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FOR THE KIDS : Summer Warmup : It's beach weather, and the water temperature is rising. To find the shoreline that fits your needs, here are some tips.

June 04, 1992|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Last summer, with its cold, foggy, and generally yucky weather, going to the beach was right up there with camping in the rain.

But this summer may be a different story.

El Nino, that weather phenomenon responsible for warming ocean waters, could bring us slightly warmer water at Ventura County's beaches.

If the sun comes out of hiding, too, it could make going to the beach a nifty idea.

Maybe.

Weather pros never say anything is a sure thing. El Nino heated up local waters in April and made swimming a not-so-numbing experience.

The water has since cooled off some, but at 62 degrees last week, it's still two or so degrees warmer than normal, according to Steve White, lifeguard supervisor for the Channel Coast District of the state's Parks and Recreation Department.

El Nino could push local waters up to 70 degrees, five above normal, during the heart of the summer, he said.

"We could be very busy."

In case that happens, and you're warming to the idea of a day at the beach with the kids, we have put together a guide of sorts to help you decide where to go.

Starting at the south end of the county's coastline, one of the best-kept beach secrets is Port Hueneme Beach Park at the end of Ventura Road.

"It's quiet--a lot of people don't know about it," said Brady Cherry, director of recreation and community services for the city.

Parking is abundant, but there is a $4-a-day charge, or you can pay by the hour. The beach is equipped with restrooms, snack bar and volleyball nets. And fishing gear and boogie boards can be rented.

The span of beach, which includes the pier, has four lifeguard stations that will be manned June 15 through Labor Day weekend.

The beach is sandy, but because of its position facing south, rip currents can be strong at times. Lifeguards use a flag system to alert beach-goers of any danger.

The only real drawback to the beach is that the water is a little cooler than at other county beaches because of its proximity to the deeper waters in the channel.

Moving up the coast, Silver Strand Beach, just north of Port Hueneme Harbor, and Hollywood Beach, just above Channel Islands Harbor, both have lifeguards from mid-June through the summer. Both have restrooms and some parking, but that's about it. There is no charge. Rip currents can be strong.

Oxnard State Beach, off Harbor Boulevard, also is free unless it's for group use.

The city operates it. Parking is available as well as restrooms, volleyball and softball spots.

But White cautions against going to this beach, partly because there are no lifeguards on duty and the currents are strong.

"It's a dangerous beach," he said.

Next up is McGrath State Beach, just below the Santa Clara River, where the fee is $5 a day, the same as at other state-run beaches.

This is known mostly as a camping beach, with restrooms and other services.

Although lifeguards are on duty in the summer, swimming isn't recommended because of the strong surf and currents.

But if you're there, be sure to take the nature trail out to the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve.

On the other side of the Santa Clara River is South Beach, near the Ventura Harbor, off Spinnaker Drive. It's heavily surfed, according to White, but the currents are strong.

"I strongly urge people not to go there for bathing," he said. There are no lifeguards on duty.

But at the end of Spinnaker Drive is Harbor Cove Beach, a protected spot that is ideal for children, he said. Jetties protect the beach from currents and big waves.

It's also equipped with lifeguards. You'll find restrooms, a limited children's play area and parking. Best of all, it's free.

Marina Park, at the end of Pierpont Boulevard, is also free. It has a nice play area for children, including a quasi-ship with a pulley arrangement that lets kids hang on and glide out over the sand. It also has restrooms and parking.

But White doesn't recommend it for swimming, because of strong riptides that move swimmers into a nearby jetty.

"It's not a safe beach," he said. It was equipped with lifeguards until last October, but they won't be there this summer.

Just above Marina Beach is San Buenaventura State Beach, a two-mile stretch of sandy beach accessible via San Pedro Street.

"It has all the facilities anyone could want," White said. "And it's safer than all the previous beaches. It doesn't get hit quite as hard by the swells" and the bottom is flatter and more even.

You pay a $5 parking fee, but you get an enormous parking lot, six lifeguard stations, picnic sites, volleyball nets, showers and restrooms. At the snack bar you can also rent bicycles, surreys and in-line skates. The state beach also takes in the pier and playground area below it.

On the other side of the Ventura River is Emma Wood State Beach, which is more of a camping and RV spot.

The beach is rocky, except for a nice area near the freeway off-ramp.

The same goes for the beach area along Rincon Parkway, a popular spot for campers. At high tide, there isn't much of a beach.

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