The strong salt smell of the sea engulfed us as we neared beach city of Oxnard. Founded in the 1800;s by two brothers who specialized in sugar beets, Oxnard, between Los Angeles and Ventura, is too often ignored by many as a vacation get away. Most people don't realize that there are five lovely beaches in the area. Developed originally as a farming planned community, it was incorporated into a city in 1903.
Greeted by out going Mayor Tom Holden, we were privileged to spend a few days at the beach resort Marriot Residence Inn on Ventura Blvd. we found a spread out apartment hotel with over 252 suites and over a 1200 sq feet of conference space fit for over 400. “We often host conventions, retreats and conferences,” says Millicent Bennett, sales manager, who met us for the Manager’s Reception – a nice spread of food – available Monday through Thursday . She pointed out that breakfast was also included in their more than reasonable room rates and the suites slept as many as six people. The center of the Dallas Cowboys summer camp, they often host military guests, as well, and many commercial guests as well. While prices are available for daily and weekly rates, she pointed out that if you stayed more than 30 days, according to the California law, you were a resident and no longer had to pay any tax on your room. The hotel encompasses three heated pools and a luxurious golf course and offers golf packages, as well. It's pet friendly, as well.
Our dinner the first night was at the Hollywood Beach Wine Company. This restaurant which was, in fact, only opened five weeks now and plans on celebrating its grand opening on November 15, we were offered a grand variety of wines from all over the world. Owner Lois K. Ivanoff, who has been in the food business almost all of her life, said that they were determined to offer many local wines, as well. That makes sense since many small wineries have opened with numerous tasting centers through the Oxnard-Ventura county. All cooked by well known chef, Marie McGrath, our meal consisted of a delicious cold cucumber soup and delicious French onion soup. The salmon special had whipped homemade potatoes with onion silvers and our dinner was topped off with a yummy pumpkin cheese cake. It’s an example of old world meets California cuisine. “We offer many vegetarian options, as well, “ said Lois. “Any of the chicken or fish dishes can be substituted with the Portobello mushrooms or the fried eggplant.” Her grand opening, which will be a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, will give 10% of profits to the victims. Hours of a restaurant on in the Channel Island Harbor Marina are 3-9 weekday, 11:30- late on Saturday and a fabulous menu brunch on Sunday. (805 985 4677)
Some of the lovely things to do around Oxnard include a wine tasting tour. Many small wineries have sprouted up in the past few years making this an all day adventure for as little as $85 /person including lunch and limo.
Since it was Thursday, we chose to do the Farmer’s Market. One of the oldest farmer’s markets in the country, the event is held at the Plaza Park from 9-1 every week. Home grown veggies and flowers come from everywhere in the area and even as far as Filmore, Santa Maria, and Fresno. According to Alaina Upthegrove, the manager, there are people like the handmade jewelry seller Mary Battan who has been here for 15 years without a break. Many of these are family businesses. At the end of each day, a % of the produce is gathered and given away to those in need.
Next we went to Heritage Square – a revival area that, at Christmas time, lights up like Disneyland. Old homes from different parts of the city and county, which had been set for destruction, were moved here 21 years ago and turned into profitable businesses. Among the homes there is a Petit Playhouse, one of Oxnard’s few live performance venues, a non-denominational church, and several restaurants. Concerts are often held in the square and the area is popular for weddings. It’s been dubbed the “Hollywood Bowl of Oxnard.” Several times a year, especially around the Christmas holidays, the homes are open for a Victorian tour. Also take the Holly Trolley, (only $10), which tours historical Oxnard and the expansive Christmas Tree Lane. (Reservations are suggested for this 805 483 7960.) If you like history, you’ll love this area.
Historical buffs will also want to stop at the Woolworth’s to see some original artifacts from the days of the store's popularity and eat at their Fresh and Fabulous Café where they serve international treats and offer a Saturday tea service and Sunday Brunch. It’s open only M-F 7:30 am to 2:30 pm and then on Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm.
Another great place for trinkets and hand crafted gifts is Downtown Sol on Third Street 805 240 7765/
While at the square, we stopped for a wine tasting at Rancho Ventano. They specialize in reds because “we like them . In case we can’t sell things, we can drink them, ourselves. The home, complete with ghosts, is worth a look see.
Next we went for a cooking lesson and lunch at one of the homes turned Italian restaurant La Dolce Vita. Run by Michelle Kenney, who is both chef and owner, we were taught how to make delicious eggplant caponata and Portobello Florentine. These were topped with a fennel and orange salad. Dessert consisted of Sicillian crepes with orange sauce. For these recipes, see Michelle’s cookbook, Recipes for Living the Sweet Life. Open daily, they have live entertainment on Fridays and Karaoke on Thursday s and Saturdays. Cooking classes can be arranged with Michelle for any guest wishing it. They offer dine-in, take out, and catering, as well. (805- 486 6878)
Despite the rare inclement weather, some of us took out the Electric Boats at Hooks Landing, (805-382 6233) while others had an original kayaking wild life adventure around the Channel Islands created by Mike Lamm of the Channel Islands Kayaking Center (805 984 5995) and were pleased to see whales and dolphins. Tall ship sailing is also available.
While in Oxnard don’t forget to visit the Carnegie Art Museum or Gull Wings Children’s Museum just down the street from Plaza Park. The Murphy Auto Museum is another fun place to check out with antique cars and vintage clothing.
If you like Asian food, you’ll want to visit the Golden Chicken Inn, one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in the area.
The highlight of my trip was visiting the Herzog wine cellars and ultra elegant (and somewhat pricey) restaurant, Tierra Sur. Originating in the 1800's, Herzog was given the title of Baron from the Emperor Franz Joseph and came to the States as they escaped from the Nazis. Kosher wines are no longer only the ulta sweet heavy reds that many know, but can be crisp, light, and elegant. Now into their eight generation, Joseph Herzog told us that the Herzog family produces wines from all over the world varying from gold medal dry reds to semi sweet whites and dessert wines as the Late Harvest Zindfadel. The restaurant, itself, open seven years ago, was an experience. Treated to wondrous appetizers as Chicken liver pate (chopped liver for those in the know) and chorizo lamb sausage with black olives on flat bread, we were given our choice of several lovely seafood and meat dishes among them a very tasty rib eye steak with fried shoestring potato salad and grilled grape sauce or the over roasted chili-chocolate rubbed rack of lamb with mushroom sauce. I'd never tasted a rib eye cooked so perfectly and with such flavor. Entrees are big enough to split, but there is a cost for that. Desserts, too, created by Chef Gabriel Garcia, were to die for, especially the flan and the flourless chocolate cake. One of the few kosher restaurants the area, they do a brisk business in catering, as well. Service is great and reservations are recommended. Available for both luncheons and dinners, they are open Monday-Thursday and Sunday. Because of the Sabbath, they close Friday's at 2 pm but in the winter, it's open for Saturday dinner at 7 pm. (805 983 1560)
The following morning, bright and sunny, we experienced the Channel Islands Maritime Museum showing us a history of the shipping and boats, both locally and historically. The reasonable price for admission is $5 and it's open daily 11-5 pm.
Our luncheon at the elegant Sugar Beets Restaurant and Bar in downtown Oxnard on A street offered a eclectic California fusion menu providing us with a variety of choices, topped with an excellent Crème de Brule. (805 240 7777)
There are numerous festivals going on in the Oxnard area, not just the Strawberry Festival that I had heard about. In fact, almost every weekend you can find something going on. I'm looking forward to the Heritage Square tour and Christmas Tree Lane sightings in December.
Getting to Oxnard is easy. Only an hour (or so) from the L A area by car, one also has the option of train, bus or shuttle plane. (A trick coming from the north valley is taking the 118 to the 23 and then joining the 101. Saves a lot of time and traffic.) The plane also runs from Oxnard to Vegas, as well, and many visitors come from the Nevada area to enjoy the beach scenery.
For more information go to www.visitoxnard.com and toll-free phone number: 1-800-2-Oxnard..... Located in the heart of downtown, they are happy to provide you with contact information for any of these fine places.