If you’re planning a road trip through Southern California, you may have cities like San Diego and Los Angeles on your mind. However, as you travel along the coast toward Central California, you may be happy to discover you’ll trade the big cities and busy beaches for laid-back coastal getaways, like Ventura!
Ventura is located between Malibu and Santa Barbara on California’s Pacific Coast, about an hour northwest of Los Angeles. If you’re planning a trip to Ventura (or want to know why you should), keep reading to discover the best things to do in Ventura, where to stay and other helpful travel logistics!
Why Should I Visit Ventura?
If you’re searching for a blend of the laid-back surfing vibes found at Huntington Beach and the Spanish-inspired architecture you can find in Santa Barbara, you’ll likely love Ventura. The city offers clean beaches, a retro-style main street, and quick access to the Channel Islands National Park!
Ventura is also a great “launching point” to visit other famous cities in the area, like Ojai and Santa Barbara. Since it’s cheaper to stay in Ventura than most coastal cities in California, you can save money on hotels by booking accommodations in Ventura and planning “excursions” to nearby towns and sites.
That said, compared to the other cities in Southern California, I don’t think there are as many “unique” sites to see in Ventura. I personally wouldn’t book a trip just to visit Ventura, but it’s a worthwhile addition if you’re planning a road trip through the area!
How Do I Get to Ventura?
The closest airport to Ventura is the Santa Barbara Airport, located 30 miles north of Ventura. You can also fly into the Los Angeles International Airport or Hollywood Burbank Airport, further from Ventura. Since these two airports are larger, the flights are usually cheaper and easier to book.
What Are the Best Things to Do in Ventura, California?
1. Channel Islands National Park
Did you know the Channel Islands National Park is in Ventura? Well, these islands are technically off the coast of Ventura, but they’re close enough!
Shockingly, the Channel Islands are one of the least-visited national parks in the United States, but for what they lack in popularity, they certainly make up for in beauty! Nicknamed the “Galapagos of North America,” you can explore these five islands by hiking, camping, diving, sea kayaking, whale watching, snorkeling, and more!
Although the Channel Islands National Park is definitely one of the best things to do in Ventura, if you run out of time to visit the islands while you’re here, you can also visit them from Santa Barbara!
2. Ventura State Beach
Ventura has tons of beaches! We visited Ventura State Beach by the Ventura Pier, which I would recommend as one of the best things to do in Ventura. We loved how clean and quiet the location was mid-morning on a Sunday. We also loved that the beach was dog-friendly (we made a few furry friends!) and offered close access to the restaurants on the pier.
3. Mission Basilica San Buenaventura
If you’d like to learn about Ventura’s history, the Mission Basilica San Buenaventura, established in 1782 by Father Junipero Serra, should be on your list of things to do in Ventura!
The Mission Basilica San Buenaventura is free to visit and is open from 6 AM to 5 PM each day. Don’t miss the chance to take a stroll (and a photo!) in the picturesque gardens.
4. Ventura Pier
While you’re at Ventura State Beach, don’t miss the chance to take a stroll down Ventura Pier! It’s one of the longest wooden piers in California, and it was built in 1872. While you’re on the pier, check out some local eateries, like Beach House Fish, MadeWest Brewing Company, or Beach House Tacos!
5. Ventura Botanical Gardens
The Ventura Botanical Garden is one of the best things to do in Ventura and is a fun, affordable way to spend an afternoon in the city. This garden is home to over 160 types of plants and offers spectacular views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. Plus, since the garden is on a hill, you’ll be able to get in a small “hike” while you walk up the path.
Admission is only $7, and the garden is open from 9 AM to 5 PM on Tuesday through Sunday. They are closed on Monday, so plan your visit accordingly.
6. Ventura Harbor Village
Ventura Harbor Village is one of the best things to do in Ventura, especially if you like shopping. This outdoor shopping center offers views of the Ventura Harbor and plenty of boutique shops, local restaurants, and other places to explore.
You’ll likely be able to see plenty of boats in the harbor while you’re here, and you can walk across the street to Surfer’s Knoll Beach and Harbor Cove Beach.
7. Main Street
Main Street in Downtown Ventura is so unique! It’s one of the best things to do in Ventura.
While Main Street is great to visit during the day, it shines at night. You’ll be able to find bars, restaurants, and quirky shops to stop into at all times of the day. Plus, the street has lots of neon lights, giving the whole area a fun, retro vibe.
What Are the Best Places to Eat in Ventura, California?
- Topa Topa Brewing Co.—Great local spot to grab a beer with two locations in Ventura.
- MidiCi Wood-Fired Pizza—This place serves up tasty wood-fired pizzas along Main Street in Downtown Ventura. They’re also open later than many other restaurants on Main Street, which is nice if you want a late dinner.
- Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen—Family-owned chain of gastropubs that blends upscale cooking and casual dining. This is a great place to grab a cocktail and dinner, but I’d recommend reservations because they fill up quickly!
- Beach House Tacos—Grab a burrito or fish tacos from this shack on Ventura Pier and enjoy them on the beach for breakfast or lunch!
- Prospect Coffee Roasters—I am absolutely obsessed with this local coffee shop in Ventura. We went for coffee every morning we were in Ventura. The iced salted cardamom latte with oat milk was to die for! I’d personally consider this coffee shop one of the best things to do in Ventura, all on its own.
- Aloha Steakhouse—This popular waterfront location is great for a casual dinner and serves prime rib, steak, and seafood.
- Lure Fish House—Enjoy locally-sourced seafood, an oyster bar, and wine and beer at this semi-upscale and highly rated location just off Main Street.
- VenTiki Tiki Lounge and Lanai—If you’re looking for a fun atmosphere to grab a drink and appetizers, check out this island-themed spot serving sushi, kalua pork sliders, and more!
Where Should I Stay in Ventura?
If you’re planning to stay in Ventura, here are some hotels offering proximity to all the best things to do in Ventura!
- Clocktower Inn Ventura: If you’re looking to book an elegant boutique-style hotel at an affordable cost, snag a room at the Clocktower Inn, converted from a 1940s firehouse and clocktower! I didn’t find this place until after visiting Ventura, but now I’m ready to take a trip back just to stay here.
- Crowne Plaza Hotel Ventura Beach: Stay close to the beach at this oceanside property, with a heated outdoor pool, on-site restaurant, and outdoor fireplace with oceanfront views.
- Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor: Enjoy close proximity to the shopping, dining, and more at Ventura Harbor Village, as well as a year-round pool and pet-friendly rooms.
Enjoy These Best Things to Do in Ventura, California!
I hope this list of the best things to do in Ventura, California, helps you plan a fantastic stop in this laid-back coastal city! Which of these things to do would be first on your list?
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