When most people think about Los Angeles, endless sunshine, quintessential beaches, laidback living, and A-list celebrity sightings come to mind. Having lived in LA most of my life, I feel obligated to add some texture to that. My home city isn’t always as perfectly polished as it appears on TV screens and IG influencer profiles. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But the bumper-to-bumper freeways and overcrowded tourist attractions can get old.
That’s why I tend to venture outside of the city whenever I need some room to breathe. (A sentence that actually references the destination in this case, as in: “venture” + “ahhhhhhh” — something I promise I just noticed.)
Just an hour north of LA (depending on where you are, it can take longer), this small beachside city has become my go-to hideaway for all things outdoorsy. It’s also a haven for fresh AF seafood, hand-crafted brews, and surf culture. Every time I visit I feel almost instantly relaxed. Exhale the smog, inhale nothing but briny sea air.
For a taste of what the golden state of mind is all about, here’s my guide to where to play, eat, stay, and party in Ventura Beach — SoCal’s most underrated beach destination.
PART I – Where to Play
Bike the Ventura River Trail
There is no shortage of endless summer vibes in Ventura, which makes it an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. After all, it’s easy to stay active and leave the comfort of your Airbnb when it’s 75 and sunny outside. One of the best ways to take in Ventura’s lush vegetation and wildlife is by biking up the Ventura River Trail. Starting under the historic Ventura pier, the 34-mile out and back trail leads you through the bustling downtown streets, diverse agriculture, and riverside views — extending all the way to the neighboring city of Ojai. Here, you can explore and grab lunch before pedaling back. I may not have been able to walk the next day, but the sore legs were totally worth the afternoon adventure.
Assuming you can’t fit your beach cruiser in your carry-on suitcase, Wheel Fun Rentals has plenty of bike options and self-guided tours to get you where you want to go. If you’d rather take a leisurely stroll down the boardwalk, try out the Quad Sport or Chopper. These contraptions are basically lawn chairs on wheels. The Double Surrey Cycle is also a blast for groups (I don’t recommend hitting the brewery with your friends until after the ride).
Catch Waves at Surfers Point Beach
If you couldn’t already guess by the name, Surfers Point Beach at Seaside Park is one of the most popular surf spots in Ventura. You’ll see tons of surfers in the water like a herd of seals frolicking pretty much any time of the day. West of the pier off Figueroa Street, the point offers a variety of waves that break onto a moderately rocky shore. I’m only an amateur surfer at best, but I spent a few early mornings here as a teen to catch some waves before (barely) making it to school on time. Meaning that there are certain days when the waves are tame enough for beginner to intermediate surfers, too. Just make sure to check the surf forecast before you jump in, as the swells can get pretty big if you’re not careful (I made this mistake once and clearly it had an impact).
You can get everything you need to hit the waves at Seaward Surf & Sport. They have wetsuits, two different soft-top board types (depending on your experience), and other water equipment that you can rent for up to a week.
Paddleboard, Pedal Boat, and Kayak at Ventura Harbor Village
If surfing is a bit too far out of your comfort zone, head to Ventura Harbor Village to spend a few hours out on the still waters instead. Ventura Boat Rentals supplies kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and my personal favorite, swan-shaped pedal boats that are all first come first serve. I love these rentals because I can get a tan and exercise while enjoying the cool ocean vibes, rather than just laying on the sand all day (although I’m not opposed to this either). The best part about the harbor is that it’s surrounded by waterfront dining and boutique shops – go to Harbor Village Gallery and Gifts for unique souvenirs and local art.
Maybe your willpower is stronger than mine, but I cannot leave the harbor without making a pitstop at Coastal Cone Ice Cream. There are 40 flavors of ice cream and sorbet to choose from, but what draws me in every time is the Taiyaki. It’s a fish-shaped ice cream cone with a center filling of your choice (Nutella is my go-to) and your favorite toppings. Even if your stomach can’t make it through the entire cone, the aesthetically alluring dessert is worth trying.
PART II – Where to Eat & Drink
Anacapa Brewing Co.
Beer-lovers will be happy to learn that Ventura is home to a slew of breweries. I’m not a huge beer gal, but I can appreciate a good handcrafted golden ale. In fact, it’s basically become a tradition for me to stop at Anacapa Brewing Co. to grab a cold one and lunch any time I’m in town. Smack dab in the middle of Main Street, the brewery features a seasonal rotation of over 30 beers, ranging from stouts and IPAs to lagers and ciders. That first hoppy sip is especially thirst-quenching after a few hours in the sun.
What I appreciate about Anacapa Brewing Co. is that their dining menu offers more than just your typical greasy bar food. I’ve had most of their menu items at this point, and I can attest to the fact that everything is fresh, flavorful, and decently priced. Plus, the portion sizes are big enough to have leftovers. The Bratzel Bites – AKA, warm, buttery pretzel bites paired with bratwurst and house IPA cheese dip – is easily the most enticing appetizer on the menu. But for something a little lighter, I always get the classic caesar salad with shrimp. You really can’t go wrong with a caesar salad, but this one is truly *chef’s kiss.* The diverse main course menu has everything from pizza and pasta to tacos and sandwiches. Order the fried chicken and waffles sandwich for the ultimate sweet meets savory kick.
Lure Fish House
For dinner, make your way to Lure Fish House for all things seafood. We’re talkin’ oysters, ceviche, and shrimp cocktail galore. The seasonally-focused menu features local, organic produce and sustainably sourced seafood that looks just as appetizing on the plate as it tastes in your mouth (I’m all about meal presentation). The Spicy Seafood Ceviche is a must – it will make every pescetarian’s heart swoon. If you’re looking to get your drink on, order one of the specialty cocktails made with freshly squeezed juice. Trust me when I say you won’t regret ordering the roasted blueberry basil margarita. It’s that perfect medium of being strong enough to taste the tequila, but flavorful enough to actually enjoy it.
Aside from the mouth-watering menu, Lure Fish House’s ambiance feels like that of a high-class Mediterranean restaurant. Compared to most places in Ventura, its menu is a bit pricey but the oyster bar, locally sourced ingredients, and posh atmosphere are 100 percent worth the final check.
Is there anything better than the first hot, gooey, greasy, cheese-filled bite of pizza? I honestly don’t think there is, especially if it’s a slice from Tony’s Pizzaria. Founded in 1959, the retro family-owned pizza shack has basically become a staple landmark in Ventura. Located just outside of Surfers Point, the beloved pizza spot is often bombarded by ravenous, wetsuit-wearing surfers after a gnarly sesh.
I know that pineapple on pizza is a controversy strong enough to rip families apart, but the Hawaiian Slice Special is literally orgasmic. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve ordered it at 11 a.m. the second Tony’s opened its doors for the day. If you’re a fruit-on-pizza hater (you’re missing out), then try Tony’s Extra Special. It’s a pizza explosion of sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, red onions, and olives.
PART III – Where to Chill
Go Shopping on Main Street
Main Street in Downtown is great because it feeds my shopping addiction without totally breaking the bank. There are tons of thrift stores along the main stretch, where I usually end up spending most of my time in Ventura. There’s something therapeutic about sifting through endless racks of worn-out clothes, especially when you’re rewarded with a nifty vintage piece. But if the tireless search through ripped jeans and old college T-shirts doesn’t seem as exciting to you, there are plenty of other local businesses you can peruse – there are book stores, antique shops, music stores, art studios, gift shops, and a movie theater all within a few steps from each other.
Check out the full list of stores and restaurants here.
Of course, you can’t go to Ventura without hitting the beach at least once per day. Although it can get crowded during the thick of summer, most beaches in Ventura are nowhere near as packed as those in LA. My personal favorite place to chill out is at the Ventura Pier. It’s a short walk from Main Street and close to the boardwalk. On the pier, you’ll find a couple of different restaurants, fishermen casting their lines, iPhone photographers capturing the nautical scenery, and views of sand-covered kids chasing the crashing waves.
This is also the best location for taking in the medley of pink and orange hues at sunset.
Nothing says summer like a classic afternoon cookout by the beach. Stop by the local market to pick up some hotdogs and buns, then head to Marina Park – it’s the superior barbecue spot in Ventura. With 15 acres of both grass fields and beach, multiple playgrounds for kids, picnic tables, and public grills, you can spend an entire day hanging out here. About a 10-minute drive from Main Street, the best way to get to Marina Park is by taking the Seaward exit off of U.S. Highway 101. Tip: Get to Marina Park early because the grills and tables will go fast!
PART IV – Where to Stay
Bella Maggiore Inn
Complete with the charm of a small Italian inn, friendly service, and the haunting of an infamous past, Bella Maggiore Inn is perfect for anyone on the search for a unique lodging experience in Ventura. Built in 1927, the European-inspired property is located just a few blocks from the beach and pier.
Here’s where it gets interesting…The hotel is rumored to have been a brothel and hangout spot for gangsters in the 1940s. Legend has it that a woman named Sylvia Michaels who frequently visited the brothel was found dead in one of the hotel rooms. According to guests, her ghost still walks the halls of Bella Maggiore Inn. Many even claim to get whiffs of her rose-scented perfume throughout their stay. If you’re down to get a little spooky, the Bella Maggiore Inn is the spot for you.
The Pierpont Inn
Another historic but less haunted option is The Pierpont Inn, which began entertaining guests in 1910. The boutique hotel offers 81 rooms, including two cottages, six craftsman-style suites, and one honeymoon suite. The best part is that the property sits atop an ocean bluff. AKA, entrancing ocean views. The romantic Pierpont Inn also has a landscaped rose garden, making it a quaint oasis to come back to after a long day of surfing and sipping IPAs.