Oxnard's Sublime Secrets Out in the Open

 

Sure, tooling through downtown Oxnard may feel like a dusty ride into the endearing little town in the film “American Graffiti.”  But turn west on any of the main streets from quaint Heritage Square and drive a few miles away to Harbor Boulevard, leading to the Channel Islands Bridge.  Atop the bridge, I promise you will gasp at the sight of a gaggle of million dollar Mediterranean homes facing a marina of sleek boats glittering in the sun, all with a perfect view of the Channel Islands.  

The Oxnard Marina glittering in the sun

And, ah, the natural beachfront for miles on each side.  Pristine sand backed by rugged dunes, the longest stretch in southern California remains  open to the public. Clark Gable lived here. Rudolph Valentino filmed a movie here. In fact so many stars in the know frequented the area it earned the name, “Hollywood Beach.”

Rugged dunes shelter the miles of beachfront

Residents always say this area is the “best kept secret,” laughed Mike Lamm, former champion surfer, who we found spiffing up his store and and equipment after a full summer.  You'll find Mike and his crew year around at the Channel Islands Kayak Center at 3600 Harbor Boulevard, which rents out kayak and stand-up paddleboards.  Mike’s creative,  cutting-edge history and wildlife kayak tours allow a waterway view of the local sea life and marine bird, the seals and sea lions all around the Channel Islands. The perfect virtual introduction is on his videos. (Channel Islands Kayak Center  (805-984-5995, www.cikayak.com).  Mike explained that after a fire in 2005 the area was rebuilt to include the Marine Emporium Landing with a number of waterfront restaurants, activity centers and museums.

 

Channel Islands Kayak Center offers a variety of fascinating tours

Mike Lamm getting ready for the new season

Within walking distance of Channel Islnds Kayak Center is the new home of the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, for example. The rooms are filled with models of historic sailing ships with exhibits on maritime history and whaling.  World-class maritime art featuring works by 17th century Dutch and Flemish painters line the walls.  OPen 11 am to 5 pm daily and free on Thursdays.

 

The docents suggested  “the best view of the marina from the second floor wrap around windows, “ but the dark front door entrance seems a much more dramatic way to come to sight on the first floor.  The small box of dancing water, framed by the corridor walls, entices you to come closer and closer until the full impact of the marina surrounds you on three sides.

 

 

 

The new Maritime Museum home

Admiral Yi's Turtleship

Homage to Admiral Yi

 

Look to the left for one of the several unique displays of Asian ships, Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin’s Turtle Ship (Geogukseon). “Kids love it,” says the docent, and small fingerprints on the glass prove his words.

 

The magnificent, ferocious looking ship has a dragon-shaped head at the bow to launch one of five cannons or flames from the mouth. The unique ironclad deck covering could deflect arrow fire, and it was the first to boast disguised iron spikes that could shoot up if enemy sailors jumped on it.  Brilliant scholar, poet and naval officer, beleaguered his entire life by jealously of his accomplishments, Admiral Yi (1545-1598) remains revered in world naval history as an undefeated naval officer – despite facing insurmountable odds against the Japanese.

 

And yet this recent history dwarfs the big picture of the past since Oxnard’s beach history actually reaches back thousands of years to the time when the area’s nearly perfect weather, its pristine coastline and golden beaches destined the area to glory with  a bustling start.  In the beginning thousands of years ago, 50,000 Chumash Indians thrived on what is now known as the Oxnard Plain, with a network of customers for their basket weaving business, setting up one of the first maritime delivery systems. 

 

Explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo Upon sailing into Point Mugu Lagoon changed everything forever after he returned home and claimed the land for Spain in 1542. Before long Spanish settlers arrived and began to benefit from the lush, fertile soil, writing home about the "mustard stalks higher than a vaquero's horse.

 

In the same oh-so-European manner, the Oxnard brothers who arrived from the deep south to put the community on the agricultural map with a variety of products, beginning with beet sugar, from never lived in the town.  Nor did many of the families whose famous names that dotted the early business landscape and remain famous today testify to the town’s importance early on.  They include the Bank of A. Levy and the Lehmann Brothers, who owned a department store and the Andrew Carnegie Foundation library.

 

A home that agriculture built in the luxe Historic District

 

By the time the city was incorporated in 1903, tracks were being laid for the Ventura County Railway to transport beets from the fields.  Not to be left out, the Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a spur right to the factory site so the processed beets could be shipped out.  These events singled Oxnard out as one of the first major national railroad hubs, if not a household word.

 

During its 60 years of operation, the town factory attracted Chinese, Japanese and Mexican workers to Oxnard, making it one of the most culturally diverse communities in Southern California.  Ironically it was the diversification that the sugar beet industry brought to agriculture that eventually closed its own doors in 1958 when vegetables became the primary local field crop.  Nevertheless, today, over a century later, Oxnard remains a city of nearly 200,000, and is still considered one of the most fertile areas in the world," recognized as the “Bean and Strawberry Capital of the World.”

 

These days history is being made in more urban areas, between dedicated urban preservationists and equally aggressive and wily land developers. We’re pulling for the home team led by Gary Blum, a 5th generation descendant of the famed Oxnard Petit and Kaufman farming families. 

A "Wine Trail" toast at the Oxnard Visitor Center

So a toast to Oxnard!  And the perfect place to start is at the California Welcome Center Oxnard, now home to a new state-of-the-art wine tasting corner.   Oxnard is also home to three unique wineries and a waterfront wine tasting room and wine tasting tours. You can also pick up your wine trail map at the center,  http://www.visitoxnard.com/winetasting

The new Oxnard Convention & Visitors Bureau answers all questions at 805-385-7545

channel Islands Maritime Museum, 3900 Harbor Blvd, Oxnard (805) 984.6260, www.vcmm.org

Channel Islands Kayak Center, 805-984-5995, www.cikayak.com

Farmers’ Market, Downtown Plaza Park on Thursdays, Sundays in the Channel Islands Harbor (signs)

David Feigin’s restored Woolworth Building, 60’s deli, www.thewoolworthbuilding.co

Heritage Square, www.visitoxnard.com

Woolworth Museum (David Feigin:  805-646-2001, [email protected])

Oxnard Historic District, www.oxnardhistoricdistrict.com

Herzog Wine Cellars, 805-983-1560, www.herzogwinecellars.com)

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