Located just north of Malibu, Ventura flies under the radar for some travelers—and it shouldn’t, according to Lynne Andujar. “I would say Ventura is really the essence of California,” says Andujar, editor in chief of 805 Living. “Ventura has a great laid-back vibe. It's a great surf culture, right along the coast, and it's a welcoming place. And there's a lot to do and see.”
In the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Andujar and two other insiders detail some of the best places to eat, play, and soak up that Golden State essence in Ventura County—the rich intersection of Southern California and the Central Coast.
Extreme Fun at the X Games
The first guest offers some incentive to visit soon: Valerie Ryan is the vice president of fan experience for the X Games, which will be held in Ventura July 21–23. “It’s the culmination of the world's best skateboarders, BMX riders, and motocross athletes,” Ryan tells host Soterios Johnson. “It’s the pinnacle event of their season.”
The X Games have changed a lot since they debuted in 1995, she says, mostly because they are “much more widely known and recognized. When we started in 1995, it was ‘extreme,’ and now they are Olympic events.” The setting for the games is stunning, too, she adds. “We're at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, a stone's throw from the ocean. So we have our vert ramp and our Moto X competition course with the water in the background—it’s beautiful.”
Ryan shares some highlights this year—from special competitions to appearances by star skateboarders Nyjah Huston and 14-year-old wunderkind Sky Brown. There are unique activities for fans, too, such as photo ops with gold medals or VIP breakfasts with the athletes. “We'll also have interactive courses for fans,” she says. “They'll be able to jump on a mini-version of a ramp or a street course. It will be three days of nonstop action.”
Foodie Magnets in Ojai
The next podcast guest offers a nearly nonstop culinary delight in the Ventura County town of Ojai. Restaurateur Zoe Nathan owns The Dutchess—a classic café for breakfast and lunch that turns into an upscale Burmese restaurant at dinner, and which has gotten raves from the Michelin Guide. Nathan, who made her name on the Santa Monica restaurant scene, tells Johnson why she and her family moved to Ojai in 2020 and how they created The Dutchess (named after the giant oven that came with the space).
“Ojai was a place where we could have food and meat that was grown within the community, and fish that was fished just miles away.” She created a team with two young chefs, and “to watch them find their voices is probably the raddest part of my job,” Nathan says. She talks about some of their top menu items, from the ham-and-cheese croissant and local Bonito Coffee in the morning to the fried chicken sandwiches at lunch to the lamb biryani topped with puff pastry at dinner. Evenings at the restaurant are “an experience,” she says. “It's a lot of spices and smells, and we have a crazy bar in the back. On Thursdays, we have skewer night and local bands. It’s really fun.”
Nathan shares some of her other favorite places around Ojai, such as the burgers at Topa Topa Brewing Co., the “super seasonal” scoops at Sanders & Sons Gelato, and “a place called Chief’s Peak Bar. It's at this little motel, the Ojai Rancho Inn, in the middle of town. It’s the best.” Between meals, she says, go to Bart's Books. “It's a totally outdoor bookshop, so if it rains, it's closed. You could literally wander around it forever. It's mostly used books, really awesome poetry books, and older stuff.”
Beach Days and Big Views
The podcast wraps up with Lynne Andujar of 805 Living, a magazine that highlights food, wine, and entertainment from western Los Angeles up to San Luis Obispo County. “We try to include tidbits in every single issue that would give both visitors and locals a little ‘aha’ moment,” she tells Johnson, “something that they may not know about, or something new to discover.”
She recommends that visitors start by exploring the “old school” downtown Ventura. “It’s a very small city, but it has lots of great shops, lots of great cultural things happening.” After playing on the beaches, she says, you can take gondola rides, rent pedal boats shaped like swans or dragons, or explore Ventura Harbor Village, which offers more restaurants and shops, as well as day trips to Channel Islands National Park.
She also suggests some hidden gems in the area, such as Casa Agria Specialty Ales in neighboring Oxnard. “They specialize in sour beers that really highlight the produce of the region—like a sour fruited beer using strawberries from the fields right across from them.”
For more of that quintessential California, Andujar suggests some scenic walks in the area, like the three-mile hike to Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains, or a leisurely stroll around Ventura Botanical Gardens, perched just above Ventura. “It's this beautiful site with gardens that represent different climate zones around the world. But it also has views of the California coastline—it's just spectacular.”