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Day Hike

Trails Link Teeming Estuary, State Beach, Lake in Oxnard

July 23, 1988|JOHN McKINNEY

McGrath State Beach and McGrath Lake were named for the McGrath family, which had extensive land holdings in the Ventura coastal area dating from 1874. On the western city limits of Oxnard, the 2-mile-long state beach extends south from the Santa Clara River.

A small lake in the southern part of the park helps to attract more than 200 species of birds, including white-tailed kites, marsh hawks, owls and herons. Such rare birds as ospreys, white wagtails and black skimmers have been sighted here. The Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve on the northern boundary of the park also offers a haven for birds and habitat for weasels, skunks, jack rabbits, opossums, squirrels and mice, plus tortoises and gopher snakes.

Near the state beach entry kiosk, a small visitors' center has exhibits about the area's plants and wildlife.

This walk takes you on a nature trail through the Santa Clara River Estuary, visits McGrath Lake and travels miles of sandy beach to Channel Islands Harbor.

Directions to trailhead: To reach McGrath State Beach, visitors southbound on U.S. 101 should take the Seaward Avenue off-ramp to Harbor Boulevard, turn south on Harbor and travel three-quarters of a mile to the park. Northbound visitors should exit U.S. 101 on Victoria Avenue and turn left (south) at the light; turn right (west) on Olivas Park Drive to Harbor Boulevard. Turn left on Harbor and proceed three-quarters of a mile to the park. The signed nature trail leaves from the day-use parking lot. Signposts along the nature trail are keyed to a pamphlet, available from the entry kiosk.

There is a $3-per-vehicle state park day-use fee.

The Hike: From the parking lot, follow the nature trail through the estuary. The river banks are a mass of lush vegetation: willow, silverweed and yerba mansa. In 1980 the Santa Clara River area was declared a natural preserve, primarily to protect the habitat of two endangered birds--the California least tern and Belding's savannah sparrow.

When you reach nature trail signpost 11, join a nearby trail that leads atop an old levee, first along the river, then down the coast along the periphery of the state beach campground. This trail joins a dirt road and continues down coast, but the far more aesthetic route is along the water's edge, so trudge over the low dunes and walk along the shoreline.

Along the beach, visitors enjoy sunbathing or surf fishing for bass, corbina or perch. In two miles you will spot McGrath Lake behind the dunes.

As you continue south, more sandy beach and dunes follow. You pass a huge old Edison power plant and arrive at Oxnard Shores, a development famous for getting clobbered by heavy surf at high tide.

The beach is flat and at one time was eroding at the phenomenal rate of 10 feet a year. Houses were built right on the shoreline and many have been heavily damaged. New houses are built on pilings, so the waves crash under rather than through them.

Past Oxnard Shores, a mile of beach-walking brings you to historic Hollywood Beach. "The Sheik," starring that great silent-movie idol Rudolph Valentino, was filmed on the desertlike sands here. Real estate promoters of the time attempted to capitalize on Oxnard Beach's instant fame and renamed it Hollywood Beach. They laid out subdivisions called Hollywood-by-the-Sea and Silver Strand, suggesting to their customers that the area was really a movie colony and might become a future Hollywood.

This walk ends another mile down the coast at the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor.

McGrath Beach Trail

McGrath State Beach to McGrath Lake: 4 miles round trip. McGrath State Beach to Oxnard Shores: 8 miles round trip. McGrath State Beach to Channel Islands Harbor: 12 miles round trip.

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