For waterfront fun in the Southland, head to Ventura County. It's home for not one, not two, but three harbors with a host of attractions for boaters and other visitors.
Oxnard's bustling Channel Islands Harbor was described in our column earlier this month, but there's also plenty of activity at its neighboring boat basins, Ventura and Port Hueneme.
To the north is the larger of the pair, Ventura Harbor, an attractive haven for pleasure craft and sport fishing boats. Around its perimeter you'll find restaurants, shops, lodging and the visitors center for Channel Islands National Park.
Get there from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 to the Seaward Avenue exit in Ventura. Go left over the freeway, then left again to head south on Harbor Drive to Spinnaker Drive.
New Dockside Development
It curves around the southern end of the harbor to Ventura Harbor Village, a new dockside development of 40 shops and a dozen eateries. That's also the location of Slip 14, departure point for 45-minute narrated tours of the harbor. The daily (except Monday) excursions aboard the Harbour Queen embark on the hour from noon through 5 p.m.
Or sign up for the 90-minute sunset cocktail cruise that sails at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are $5, with drinks extra. The shorter daytime trips cost $3, children 2 to 12 years, $2. Visitors also can rent pedal boats for self-powered harbor tours, and charter sailboats for ocean outings are available too. For more information phone (805) 642-7753.
A treat for youngsters at the village complex is a musical carrousel, while the teen-age set favors the Ventura Bikini Shop and a combination surf shop and taco stand named China Bay.
You'll find books, art and music with a nautical theme at Island Hunter. Among the other specialty shops are those devoted to seashells, glass items, candles, hats, toys and kites.
Assortment of Dining Spots
Overlooking the harbor is an assortment of dining spots, several with patios for outdoor dining. A classy choice for lunch or dinner is Bedfords, the family enterprise of airline pilot Lou Spasiano and his wife, Janet, who was born in Bedford, England.
Berto's Ristorante serves Italian dishes, Andria's features seafood, and second-floor Hornblower's is popular for hamburgers, happy hour and harbor views.
Continuing your drive to the end of Spinnaker Drive brings you to the visitors center and headquarters of Channel Islands National Park. Park free nearby in the ocean-side lot that also serves sandy San Buenaventura State Beach.
Take the tower stairs at the center to a viewing deck for a harbor panorama and distant look at some of the islands that make up the unusual off-shore park. On the walk up you'll pass pictures of marine creatures encountered at various ocean depths.
Some live specimens inhabit a man-made tide pool. Also look for the photos of birds, animals and plants suspended above models of the five Channel Islands encompassed by the park. Films about Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara islands are shown every hour.
The visitors center is open daily without charge from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with hours extended to 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday until Labor Day. Hourlong illustrated talks are given those same evenings beginning at 7:30 p.m. Rangers are on hand to answer questions and tell you about the ways to visit the islands.
Next door are the motor vessels and sailboats of Island Packers, the main park concessionaire that offers daily trips to Anacapa and less frequently to some of the other islands. Phone (805) 642-1393 for Channel Islands sailing schedules and fares.
On the opposite side of Ventura Harbor you can dine and drink at the water's edge at Alexander's. It's part of a marina resort, Fairfield Harbortown, with 166 rooms that begin at $102.
Get to the restaurant by going back on Spinnaker Drive and turning left on Navigator Drive just before reaching Harbor Drive. An elevated walkway connects Alexander's to the main hotel building. Call toll-free (800) 622-1212 for overnight reservations.
Two sportfishing companies at Ventura Harbor take anglers into the Pacific for half-day and longer open-party excursions. And you also can go to sea for sportfishing from the harbor that's south of Ventura and Oxnard at Port Hueneme.
Linking L.A., S.F.
As the only deep-water harbor between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Port Hueneme (WHY-ne-mee) Harbor is a haven for huge cargo ships and navy vessels as well as fishing boats.
Get there from Ventura Harbor by going south on Harbor Drive to Oxnard, east on Channel Islands Boulevard, then south on Ventura Road skirting the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Center, and west on Hueneme Road to the port entrance.