Ventura is the perfect Central California coastal destination for those wanting to spend a few days relaxing near the beach, enjoy fun outdoor activities like surfing and hiking and indulge in fresh, drool-worthy seafood. And we should know! As locals living in Ventura County for the past several years, we have discovered so many incredible things to do in Ventura California.
Whether you’re heading on a weekend trip to Ventura from out of town, just moved here, or planning a pit stop on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, our Ventura guide is here to help!
In this post, I’ll cover some of my favorite things to do in Ventura for a fun coastal trip.
We have personally been to all of these locations and this is where we take our family and friends whenever they come to visit.
Best Things To Do In Ventura California:
1. San Buenaventura State Beach
Spending a couple of hours at the San Buenaventura State Beach is one of the top things to do in Ventura for both locals and out-of-town visitors alike. This pristine beach is a great spot for sports such as surfing, swimming, volleyball or just laying out on the sandy shoreline.
San Buenaventura State Beach is also the beginning of the Ventura Beach Bike Trail that you can take down to the Ventura Pier and past it. Along the way, you can enjoy views of scenic sand dunes, fresh air, and unique futuristic-looking restrooms (yep, you read that right!).
For day visitors there are plenty of picnic tables where you can enjoy a lunch with a view. If you don’t want to bring your own food, I highly recommend stopping by The Jolly Oyster Ventura seafood truck that’s situated within San Buenaventura State Beach.
We usually order the grilled oysters along with fried oyster tacos. For something a bit more unique try the Uni Ceviche Tostada that comes with Santa Barbara Sea Urchin.
Do note that dogs are allowed along the bike path and within The Jolly Oyster Ventura food truck area but not on the beach itself.
Location: San Buenaventura State Beach
2. Marina Park
One of the first places that I visited after moving to Ventura was Marina Park. This is one of the most popular Ventura attractions so you’ll see it popping up on Google Maps as one of the best things to do in the area.
Marina Park is situated right next to the ocean and consists of 15 acres of walking paths and a grassy area where you can enjoy a beachfront picnic. It’s a great place to come for families with kids or if you’re looking for somewhere to take your dog for a walk.
Marina Park has a beachfront playground and a large ship in the sand where kids can go to play in. The park is situated right next to the ocean and Ventura Harbor if you want to dip your toes into the water.
Location: Marina Park
3. Ventura Harbor Village
Ventura Harbor Village is one of the top places to go in Ventura, especially for out-of-town visitors. Ventura Harbor Village is an outdoor shopping area situated in the perfect location between the ocean and Ventura Marina.
Here you can walk along the harbor and check out local shops, seafood restaurants, cafes, and dessert spots. A few of the most popular seafood restaurants include Brophy Bros., Andria’s Seafood, and Baja Bay Surf n Taco.
If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to stop by Coastal Cone & Parlor for a cone of soft-serve ice cream! They offer lots of flavors including some more interesting choices such as Fishzookies and Mermaid Yaki Fish Cone.
From Ventura Harbor, you can also go on a boat ride to Channel Islands National Park which can be arranged through Island Packers Cruises.
Location: Ventura Harbor Village
4. Ventura Botanical Gardens
Ventura Botanical Gardens is a beautiful outdoor space just north of downtown Ventura. If you’re looking for relaxing activities in Ventura, put Ventura Botanical Garden on top of your list!
As locals, we come to Ventura Botanical Gardens quite often for the stunning scenery and excellent ocean views. This outdoor garden offers several miles of hiking trails that climb up to the top of a hill offering unobstructed ocean views along the way. The trails are very easy so it’s a great place to visit for families with little kids.
Ventura Botanical Gardens price for entrance is $7 per person, but they offer free visitor days on Fridays. This location also allows leashed dogs, but only on Wednesdays and Fridays. On all other days, dogs are not allowed.
There is a small visitor parking lot next to the Ventura Botanical Gardens welcome center where you can park your car and pay for the entrance fee before heading into the trails.
Location: Ventura Botanical Gardens
Hiking Tip: Before heading out hiking, we like to download an offline map from the AllTrails hiking app. This way we always have access to the trail map, even if we lose reception or get lost!
5. Take a Surfing Lesson
If you’ve never tried surfing before, but it’s always been on top of your bucket list, you’re in luck! Ventura has some of the best surfing conditions on the Central Coast making it a wonderful place to learn surfing for beginners.
For the best experience, book this Ventura Surf Lesson which takes place on Mondo’s Beach, just 10 minutes north of Ventura. During the surfing lesson, the experienced instructors will teach you how to stand up on the surfboard, find your balance, and ride waves all the way to the shore.
I’ve taken numerous surfing lessons myself and it’s the fastest way to catch a wave without previous surfing experience. This Ventura surfing lesson includes all the necessary gear so you don’t have to worry about a thing!
6. Spencer Makenzie’s Seafood Restaurant
Spencer Makenzie’s is one of the most iconic seafood eateries in all of Ventura. While there are some fancier seafood restaurants in town (such as Brophy Bros. and Lure Fish House), Spencer Makenzie’s remains our favorite.
Spencer Makenzie’s is known for their world-famous fish tacos that are a must-try! This family-operated no-frills restaurant is affordable yet creates food only using the best, freshest ingredients. Because of this, you can always expect to see a long line of customers waiting to try their food.
You can order food at the outdoor counter and the order will be called out when it’s ready. There is some seating outdoors and indoors, but the outdoor seating is very limited and tables get snatched up quickly.
Besides the fish tacos, a few of our favorites include the calamari tacos, grilled fish & shrimp burrito, Fish & Chips, and clam chowder.
Read More: 15 Best Places To Eat In Ventura, California
7. Stay At Waypoint Ventura
If you’re planning a trip to Ventura from out of town and are looking for a memorable place to stay overnight, be sure to check out Waypoint Ventura! This property is located near the beach and features unique accommodations in luxurious vintage trailers.
Waypoint Ventura is a great choice for couples or groups that want to enjoy a bit of privacy, but still be close to each other. The property offers excellent amenities such as BBQ areas, cornhole games, and complimentary bikes that you can ride around downtown Ventura and to the beach.
Each of the trailers features modern upgrades including air conditioning, flat-screen TV, a shower, and a fridge. This hotel-style campground is also a short walking distance of popular local eateries such as Spencer Makenzie’s, Toppers Pizza Place, and Frontside Cafe.
8. Ventura Pier
A visit to Ventura would not be complete without stopping by the Ventura Pier. This is the oldest pier in California where you can come for a sunset stroll, go fishing, or watch surfers catch waves in the ocean.
At the beginning of the pier, you can stop by Eric Ericsson’s Fish Co and MadeWest Brewing Co to enjoy fresh seafood and craft beer overlooking the water. If you’re looking for something a bit more budget-friendly, Beach House Tacos is a popular outdoor taco stand in the same location.
From the pier, you can also walk down the Ventura Promenade which offers excellent ocean views. If you have little kids, be sure to check out the Ventura Promenade Beach Playground that’s situated right on the sandy beach!
Location: Ventura Pier
9. Surfers Point At Seaside Park
Surfers Point At Seaside Park is one of the most popular beaches in Ventura that’s great for surfing, windsurfing, and bird watching. We like to come here on the weekends to go for a walk along the ocean and bring our dog for a bit of play on the beach.
Parking for Surfers Point can be a bit challenging, especially on the weekends. We usually park along Shoreline Drive which has 30-minute free visitor parking or you can pay a small fee and park in the Public Parking @ surfers point.
From Surfers Point you can walk along the Ventura Promenade which turns into a bike path. If you’re looking to get away from the busy tourist crowds, Surfers Point Dunes is a quiet beach just a short walk west.
Location: Surfers Point at Seaside Park
10. Emma Wood State Beach
If you keep going along the bike path past Surfers Point Dunes, you will eventually reach Emma Wood State Beach. This is a popular location for RV camping with campsites situated right next to the sandy beach. This campground offers primitive campsites meant for self-contained vehicles like RVs and campervans.
Although we haven’t camped here ourselves, we like to take our bikes for a spin along the adjacent bike path to enjoy the scenery. Often you might spot wildlife in the ocean like dolphins swimming along the shoreline.
Emma Wood State Beach is tucked away in a secluded location so you’ll rarely encounter many people here. Overall, this is one of the things to do in Ventura Beach if you want to get away from the crowds!
Location: Emma Wood State Beach
11. Walk Around Downtown Ventura
Downtown Ventura’s Main Street is one of the top places to visit in Ventura! This area consists of several blocks of pedestrian walking area that is closed off to car traffic.
Along both sides of Main Street, you’ll find many restaurants, bars, cafes, yoga studios, and antique shops. We like to come here to go on a stroll, stop by for a drink at one of the local restaurants and browse through the boutique stores.
On the weekends Ventura’s downtown is buzzing full of out-of-town visitors and tourists seeking a getaway on the coast. This area often hosts fun events like Ventura Wine Walks, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and Holiday Tree Lighting.
12. Mission Basilica San Buenaventura
The Old Mission Basilica San Buenaventura is one of the most notable things to do in downtown Ventura. This historic building is located along Main Street so it’s a great place to stop by as you’re walking around downtown to learn more about Ventura’s history.
Mission San Buenaventura is open to visitors from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every day. There is a small fee of $5 to enter the Mission with discounts for seniors, active military, and youth.
With the admission, you can explore the church, garden, the interior, and see various artwork and sculptures. It takes about an hour to walk through the mission grounds which makes it a great little stop!
Location: Mission Basilica San Buenaventura 1782
13. Serra Cross At Grant Park
Serra Cross is an iconic Ventura landmark that can be seen from afar! This oceanfront park features a giant cross and sweeping panoramic views overlooking the Ventura County coast.
Serra Cross is situated at the summit of Grant Park which you can reach by foot or by car. At the top, there is a small parking lot and walkways that lead to a viewpoint of the Serra Cross.
This historic monument was originally placed by a Spanish missionary in 1782 to guide people traveling to Mission Basilica San Buenaventura. Over the years the wooden cross has been replaced several times but remains a major Ventura attraction.
Location: Serra Cross
14. Dinner & Drinks At Rumfish y Vino
Whenever our friends come to visit us in Ventura for the first time, we always take them for dinner and drinks at Rumfish y Vino restaurant in downtown Ventura. Rumfish y Vino is also a great place to dine if you’re looking for romantic things to do in Ventura for couples.
This gastropub-style restaurant has a beautiful modern interior with a relaxed, beachy vibe. Their dinner menu is limited but features drool-worthy choices such as Caribbean Fish Stew, Cochinita Pibil Tacos, Belize BBQ, and many seafood options.
For starters, we usually pick a few appetizers to share. Some of my favorites include mussels in mustard crema sauce, Peruvian ceviche, and garlic fries.
If you’re looking for a fun spot where you can enjoy a few cocktails and delicious food, this is where you’ll want to go!
15. Ice Cream At McConnell’s
Have a bit of a sweet tooth? Ventura is home to McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams which has been serving delicious treats to Central Coast locals for over 70 years. The original store was established in Santa Barbara in 1934 with a newer location in Ventura that opened 14 years ago.
McConnell’s motto is to ‘Leave the world just a little sweeter than we found it’. And that is exactly what they strive to do!
The staff at Ventura McConnell’s is always so welcoming and friendly whenever we come in. They have two ice cream stations displaying the various flavors that you can pick from for a variety of taste preferences. I usually go for the Santa Barbara Strawberry and Toasted Coconut Almond Chip combo.
- Rating on Google: 4.7 out of 600+ reviews
- Location: McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream
- Website: Mcconnells.com
16. Channel Islands National Park
One of the first times that I came to visit Ventura years ago was to go on a day trip to Channel Islands National Park. Located just a short boat ride from Ventura Harbor, Channel Islands is a popular nature getaway for California locals.
Channel Islands National Park consists of five islands:
- Anacapa Island
- Santa Cruz Island
- San Miguel Island
- Santa Barbara Island
- Santa Rosa Island
Within these islands, you can enjoy plenty of fun outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, snorkeling, wildlife sighting, and hiking amongst pristine landscapes. To reach the islands you will need to reserve a boat ride with Island Packers Cruises that depart from Ventura Harbor.
Some of the islands like Anacapa and Santa Cruz can be visited year-round while the other islands have limited visitor seasons. As an option, you can also reserve wildlife and whale-watching cruises that travel next to the islands without departing the boat.
17. Go Biking Along Ventura – Ojai Bike Path
The Ventura – Ojai Bike Path is a long, paved pathway that travels for 15 miles from Ojai to downtown Ventura. This is a great route to bike, trail run or walk if you’re looking for a longer place to stretch your legs.
I’ve walked parts of the Ventura Ojai bike path when looking for a quick escape into nature with my dog. I’ve also run the entire length as part of the annual Ventura Marathon. The pathway is fairly flat with a little bit of downslope (if you start in Ojai).
With plenty of trees, lush vegetation, and views of the mountains, the Ventura Ojai bike path is one of the best places to take a bike out for a spin in Ventura!
Location: Ventura River Bike Trail
18. Grab a Beer At a Local Brewery
For being a small beach town, Ventura is known for having quite a few popular local breweries. No matter where you end up staying, the chances are that there is a brewery within a few blocks from your hotel or vacation rental!
A few of our favorite Ventura breweries include:
- Transmission Brewing. This brewery is situated next to Toppers Pizza Place with an adjacent door and shared seating area so you can grab a beer and food at the same time.
- Ventura Coast Brewing Company. One of our favorites in downtown Ventura for its overall vibe and modern setting. VCBC often features food trucks on their outdoor patio.
- MadeWest Brewing Co. MadeWest arguably has one of the best locations situated right on the Ventura Pier! This is where you’ll want to go if you want to enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean as you sip on your craft beer.
- Topa Topa Brewing Co. Topa Topa is one of the most popular local breweries with several locations on the Central Coast including Ventura, Santa Barbara, Ojai, and Camarillo.
- Rincon Brewery-Ventura. This brewery is a great choice for larger parties or if you want to enjoy a laid-back setting with plenty of food options.
19. Go On a Hike At Arroyo Verde Park
Arroyo Verde is a local park in Ventura where you can spend time outdoors surrounded by a green hills and beautiful hiking trails. There are several miles of trails that you can enjoy here with plenty of visitor parking.
We especially enjoy visiting Arroyo Verde in spring when the entire park is full of blooming flowers. This park is also very dog friendly so it’s the perfect place to bring your four-legged friend for exercise and play.
Location: Arroyo Verde Park
Visitor Tip: In the summer months, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, especially when the weather starts getting hot. I like to carry a snake venom extractor kit when going on hiking adventures in California, especially in dry coastal areas.
20. Pete’s Breakfast House
Pete’s Breakfast House is an iconic Ventura breakfast spot that is a must-try at least once! This casual breakfast joint was featured on Food Network’s famous Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives show which created quite the local buzz.
Pete’s Breakfast House takes pride in serving delicious food at affordable prices that won’t break the bank. Not sure what to try? Order the Chorizo Burger or Pancake Roll with yogurt and berries that Guy Fieri himself called ‘righteous’.
This breakfast restaurant is open from 7:30 to 2:00 and fills up quickly, especially on the weekends. Be sure to come early in the morning to get a spot on their charming outdoor patio.
- Rating on Google: 4.7 out of 1200+ reviews
- Location: Pete’s Breakfast House
- Website: Petesbreakfasthouse.com
21. Grab Coffee At Prospect Coffee Roasters
If you’re looking to grab a cup of coffee in the morning before exploring Ventura, I recommend stopping by my favorite coffee shop in town – Prospect Coffee Roasters.
This inviting coffee shop boasts a beautiful modern interior complimented by some of the best coffee on the Central Coast. I usually go for the Batch Brew drip coffee but they sell plenty of drink choices such as Americano, Latte, Cold Brew, Hand Pour, and Matcha Latte, along with others.
Prospect Coffee Roasters sources coffee from small farms around the world such as Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Ethiopia. The coffee sold at Prospect is very strong with notes of sweetness and acidity.
- Rating on Google: 4.6 out of 370+ reviews
- Location: Prospect Coffee Roasters
- Website: Prospectcoffee.com
Read Next: 12 Best Coffee Shops In Ventura, California
22. Go On a Day Trip To Ojai
If you want to switch things up on a trip to Ventura, plan to spend a day in the nearby city of Ojai! Ojai is a small town just 30 minutes north of Ventura where you can find lots of charming art studios, wine-tasting rooms, spas, and restaurants.
A few of the most popular wineries and tasting rooms in this area include:
Surrounded by lush trees and mountains, Ojai is the perfect place to spend an afternoon on the weekends. Nearby you can also find excellent hiking trails such as the Ventura River Preserve Trail.
23. Four Brix Winery And Tasting Room
Don’t want to go all the way to Ojai for wine tasting? You’re in luck as Ventura has its own wine-tasting room at the center of the town!
At the Four Brix Winery and Tasting Room, you can try a selection of high-quality wines sourced from grapes grown on the Central Coast in Paso Robles, Santa Ynez, and Ojai. This tasting room is open with limited hours Friday to Sunday from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
On the weekend evenings, they often host fun events such as live music, wine and cheese pairings, paint & sip, and many others! For details be sure to check out the Four Brix Winery event calendar here.
Location: Four Brix Winery and Tasting Room
24. Harmon Canyon Preserve
Harmon Canyon is another one of our favorite local places for spending time outdoors in Ventura. This preserve covers over 2100 acres of land with longer hiking and mountain biking trails.
Within minutes of entering Harmon Canyon, you’ll feel fully submerged in nature. This location is especially beautiful in spring when all of the mountains are covered in green grass and there is water flowing through the creeks.
For a longer hike follow the Harmon Canyon to Overlook Bench route from the AllTrails hiking app. For a shorter option, take the main Harmon Canyon Road or head into one of the narrow side trails to explore various scenery.
Location: Harmon Canyon Preserve
25. The Collection Riverpark
Many people come to Ventura for its world-renowned beaches, seafood, and outdoor activities. But while that sounds fun for some, retail therapy is a fun way to spend an afternoon on a weekend for others. Thankfully in this small beach town, you can do both!
The Collection Riverpark is a great shopping mall just a few minutes drive east of Ventura on the border of Ventura and Oxnard. A few of the most popular stores here include REI, H&M, Whole Foods, Victoria’s Secret, and Ulta Beauty amongst many others.
Location: The Collection at RiverPark
26. Museum Of Ventura County
The Museum of Ventura County is a local museum situated in downtown Ventura near Mission Basilica San Buenaventura 1782. This museum is small but features artwork and several different exhibits along with an outdoor play area for kids featuring straw huts and musical instruments.
Within the museum, you can learn more about Ventura’s history, Chumash native people, and their culture. Admission to the museum is free and it only takes about an hour to walk through the entire museum and see the exhibits on display.
Location: Museum of Ventura County
Looking for more things to do around the Central Coast? Be sure to check out these posts next:
- 10 Best Hiking Trails In Ventura, California
- 15 Top Dog Friendly Activities In Ventura, California
- 13 Best Pet Friendly Hotels In Ventura, California
- Carpinteria Bluffs Trail & Tar Pits Park
- 15 Best Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Tours
- 15 Best Places For Viewing Wildlife In California
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