YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

COVER STORY: Ventura County

Lure of the Sea

From volleyball to bird-watching, tide-pooling to swimming, area beaches offer warm-weather activities for the whole family.


Next to Disneyland, beach hopping is the quintessential Southern California experience--whether you aim your boogie board for the 43 miles of coastline in Ventura County, or stake out a patch of sand in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara counties.

There are beaches for everyone--kids, surfers and romantics who just want to stroll hand-in-hand into the sunset. There are beaches for exploring tide pools, or for exploring yourself--simply staring into the horizon and becoming one with the rhythm of the surf. Whatever pearl you seek, you'll find the right strand.

Scenic Beauty: It's tough to choose a single spot. You can pull off the Pacific Coast Highway and see everything from the towering mass of boulders known as Mugu Rock to cozy Faria Beach, with its mountain backdrop. But if it's wild, untamed territory you crave, drive to Nicholas Canyon Beach, just south of the Ventura County line. The nearly one mile of sand is virtually unsullied, making it primo surfing, walking and splashing grounds, as well as a favorite wedding spot.

Breaking the Waves: Local surfers zealously guard their favorite spots, but it's no secret that many seasoned surfers are partial to the wave action at Surfers Point, near Ventura's Seaside Park and the Ventura River. If you want to stretch out and watch these guys in action, this is a comfy spot. Other longtime surfing haunts dot both ends of the county: the Rincon near Carpinteria, and, down the coast at Yerba Buena Road is County Line Beach, made famous by the Beach Boys 1960s hit, "Surfin' USA."

Dolphin Watch: These elusive guys don't follow a schedule, but your best bet is up the coast from Ventura at Emma Wood State Beach and farther north along the Pacific Coast Highway. If you spot one, you'll surely see others too, cutting through the water in graceful arcs.

People Watching: It's not Venice Beach, but the seaside promenade in Santa Barbara on Sundays is the place to see and be seen. In addition to picking up arts and crafts at this weekly sidewalk sale near Stearns Wharf, you can gawk at everything from tanned in-line skaters to street musicians to those oh-so beautiful people.

For the Kids: Ventura's Marina Park has playgrounds, picnic areas and the ultimate kid attraction--the "San Salvador," a make-believe shipwreck with a pulley-like gizmo that whisks children across the sand. Don't be fooled by the cozy beach here. Swimmers often get caught in dangerous rip currents, and the beach is not staffed by lifeguards.

Just Plain Swimming: A better swimming choice, especially for families, is Harbor Cove Beach near Ventura Harbor. It's protected by a breakwater, so the waves are pretty tame. In the summer, lifeguards keep a watchful eye on the not-terribly-crowded waters. Those ever-important restrooms are nearby too, as well as places to pick up burgers, fries and more across the street at the harbor.

Tide-pooling: Extremely low tide is the time to go, and the place to go is Faria Beach, about six miles up the coast from Ventura. As you clamber over the rocks, you'll find scads of sea anemones, crabs, starfish, and maybe an octopus. If you don't mind crowds, Leo Carrillo State Beach just over the Los Angeles County line and Carpinteria State Beach also boast excellent tide pools.

Gone Fishin': If you want hassle-free fishing, head for the Ventura Pier or the Port Hueneme Pier. You don't need a fishing license to drop a line off these piers. If you don't want to bother with fishing tackle, you can even rent fishing equipment for $5 a day at Port Hueneme's tackle shop.

Beach Volleyball, Anyone?: If volleyball is more to your liking, you can round up a game at the Port Hueneme Pier. The snack bar/tackle shop will loan you a net, but you'll have to bring your own ball. You'll find volleyball courts at Oxnard State Beach, and at another volleyball haven, Santa Barbara's East Beach.

Not Just for the Birds: Birders should consider a stroll at McGrath State Beach, near the mouth of the Santa Clara River in Oxnard. Although you have to pay a $5 day-use fee, it's worth it to see herons and a slew of other water birds along the jungle-like, 3/4-mile self-guided nature trail. Another good spot for bird-watching is the mouth of the Ventura River, just above the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

Beach Biking: For those who like to cycle with an ocean view, a trail runs from San Buenaventura State Beach, past the Ventura Pier, inland along the Ventura River, and back along the coast to Emma Wood State Beach. The ocean views are spectacular, but be prepared for lots of company. Cyclists eager for a workout can continue past Solimar, Faria and Hobson beaches, pedaling in the wide bike lane adjacent to the Pacific Coast Highway.

Los Angeles Times Articles