The coastal city of Ventura lies halfway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles off the Pacific Coast Highway. As the county seat of Ventura County, Ventura is the largest city, with just over 110,000 residents in 2020. And although everyone refers to the town as “Ventura,” its official name is San Buenaventura, meaning good fortune.
When you visit, you’ll experience this good fortune firsthand, with the gorgeous mountain and ocean views, near-perfect weather, tall palm trees, and natural beauty. While its location on the Pacific Ocean makes it an epic surfing destination, Ventura is much more than that.
There are endless fun things to do in Ventura, California, such as exploring Ventura Harbor, renting a kayak, going on a whale-watching tour, building sandcastles at Emma Wood State Beach, or riding bikes on the Ventura Bike Path. The perfect weather in Ventura makes outdoor fun even more enjoyable.
You can also enjoy Ventura’s arts, history, and culture scene by visiting the San Buenaventura Mission, the Museum of Ventura County, downtown Ventura, and the lovely gardens at Ventura Botanical Gardens. The city’s rich history makes for a fun educational experience.
Ventura has endless outdoor recreational opportunities and many historical and cultural sites, and it’s also famous for its “haunted” experiences at the City Hall and Bella Maggiore Inn. So, if you’re feeling brave, you may want to take a ghost tour of downtown Ventura. Just watch out for “Sylvia”!
We pulled together a list of our favorite things to do in Ventura. But don’t just take our word for it – we also asked Julie Madsen, Communications & PR Coordinator at Visit Ventura, and we’ve scattered her recommendations throughout this article.
What We Cover
- Things to Do in Ventura, California
- 1. Ventura Harbor Village
- 2. San Buenaventura State Beach
- 3. Channel Islands National Park
- 4. Ventura Botanical Gardens
- 5. Mission San Buenaventura
- 6. Rubicon Theatre Company
- 7. Museum of Ventura County
- 8. Island Packers Cruises
- 9. Surfers Point at Seaside Park
- 10. Los Padres National Forest
- 11. Ventura Pier
- 12. Ventura City Hall
- 13. Serra Cross Park
- 14. Emma Wood State Beach
- 15. Marina Park
- Tours in Ventura
- What is Ventura known for?
- Is Ventura worth visiting?
- Most significant landmark – Mission Basilica San Buenaventura
- Best park – Serra Cross Park
- Free activity – Ventura Pier
- Activity for kids – Channel Islands National Park
- Activity for adults – Museum of Ventura County
- Place to eat – Lure Fish House
- Nightlife – Ventura Harbor Comedy Club
- Place to stay – Crowne Plaza Hotel Ventura Beach, an IHG Hotel
Things to Do in Ventura, California
1. Ventura Harbor Village
Address: 1583 Spinnaker Dr, Ventura, CA 93001
Ventura Harbor Village is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a single place to stay, dine, play, shop, and relax. This seaside attraction includes dozens of art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, excursions, and more! You’ll also find live entertainment, festivals, and outdoor events year-round.
In addition, this premier oceanfront destination offers plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, like kayaking, sportfishing, stand-up paddleboarding, and boating. And don’t worry, you can rent any personal watercraft you want- they even have boat rentals at the harbor!
Ventura Harbor Village has a beautiful walking path, making it easy for visitors to relax on land or water. The harbor is also home to the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, so you can learn about all five islands without hopping on a charter boat. (Although there are opportunities to explore the islands and local marine life through the Island Packers charter service!)
Dining options include fresh seafood such as lobster, salmon, oysters, halibut, and clams. However, there are many oceanside cuisine options if you’re not a fan of seafood. Instead, enjoy a delicious burger or fresh Mediterranean cuisine, then delight your sweet tooth with the famous Dole Whip or seaside ice cream. Or, stop by one of the coffee shops to get your java fix!
Or, if you’ve got a full kitchen in your vacation rental, you can support local fishermen by picking up locally caught fish at the Ventura Harbor Village. There’s nothing quite like preparing and eating the day’s catch!
Shoppers will fancy fine art, coastal home decor, California apparel, ocean-inspired gifts, and beach wear. Don’t forget to bring home some local souvenirs for house sitters, dog sitters, or other family members!
If you want to stay nearby so you can come and go easily, consider the Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor Resort. With a year-round pool, hot tub, and onsite restaurant (and room service!), you can be near all the excitement at the harbor. And if you want to head back out after an afternoon nap, look at the comedy line-up at Ventura Comedy Club!
See Related: Things to Do in Merced, California
Address: 901 San Pedro St, Ventura, CA 93001
San Buenaventura State Beach includes roughly 2 miles of beachfront from the Ventura Pier to Marina Park. This state beach has a laid-back feel, with tourists and locals swimming, playing frisbee, picnicking, surfing, or playing beach volleyball. Although it has a relaxed vibe, there are well-trained lifeguards year-round, especially during the summer.
A paved trail called the Omer Rains Bike Trail at the beach’s main entrance will take you to the scenic sand dunes at the park. If you continue on this trail, you’ll get to the Ventura Pier and Emma Wood State Beach. The Omer Rains trail connects to the Ventura River and Ojai Bike Trail and then to the Ventura Promenade, making much of the city accessible by foot and bike.
If you need beach rentals or want to take an electric bike or a surrey around town, check out local Wheel Fun Rentals. Or, if you wish to eat fresh clams or oysters, head to one of the beach’s food trucks, the Jolly Oyster, located near Wheel Fun Rentals and the sand volleyball courts.
As if San Buenaventura State Beach wasn’t already a fantastic place to visit, there is also free parking downtown. So if you’re looking for things to do in Ventura, California, put this pristine beach on your list! Whether you’ve got little ones along for your trip or are flying solo, this state beach is a perfect stop.
Cool off at the outdoor pool at nearby Ventura Beach Resort (within walking distance of the beach!) and enjoy a delicious seafood dinner onsite.
See Related: Things to Do in Venice Beach, California
3. Channel Islands National Park
Location: Ventura, CA 93001
A short ferry ride to the islands just off the coast of Ventura promises magical views of dolphins swimming alongside your boat and jumping out of the water. Hike and walk around the island and catch a glimpse of cute island foxes. The Channel Islands is a great family trip to unplug, recenter, and focus on the things that matter.Julie Madsen, Visit Ventura
There’s a reason that Channel Islands National Park is referred to as the “Galapagos of North America.” The park includes five untouched islands surrounding the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The picturesque islands- San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara- are located in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Although you can see the islands from Ventura, you can only access them by boat or plane. The local company Island Packers offers tours from Ventura; they provide year-round transportation to Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island. However, trips to the other three islands are seasonal. It’s important to know that no hotels, restaurants, or other services are on any island.
Just an hour from Ventura Harbor Village, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands are known for birders and sea cave kayaking. But you can also hike and take in the wondrous beauty of the untouched landscape. However, all the islands have unique qualities, all of which are amazing.
The Santa Barbara Channel is home to 150 species found nowhere else! However, there are also well-known species, such as blue whales, dolphins, elephant seals, and orcas.
Island Packers is the only approved charter service out of Ventura Harbor Village. They offer wildlife cruises, charters to the largest sea cave ever known, and individual cruises to each island.
Seeing these undisturbed islands is an absolute must, as it’s undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Ventura, California! Before you head out to the islands, stop by the Lagomarsino Visitor Center to learn more about each island!
4. Ventura Botanical Gardens
Address: 567 Poli St, Ventura, CA 93001
The Ventura Botanical Gardens offers an easy nature walk where kids of all ages can have fun! With beautiful colored flowers and an amazing view of the ocean, this is a great activity for families.Julie Madson, Visit Ventura
The Ventura Botanical Gardens is a spectacular place to spend your day, with over 100 acres of lush vistas, coastline views, and Ojai’s Topa Topa peak. Walking through the lush gardens, you’ll experience five different climate zones- Chile, the Cape of South Africa, Southern Australia, the Mediterranean Basin, and California.
The first stop at the Ventura Botanical Gardens is the Chilean Gardens, which includes a Chilean Soapbark Tree. This tree provides a chemical compound, or adjuvant, to the shingles and COVID-19 vaccines. As part of their collection of endangered plants, you’ll also see Chilean Wine Palms.
In the California Ramble, you’ll see native plants such as ceanothus, lemonade berry, and California oak. Visitors to the native section will also see coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and woodland plant communities commonly found in Ventura County.
Part of the Ventura Botanical Garden’s mission is to perform research, so the Mediterranean Garden includes 40 different cultivars of olive trees. The hope is that this olive grove will help the growers determine which cultivars do well with climate change.
The South African Gardens include geraniums, ericas, and protea, with an adorable bridge and dry creek bed. If you turn back toward the entrance, you’ll see a breathtaking view of the inner islands.
The Karoo Gardens are abundant with aloe, but more additions will come soon. While Australian plants are included in the entrance area and confluence gardens, more plants are being added to the Australian garden.
A gift shop at the Ventura Botanical Gardens entrance has local pottery, gifts, and souvenirs to delight adults and kids alike. If you’ve worked up an appetite for exploring the lush gardens, head to Lure Fish House, which is within walking distance of the gardens. The restaurant serves locally sourced fresh seafood to delight all of your senses!
See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit
Address: 211 E Main St, Ventura, CA 93001
If you’re a history lover, you must put Mission San Buenaventura on your itinerary when visiting Ventura. Formally known as the Mission Basilica of San Buenaventura, Mission San Buenaventura is now a Catholic parish and basilica in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Father Serra founded the mission on Easter Sunday, 1782. It was named to honor a 13th-century Franciscan and cardinal, Saint Bonaventure. The Spanish mission became the ninth of California’s 21 missions.
Mission San Buenaventura was the only mission that had wooden bells. The church rang these wooden bells the week before Easter Sunday, when the church didn’t use metal bells.
The original quadrangle blueprint remained through 1875, but today the mission includes buildings from the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries. Unfortunately, most of the original mission was destroyed by fires and earthquakes. Today’s visitors will see the restored original mission church, its garden, and the newer buildings.
Visitors to Mission San Buenaventura can tour the beautiful gardens and grotto, Mission Basilica Church, the Museum of Ventura County, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and Padre’s Burial and Settling Tank. The self-guided tour also includes an educational video about the history of the mission.
If you’d rather explore Ventura in a more unique way, consider a digital scavenger hunt, where you go through the city on a two-mile hunt as you solve challenges near Mission San Buenaventura and the Victorian houses on Thompson Blvd. and more!
6. Rubicon Theatre Company
Address: 1006 E Main St, Ventura, CA 93001
Founded in 1998, the Rubicon Theatre Company is the “rising star of the Southern California cultural constellation.” Locals and tourists visit the regional theatre to watch innovative adaptions of classic and contemporary plays.
Located blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Ventura’s Downtown Cultural District, the Rubicon Theatre Company performs in a 180-seat historic church. In this renovated landmark, audience members are treated to an intimate experience, never further than ten rows from the stage.
The theatre company has received many awards from L.A. Drama Critics and L.A. Stage Alliance. In addition, many of their shows, such as Wiesenthal, Lonesome Traveler, and Daddy Long Legs, have transferred to New York. This regional theatre has seen many well-known actors, such as Larry Hagman, Ed Asner, John Ritter, Susan Clark, and Conchata Ferrell.
The Rubicon Theatre Company visitors can expect upcoming shows such as In the Heights, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and The Realistic Joneses. Contact the theatre about discounts for ten or more guests.
See Related: Best Cheap Places to Travel in the US
7. Museum of Ventura County
Address: 100 E Main St, Ventura, CA 93001
The Museum of Ventura County is one of the oldest museums in the state, dating back to 1913. Today, the history museum comprises more than 1,000 works of art and more than 30,000 artifacts. While the Museum of Ventura County is the region’s history and art museum, three other locations complement this museum.
The Research Library at the Museum contains maps, manuscripts, periodicals, architectural plans, county newspapers, and oral histories. For example, if you are looking to do historical family research, you’ll want to make an appointment to visit the Research Library.
The Albinger Archaeological Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and displays artifacts from over 3,500 years of regional history. Visitors will learn about the five primary cultures in the area: the early Chumash, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, and circa 1850 California. In addition, archaeologists uncovered many artifacts within the museum from an archaeological dig in 1974.
The fourth location is the Agricultural Museum in downtown Santa Paula, a 20-minute drive from the main museum. The Ag Museum is in a historic mill building and contains exhibits such as farming tractors, a living beehive, and hands-on stations. These family-friendly exhibits teach the importance of agriculture and farming in Ventura County.
People of all ages will enjoy a trip to the Museum of Ventura County, which has interactive art, history, and culture exhibits.
8. Island Packers Cruises
Address: 1691 Spinnaker Dr #105B, Ventura, CA 93001
If you want to travel to one of the five Channel Islands, do a whale watching tour, go on a birding excursion, a harbor cruise, or an outer island kayak tour, Island Packers Cruises is the official boat concessionaire of the Channel Islands National Park.
There are year-round cruises to the inner islands, Santa Cruz and Anacapa. These cruises take roughly an hour to cross the channel.
Island Packers also offers cruises to the outer islands, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara, but they are only from March through November. Going to the outer islands usually takes 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, depending on whether the boat has a drop-off or pick-up along the way. The trip to San Miguel takes 3 to 4 1/2 hours, depending on the weather, itinerary, and wildlife sightings.
Book one of their whale-watching or island wildlife tours if you don’t want to go ashore. The island wildlife cruise takes visitors through the Channel Islands Marine National Sanctuary to see seals, sea lions, and dolphins swimming.
However, the whale watching tours in summer and winter focus primarily on the beautiful whales along the coastline of the islands. If you want to explore some of the most gorgeous and undeveloped lands and see amazing marine life, you must put this on your itinerary.
A cruise with Island Packers is easily one of the best things to do in Ventura County! Before you head out on your trip, stop by the Lagomarsino Visitor Center in the harbor to learn more about your island destination.
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9. Surfers Point at Seaside Park
Location: Shoreline Dr, Ventura, CA 93001
Ventura’s iconic Surfers Point is a unique experience in Ventura and it’s always a great time. You can stand up paddle board (yoga!) in the Ventura Harbor for some peace and relaxation. If you’re up for a bike ride, head along the Rincon Bike Trail for a chance to see dolphins!Julie Madsen, Visit Ventura
Surfers Point Beach is located at Seaside Park just west of the Ventura Pier. The beach follows the Promenade to the Ventura River Estuary, where a lagoon forms because the river backs up.
This beach is an excellent birding location, mainly known as a premier surfing and windsurfing spot. At Surfers Point Beach, the point faces south, allowing west curls to roll in consistently. Surfers often paddle to various areas and ride the waves toward the pier.
While it’s named Surfers Point because of its fantastic surfing, the beach has so much more. Visitors can skate, hike, walk, or bike along the paved Promenade and the Omer Rains Bike Trail.
There are also opportunities for fishing, bird watching, and picnicking. In addition, Promenade Park has a spacious lawn adjacent to the beach, where visitors can have a lovely sand-free picnic. Park facilities also include restrooms, showers, grills, and picnic tables.
If all of the surfing has inspired you, but you’re looking for more beginner waves, take a beginner surfing lesson at Mondo’s Beach, just a few miles west!
Surfers Point Beach is easily one of the best spots in Ventura, with access to the best sunsets, a beautiful beach, a paved hiking trail, and reasonable parking fees.
Stay nearby at Crowne Plaza Hotel Ventura Beach, conveniently in the middle of Surfers Point Beach and Ventura Pier. This convenient location provides access to the Ventura Promenade, the city’s seaside pedestrian trail.
10. Los Padres National Forest
Address: Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center, Maricopa Hwy, Ojai, CA 93023
Los Padres National Forest comprises most of the mountainous landscape along the Pacific coast from Ventura to Monterey. The forest is responsible for reintroducing and protecting many endangered plants and animals in the area, such as bighorn sheep, bald eagles, tule elk, peregrine falcons, and condors.
The Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center inside the forest is a 30-minute drive from Ventura. This center provides trail guides, maps, and Adventure Passes.
In addition, knowledgeable staff can help you with the numerous recreational opportunities available, such as backpacking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, and off-roading. There are hiking trails for every skill level, from novice to expert.
You can head north on Highway 33 from the visitor center to take one of California’s most beautiful scenic drives. This 38-mile drive includes spectacular rock formations, cliffs, and vistas.
You can customize the drive to your liking and turn around whenever you’re ready, but the scenic drive ends when Highway 33 meets Lockwood Valley Road at Ozena Fire Station 72.
Whatever you choose to do, you will be greeted with gorgeous scenery, near-perfect weather, and local wildlife.
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11. Ventura Pier
Address: 750 E Harbor Blvd, Ventura, CA 93001
The Ventura Pier, built in 1872, is the oldest in California and is designated as a Historic Landmark. The old pier was previously called the Ventura Wharf and the San Buenaventura Wharf. It was the mainstay of the area’s oil, agricultural, and construction trade in its early days.
However, the Ventura Pier is now one of the top attractions in the county for gorgeous views of Pierpont Bay and the islands, and it’s also an excellent spot for fishing and sunsets.
Tourists can walk, jog, bike, and enjoy the beauty. There are also restaurants on the pier with excellent sunset viewing opportunities.
In addition, there are boogie boards and beach chairs available at the dock if you plan on heading to San Buenaventura State Beach or Surfers Point Beach. Both beaches are easily accessible from the pier by the Ventura Promenade.
Grab a frosty cold beverage at MadeWest Brewing Company and have some fish tacos at Beach House Tacos. If you want more upscale dining, head to Beach House Fish for their daily fresh specials and tapas bar.
Kids will enjoy running down the Ventura Pier in hopes of catching a view of marine life, while adults will enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the Channel Islands and the sunset backdrop. The Ventura Pier is entertaining for all ages and is easily one of the best things to do in Ventura, California!
12. Ventura City Hall
Address: 501 Poli St, Ventura, CA 93001
The City Hall building is the former home of the Ventura County Courthouse, built in 1912. This historic landmark is known for its copper dome, stained glass ceiling, terra cotta exterior, and beautiful marble foyer with a sweeping stairway.
In addition, visitors will notice the 24 faces between the first and second floors depicting Spanish priests early in the city’s history.
When the county courthouse closed in 1969 because it was structurally unsound, the city of Ventura purchased it from the county and reopened it after five years of planning and restoration. Part of the restoration process included 16 months of steam cleaning the 3,600 terra cotta tiles!
The Ventura City Council established the Municipal Art Acquisition program in 1999 to highlight local artists. As visitors walk along the first and second floors of City Hall, they will see over 100 works of high artistic merit by 70 artists.
Although the Thomas Fire in 2017 came close to burning the historic building, it was spared. This building is the most beautiful architectural site in town and is one of Ventura’s best free things to do. When you’re there, stop by the Ventura Botanical Gardens nearby.
See Related: Family-Friendly Spring Break Ideas
13. Serra Cross Park
Address: 350 Summit Dr, Ventura, CA 93001
If you plan to go to Mission San Buenaventura, you’ll hear about the history of the Spanish missionary Father Serra. On Easter Sunday in 1782, Father Serra founded the Mission. Shortly after he founded the Mission, he planted a large wooden cross on a hill overlooking the church.
When searching for the Mission, travelers could look for the large wooden cross as a landmark near the Mission. Today, that cross is part of Serra Cross Park, named after the Spanish missionary.
Unfortunately, the original cross was demolished by weather in the 1860s, and a storm knocked down its replacement in 1875. Thankfully, the Mission finally replaced the large wooden cross again in 1912. Although the Mission replaced the cross for a final time in 1941, its symbolism has remained steadfast since 1782.
Today, the Serra Cross is part of a one-acre parcel within Grant Park called Serra Cross Park, which sits just above Ventura. What used to be a landmark for ships visiting Mission Buenaventura is now one of the most spectacular sunset views in the world.
At Serra Cross Park, you can see the Pacific Ocean and two Channel Islands, the Anacapa, and Santa Cruz Islands. The 107-acre Serra Cross Park is a historic landmark.
In December 2017, rumors that the Thomas Fire destroyed the Serra Cross proved untrue, even though the fire burned several parts of Grant Park.
14. Emma Wood State Beach
Location: CA-1, Ventura, CA 93001
Emma Wood State Beach is well-known for surfing, swimming, and fishing. Because of its location next to the Ventura River estuary, it’s common to see wildlife, including songbirds, raccoons, and great blue herons.
In addition, visitors can often see dolphins just offshore, while fishermen often catch bass, corbina, perch, and cabezon. Visitors to Emma Wood State Beach can also see the ruins of a World War II coastal artillery site.
This beautiful beach is named after Emma Wood, who donated the slice of oceanfront property south of the Taylor Ranch, now a California State Park. Unfortunately, the state park’s proximity to the Pacific Coast Highway and the railroad tracks can often be loud.
So, if you’re hoping for a more peaceful and serene beach, you may want to head to San Buenaventura State Beach. However, Emma Wood State Beach has its benefits, with convenient campsites at the water’s edge. In addition, the rustic grounds are close to running trails and bike paths.
See Related: Things to Do in Monterey, California
15. Marina Park
Address: 2950 Pierpont Blvd, Ventura, CA 93001
Just south of San Buenaventura Beach and next to Ventura Harbor, Marina Park is a sprawling 15-acre seaside park with almost a mile of beachfront. This park is known for its large grassy area, sand volleyball court, giant palm trees, and a pirate ship replica for kids. The city is in the process of replacing the playscape, but until then, kids will have a blast pretending to be Captain Jack Sparrow on the incredible play pirate ship.
Marina Park is also fantastic for throwing a frisbee, relaxing, fishing, kayaking, and sailing. You can launch small watercraft such as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from the dock or throw a line in and see what fish will bite! In addition, the Leo Robbins Community Sailing Center offers sailing classes for beginners or those who wish to refresh their skills.
So, Marina Park is a fantastic spot whether you’re ready to tackle a sailboat, stand-up paddleboard or want to relax on the lush grass with a picnic.
If you’re traveling with a group, consider this contemporary beach vacation rental, just steps away from the beach. You will surely have enough room with five bedrooms, a large kitchen, and two spacious balconies!
Tours in Ventura
Looking for an adventurous and fun way to explore Ventura? Then look no further than the Ventura: Scavenger Hunt Self-Guided Walking Tour. Discover historic downtown and Mission area sights as you solve 21 unique challenges. You'll have a blast following clues on your smartphone, and you'll learn some of the history of Ventura along the way. This is a great activity for groups or individuals.
Looking forward to learn how to surf? Come experience the best beginner's surf lesson at Mondo's Beach near Santa Barbara. You'll learn all the basics of surfing technique, including paddling out, catching waves, and standing up. You'll also get to know beginner's surf etiquette and positioning yourself for more waves. And your friendly instructor will teach you all the Californian surf lingo you need to know. So come on down and catch some waves!
Looking for a truly unique and thrilling experience? Come try out efoiling in Ventura, California! This one of a kind guided experience will have you floating above the water - it's an unforgettable sensation. Plus, you may even get lucky and spot some local dolphins! There's nothing quite like being on the water, so don't miss out on this opportunity.
What is Ventura known for?
Ventura is known for its gorgeous mountain views, beautiful beaches, relaxed style, diverse population, near-perfect weather, and thriving arts community. However, it’s also known for its “haunted” places, such as City Hall and the Bella Maggiore Inn (temporarily closed, but watch out for Sylvia’s ghost nearby!).
Is Ventura worth visiting?
The city of Ventura, formally known as San Buenaventura, is the City of Good Fortune. Ventura is a tourist destination because of its fantastic beaches and mountain views. It is definitely worth visiting Ventura, as the city welcomes tourists with endless recreation opportunities, diverse dining options, and numerous entertainment choices.