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Ventura

The Central Coast city is a triple threat of surfing waves, great food, and access to an incredible national park

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The city of Ventura sits on the edge, in a number of ways. For one thing, it neighbors the urban buzz of Los Angeles County, but it also marks the beginning of the Central Coast’s lush farm and wine country. Its heart, though, lounges along the biggest edge—the Pacific Ocean.

This is one stretch of the California coastline where the famed Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 101 are one in the same: The road runs through the city’s central Midtown and College Area neighborhoods, but quickly approaches the beach. Surfer’s Point is the best local spot to catch a wave (or watch the experts do it); for lounging and body surfing you have plenty of sandy options, from the beach alongside Ventura Pier to the wide stretches of Harbor Cove Beach.

Downtown Ventura is right by the sand, too. The city center is home to shops, restaurants, and Mission Buenaventura, built in 1782. The mission is how the “city of good fortune” got its name—with an assist from the Southern Pacific Railroad, which abbreviated San Buenaventura to just Ventura in the late 1800s. Explore the Mission’s Historic Park, then walk the palm-tree-lined downtown streets for some shopping. Pick up a few pieces of beach-meets-open-road culture at Tiki Girl and then check out Iron and Resin, which appeals to both surfers and motorcycle enthusiasts.

The town’s dining scene spans different generations and influences. Downtown, enjoy Americana on a plate at classic red-vinyl-booth diner Busy Bee Cafe, or try cutting-edge Central American cuisine at gastro-bar Rumfish y Vino. You can also sample some suds at local breweries such as Anacapa Brewing Company and Topa Topa Brewing Company. Head to the Westside neighborhood for authentic Mexican cuisine along Ventura Ave. (aka “The Avenue”) at restaurants such as El Jarocho and Taqueria Tepatitlan. While you’re there, note the Tortilla Flats murals, depicting the Mexican-American community that thrived here before the freeway arrived in the 1950s (then check out more public art around town).

Along with a lot of familiar hotel brands, Ventura’s lodging options include glamping spot Waypoint Ventura, filled with vintage airstream trailers, and the quirky Bella Maggiore Inn, rumored to have a resident ghost named Sylvia on staff.

For more seaside fun, head to Ventura Harbor, on the southern end of the city, which offers two levels of appeal. Ventura Harbor Village has shops, restaurants, and family-friendly diversions such as a carousel, pedal boats, and kayaks for rent (this is also the site of annual pirate and mermaid festivals). Or make the Harbor your launching pad for Channel Islands National Park by exploring the park’s visitors center, based here. Plan a day trip to the five-island archipelago or rent gear for an adventure right off the mainland.

More in the mood to kick back? Go to San Buenaventura State Beach, where you can get a fresh-seafood picnic from acclaimed food truck The Jolly Oyster, and make the most of the sunset views.

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