour drink prices.
4. Treat yourself with fish cone at Coastal Cone Ice Cream
Have you ever had Taiyaki ice cream cone before? Have you ever heard of it?
Taiyaki is a popular street food found in Korea, Japan, San Francisco, LA an New York. Coastal Cone is the only place between LA and San Fran to offer Taiyaki Fish Cones.
It’s a fish shaped cake turned waffle, which is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside like a dessert pancake, making ice creams extra delicious.
Now to choose from the 46 ice cream flavors for a great pairing.
We ate a lot of ice cream on our Southern California Road trip. No wonder the girls loved the Kidifornia adventure so much.
5. Sea Cave Kayak Adventure at Channel Islands National Park
A definite highlight of our family road trip to Ventura California was our day trip to the Channel Islands National Park, which is about an 80 minute ferry ride from Ventura Harbor.
It is America’s least visited National Park and is full of natural beauty, wildlife and plenty of adventure.
The Channel Islands National Park is made up of five separate islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara.
You can visit any of the islands by boat with Island Packers, by plane with Channel Islands Aviation, or your own private boat.
The boat trip over is just as spectacular as the Channel Islands. The odds are high that you’ll see sea lions, dolphins and whales.
We enjoyed a sea cave kayak adventure tour with Santa Barbara Adventure Company on Santa Cruz Island.
We spent close to three hours paddling through the various sea caves such as Elephant Belly, In and Out, and the Painted Cave.
We learned a lot about the islands, saw plenty of nesting birds and even had a sea lion pop up next to us out of the kelp forest.
Speaking of which, we snorkeled through the kelp forest once we finished our kayaking tour. It was a special experience which warranted an entire post on our site on its own.
You can click here to read more about our amazing visit to the Channel Islands National Park with kids.
It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Ventura California with kids.
6. Go Vintage at Village Carousel and Arcade
One of my earliest travel memories was back when I was about eight on a family vacation by the beach. In the hotel there was a small games room that had Pac Man.
My brother and sister and I spent hours each day playing and competing against our new Indian friends.
It was incredible how much we bonded over that game. We were so sad when we had to leave each other at the end of our vacation.
Now that I travel with my kids, I do my best to steer them to adventures in the Great Outdoors, frowning over staying inside to play games.
However, each time they pressure me to play arcade games, I remember that vacation and how much joy it gave me to do the same.
So I relent, with some time restrictions. We always end up having a fun time.
We popped into the Carousel and Arcade Games in Ventura Harbor Village for a few games of basketball toss and car races, collecting a few tickets to trade in for prizes as we went.
It’s vintage fun in Ventura!
Do you have sweet childhood memories of arcade game fun as well?
7. Explore Downtown Ventura
Downtown Ventura is perfect for a relaxed afternoon of shopping (window or not) and soaking up the Ventura vibe.
Main street is several blocks long and filled with boutique stores, antique shops, cafes, restaurants, art galleries, entertainment spaces, and a large collection of second-hand stores.
Downtown Ventura is gorgeous and funky! We instantly liked it when we drove into town.
Amongst the shopping and eating, be sure to stop and marvel at the beautiful Ventura City Hall and the mission (see point 7).
For all you travel addicts, do not walk past Passport Habits.
It’s a store created for travelers by a traveler. The owner has lived and traveled all over the world and continues to hand pack items from her adventures for her store.
I loved it and could have bought one of everything.
I settled for a bunch of crystals for myself, Craig and the girls. I could feel the energy off them and knew they were the real deal.
You’ll also find jewelry from Bali, colorful Moroccan and Turkey carpets, luggage and all sorts of travel related knick knacks. Get lost in there for a while.
For the men, Iron & Resin was a store with swagger. They have a small, hand built collection of goods that draws heavily upon the founder’s own lifestyles and experiences.
They’re focused on local sustainability: crafting clothes in the US, reducing their footprint on the planet, and making clothes that last! I like them.
We also passed by a couple of cool looking breweries and wine tasting rooms.
You have plenty of choices for places to eat and play in Downtown Ventura.
The good news is they are all situated on the main street and in easy walking distance from each other (and the Ventura Pier and Crowne Plaza Hotel).
8. San Buenaventura Mission
San Buenaventura Mission was created in 1749 with the intention of converting the native Chumash people into the Spanish way of living and Catholic religion.
It’s had a turbulent past of earthquakes, fires and pirates, yet is still a working church today for Catholics and non-Catholics.
The Mission is opened to the public to explore. It’s only small so you won’t need a lot of time, but it’s one of the historic things to do in Ventura California.
We arrived right near closing so had a few minutes to walk round the serene mission gardens. It’s a wonderful spot to get away and contemplate what ever you want to reflect on.
Visiting San Buenaventura Mission costs $4 for adults, $1 for kids, and $10 for a family of four.
9. Play at Ventura Pier and Promenade
We didn’t get to spend much time exploring Ventura Beach and Ventura Pier. The pier is at the bottom of Downton Ventura and is the 8th longest in California and a favorite for fisherman.
On both sides of the pier is the popular San Buenaventura State Beach.
There is a sand playground at its base with kids’ swings and the boardwalk along the beach is great for walkers, skaters, bikers, you name it.
We heard the tacos on the pier are yummy and cheap!
There is a great surfing break just to the north of the pier as well at Surfers Point Beach. It’s located next to the Seaside Park at the mouth of Ventura River.
I enjoyed watching the surfers of a morning from our balcony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The waves were consistently good every day.
I also loved the views sitting around the fire pit out the front of the Crowne Plaza and looking out towards the Channel Islands.
It was very serene and felt a lot like I was in Hawaii.
Spencer Makenzie’s Fish also came highly recommended to us by the locals as one of the best places in California for fish tacos. Let me know!
10. Enjoy a Seafood Dinner at Lure Fish House
Locals’ favorite, the Lure Fish House, is an elegant (and reasonably priced) seafood restaurant in Downtown Ventura.
It has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and feels like the kind of place where everyone will know your name.
You can sit at the booths inside, the patio deck outside, or if you don’t want to wait for a table, grab an empty seat at the bar or high tops.
Lure is one of the most popular places to eat in Ventura and can get very busy so you might want to reserve a table.
Don’t worry about dressing up though, you’re in Ventura, come as you are!
The menu at Lure Fish House features fresh and sustainable seafood locally caught, organically grown local produce, and wines from local vineyards whenever possible.
We both ordered the local wild Pacific Rockfish with local brussel sprouts and almond pesto cauliflower #delish
11. Be Waffle Wowed at Harvest Café
We discovered Harvest Cafe as we were leaving Ventura and were looking for a quick breakfast spot. It was the perfect end to our time in Ventura.
Harvest Café promises to be a true farm-to-table restaurant, serving only the freshest produce, arriving daily from farms in the Ventura area.
All of their ingredients are organic, and grown as close to our location as possible. How can you not support such a socially responsible local company who cares about your health and delicious food?
Waffles are rarely on my agenda so I could not resist ordering a serve of the gluten free vegan buckwheat waffles topped with berries and cashew nut cream and maple syrup.
The combination of flavors were superb.
I don’t have a sweet tooth so don’t order pancakes much, but this had just enough sweetness to be delicious without making me feel ill, and combined with the berries, and the cashew nut cream, it was total heaven.
I could eat them every day.
The coffee was pretty good too and I was delighted with the healthy breakfast options for kids.
Seriously. Do not miss Harvest Café when you are in California! They even have games the kids can play even while you eat your breakfast.
12. Sunset Dinner – La Cosecha Modern Cochina
After our Channel Islands adventure, we decided to go back to our hotel in Ventura and eat dinner at the restaurant so we could relax around the fire pit with views of the islands we had just sailed back from.
I’m always a little cautious eating at hotel restaurants as they can be so hit and miss.
But we were just ready to relax. I forget that we were in California so of course the food was going to be good.
We didn’t have one bad food experience in Southern California.
In fact, one of our favorite food experiences on our Southern California road trip was the Pacific Hideaway restaurant inside the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel.
La Cosecha proved to be a winning choice for our final meal in California and probably our last great Mexican meal we’ll have for awhile.
You just can’t find great Mexican in Raleigh like you do in SoCal.
La Coscha has award winning innovate Mexican dishes created from ingredients that honor the local agriculture as well as sustainably sources seafood.
We ordered Chile Relleno for me and more shrimp tacos for Craig.
It was a wonderful space to watch the sunset and relax around the fire chatting with other people staying in the hotel.
And the girls were happy as they could run around safely on the beach promenade in front of us.
Oxnard Ca is about 10 minutes south of Ventura Ca.
It’s very similar in that it offers the same active beach lifestyle and its own harbor, the Channel Islands Harbor, where you’ll find restaurants, water experiences, and the Sunday Farmers Market.
13. Enjoy breakfast at Fresh & Fabulous Café
Looking for a delicious local breakfast to give you the energy for your day exploring Oxnard?
Fresh & Fabulous is a family owned café since 2006. They make their food from scratch using fine ingredients and traditional methods – just like grandma used to make them!
The service was just as fresh and fabulous as the food.
The market veggie omelet with a side of hash browns was huge and very tasty!
14. Slow Down on a Gondola Ride
Time for a little Venetian flavor on your Ventura County vacation. And why not?
The Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard is the perfect place for a gondola ride. Unlike Venice, Italy, you will mostly have the canals to yourself, which makes this gondola ride experience even more special.
As our guide, and owner of Gondola Paradiso, Mark Schooling explained to us,
“we live fast paced lives, something our bodies (and spirit) are not actually wired to do. It’s vital for our health that we take the time to slow down and do not much else but sit in a gondola and move at the pace of a human paddle stroke. “
I felt that return to myself only just a few strokes in.
Apart from our conversations, all I could hear was the gentle lapping of the paddle, and the only other movement we were witness to was the group of kids paddling by on their stand up paddle boards.
Their music broke the serenity a little, but their laughter only added to the joy of experiencing local living.
The gondola ride is a loop around the canals of Coral Island where you get to see the beautiful mansions on the water. In Oxnard, California they run cheap at an average of about 2 million.
Mark has everything set up for a comfortable gondola ride; warm blankets to offset any cool breeze. And that’s all you need for your gondola ride.
There was also plenty of space for us to sit and relax. You are more than welcome to bring your own food and drinks as well.
We have penciled in a sunset gondola ride with wine and cheese for our next visit to Ventura County. Don’t forget yours!
And remember the gondola rule for passing under bridges – you have to kiss your partner. Pucker up, you’ve two of them ahead.
This was one of our favorite things to do in Oxnard California.
15. Bond Over a Family Game of Foot Golf
I had never heard of Foot Golf until it landed on our Ventura itinerary.
Off we went on our first afternoon to the local River Ridge Golf Club to perfect our soccer golf skills.
What a fun family adventure it was!
I highly recommend foot golf as one of the best things to do in Ventura with kids. Actually, go out this weekend in your hometown and play it.
It’s a great way to get the kids outside in nature practicing skills, moving their bodies and making memories.
We played nine holes which was enough. I think 18 holes with young kids is too much.
Savannah was pretty exhausted after it because she ran almost the entire time. Some holes took her 22 kicks to get it in!! We loved her style and perseverance to just run and dribble.
So what is foot golf?
It’s where you kick a soccer ball into a gigantic golf hole on the golf course. The fairways are much smaller than your typical golf ones.
Other than that the game concept is pretty much the same.
You do share the course with golfers so be sure to watch for their flying balls and don’t get in the way of their shot.
16. The Annex at The Collection at Riverpark, Oxnard
The Annex is a culinary focused, community minded marketplace.
It’s the first Food Hall in Ventura County and has a collection of eateries and shops around a central common eating area.
The Annex is a collection of global cuisine ranging from burgers, Mexican, Italian, crepes, Vietnamese, Hawaiian Poke and Latin American Ceviche bowls, and even healthy smoothies.
And perhaps a little of the unhealthy: ice cream that had a line wrapped around the annex, and a small bar (Bottle & Pint) showcasing craft beer from around the world.
My pineapple cider with my bowl of steaming Vietnamese pho (from Love Pho) was a winner!
When you have finished you can wander around The Collection, which is an outdoor mall with plenty of major retailers and smaller boutique stores.
Where to Stay in Ventura California
17. Crowne Plaza Hotel
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel. As one of the Ventura Beach hotels, it has prime beachfront location and some of the rooms have ocean views.
As mentioned I loved sitting on my balcony of a morning watching the surfers.
The rooms, although a little small, were modern, clean and comfortable. The fitness center was well stocked with everything you need to maintain your workout.
For those who want to relax around the hotel, the Crowne Plaza has a pool facing the beach. And we loved the firepit to sit around at night.
It was relaxing, warm and quite social. And you could easily walk into downtown from the Crowne Plaza.
Looking for more hotels in Ventura Ca? Our affiliate partner Booking.com has over 50 properties to choose from.
If you need car rental, check out our other affiliate partner, RentalCars.com – they are our go to resource for car hire since 2007!