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THE GUIDE / NEIGHBORHOODS: VENTURA

A sleepy beach town wakes up

October 07, 2008|Christine N. Ziemba | Special to The Times

A DECADE ago, downtown Ventura's Main Street (between Ash Street and Ventura Avenue) was the center of a sleepy little beach town, home to a number of thrift shops and antique stores that were sometimes hard to tell apart. These days, Main Street's trying to become State Street-lite, emulating the appeal of Santa Barbara's popular drag. To compete for shopper's hearts and wallets, downtown Ventura has added upscale stores and eateries, while keeping a few reminders of yesteryear. On Oct. 18 and 19, the annual Harvest ArtWalk Weekend will give the town a chance to showcase this delicate balance of the past and present.

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'Hollywood' eats

The just-opened Watermark Restaurant (598 E. Main St., [805] 643-6800, www.watermarkonmain.com) brings a bit of the Hollywood high life to Main Street, with a dress code and valet parking, both of which had been unheard of in these parts. The menu is also trendy, but in a good way, by focusing on locally grown and sourced foods. The restaurant's architecture is another draw for visitors: The carefully restored 1920s brick building features original murals and stenciled ceilings; its rooftop lounge, W2O, has a retractable glass roof. Cafe Bariloche (500 E. Main St., [805] 641-2005, www.cafebariloche.com) is a small, dimly lighted restaurant that issues its diners a culinary passport to Chile, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Ecuador. At $10.95, the empanada lunch special is a bargain: Pick two empanadas (from the 10 on the menu) with any side salad. The Bariloche salad (greens, carrots, Roma tomatoes, red onions, apples, grapes, toasted pine nuts, feta cheese and red pepper vinaigrette) is a popular choice.

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Selling nostalgia

Times Remembered (467 E. Main St., [805] 643-3137) is a cache of kitsch, an EBay in real life. About 20 vendors peddle antiques and collectibles such as bobbleheads, lunch boxes, wooden tennis rackets and golf clubs, home goods and LPs. It's up to you to decide whether they're trash or treasure. Surprisingly, "Star Wars" items are still hot sellers: A small Han Solo action figure in one of the cases has an asking price of $30.

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Book haven

Bank of Books (748 E Main St., [805] 643-3154) boasts 150,000 mostly used books on the premises, and 1.5 million if you count its warehouse stock. Mysteries and true-crime titles by Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich and Erle Stanley Gardner are popular requests. Not familiar with Gardner's work? He was a Ventura lawyer who created the crime-fighting lawyer Perry Mason.

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Chocolate decadence

Trufflehound's Fine Chocolates (607 E. Main St., Suite E, [805] 648-5870, trufflehoundsfinechocolates.com/index.html) is owned by two former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo food technologists who carefully craft their chocolates and truffles by hand. The rich truffles come in nine flavors and can be packaged in two- to 72-piece boxes. The edible handiwork comes with a price: The 72 truffles will cost you $66.50, and the two-pound chocolate assortment is $39.95. Trufflehound's is so careful about its products that it won't start shipping chocolate until the end of the month, when the weather cools.

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Respite for the soul

The San Buenaventura Mission (211 E. Main St., [805] 643-4318, www.sanbuenaventuramission.org), the ninth and last California mission founded by Father Junipero Serra, in 1782, offers visitors solace from the bustle on Main. The nave's narrow space and stiff wooden pews are still used by its parishioners for Catholic services. The church and its gardens welcome visitors daily from sunrise to sunset for a $2 donation.

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The Guide on the Web

Visit The Guide, our tipsheet to SoCal entertainment, for more picks, listings and reader reviews at theguide.latimes.com.

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