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Ventura and Ojai City Trip - Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island

Ventura Harbor Village is filled with interesting shops and casual restaurants
Ventura Harbor Village

VENTURA & OJAI DAY 2: Anacapa, Santa Cruz Island and the Ventura Pier

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After exploring downtown Ventura, investigate the region's natural resources. A topnotch botanical garden project is underway and the Demonstration Trail starts just behind City Hall, at the end of California Street one block north of Main. If the weather is fine, rent a bicycle and ride along the beachfront bike path, which was recently upgraded from the inside cove of Surfer's Point west to the mouth of the Ventura River. For a real Southern California experience, take a surfing lesson. (Equipment rentals and contacts for surf instructors are available at Ventura Surf Shop on nearby Thompson Blvd.) Or spend the day hiking or kayaking at one of the islands off the coast.

Homes line the shore of the picturesque Ventura Keys
Ventura Keys

Those who don't have time to visit Anacapa Island or Santa Cruz Island, or who suffer from seasickness, can learn all about these national preserves at the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center in Ventura Harbor. To get there, head out Harbor Boulevard and along Spinnaker Drive (all clearly marked for tourists) to Ventura Harbor. Just past Ventura Harbor Village, an outdoor mall with shops, casual restaurants and places to book sport fishing and harbor cruises, the road dead ends at the kid-friendly visitors center. The center is open daily and is nicely situated on a strand between moored sailing vessels and the Pacific Ocean. There is a "please touch" area with whale baleen, starfish and a Chumash instrument called a clapstick; a "no-touch" marine life exhibit with live specimens from the islands; an informative park video; and a native plant garden. Climb the 57 steps to the third-story observation deck and, on a clear day, you can see the islands.

Anacapa, fifteen miles offshore, is a good destination for a picnic or a day hike. Or head to Santa Cruz Island, 21 miles offshore, to kayak along the coast and explore a stunning array of sea caves. The small-craft boat trip to the islands takes an hour to an hour and a half, and the surrounding waters are home to 27 varieties of frequently sighted whales and dolphins. The islands, renowned for their rare plants and animals, are accessible via regular guided excursions offered by Island Packers. This is a terrific way to experience the coastal California of a century ago, in a region often referred to as the "American Galapagos."

The historic Ventura Pier is a great place to watch the sunset
Ventura Pier

Those who prefer to behold their outdoor activities from a comfortable seat can spend the afternoon at the races. Seaside Park is home to The Derby Club, a most pleasant off-track racehorse betting facility with an ocean view dining room, The Island View Club. Order lunch, place your bets and watch your winner come in on small-screen televisions that broadcast the races tableside. Seaside Park is also home to the annual Ventura County Fair, as well as gun shows, car shows, dog shows and the fun and popular R.J. Canning Flea Markets held throughout the year.

End the day with a walk on the historic Ventura Pier to view the sunset. This prime waterfront area, with the nation's longest wooden-and-concrete pier, has somehow eluded large-scale development and there are only a few dining options. Steaks and seafood can be had at Aloha Steakhouse and the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel's C-Street restaurant, both of which are located in the courtyard at the end of California Street near the pier. We particularly like sitting oceanfront at the Crowne Plaza's Aqua bar, which serves food from the same kitchen as C-Street and offers cozy seats by the fire pit and a view of the waves.

Continue to Day 3

MORE VENTURA/OJAI INFORMATION

Ventura Pier

* Ventura Keys and Ventura Harbor Village images courtesy of Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau

* Ventura Pier image by Bill Nash, courtesy of www.ventura-usa.com

(Updated: 05/07/13 CT)

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