By Richard Carroll
The 7-mile stretch of beach extends in both directions from the Oxnard Embassy Suites hotel, its wide swath of sun-bleached sand merging into a fading horizon. Drifting clouds shade a flock of skittering sandpipers in search of snippets while cleverly avoiding the white-capped waves like joyful ballet dancers. The vigorous calls of spirited seagulls gliding in the brisk offshore breeze mingle harmoniously with the unending reverberation of the mighty Pacific Ocean, the music of the natural world creating a soothing refrain for the soul.
The salt-laden breeze fills the lungs, and visitors experience the essential joy of slowing the pace and enjoying tranquility. Oxnard, a thriving beach town where the ocean rules, is often overlooked by travelers, even though it is only a 60-mile drive from Los Angeles International Airport and located halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
The city, gateway to California's Central Coast, grants a huge reprieve from the maddening rush of Southern California and offers a hometown feeling where neighbors chat and there are plenty of dogs and surfboards, wetsuits and joggers. Small crafts with fluttering sails put the sparkle in this California gem.
Pockets of delight await, such as the harbor-view Channel Island Maritime Museum, among the finest maritime museums in California. Collections Manager Heather Behrens has lent a hand in perfecting the stunning collection of English, Dutch and French seascape artists dating to the 1600s, along with 70 nicely displayed ship models and absorbing maritime and local history. Allow at least an hour for a self-guided tour and to enjoy expansive views of the harbor from the upper floors.
The Channel Islands Harbor is home to hundreds of yachts and sailboats with masts extending skyward in an artistic maze of sea, sky and sun. The harbor, tucked away in a smog-free delta, has a canal-flow-through system that keeps the water clean. Visitors can kayak, check their skills on a stand-up paddleboard, whale-watch, jet-ski, hop on an enlightening harbor cruise, and browse the many local shops and restaurants. A dining favorite is Moqueca, which features authentic Brazilian cuisine with clay-pot cooking and entrees from throughout Brazil. Regardless of schedule restraints, allow time to book a tour from the harbor to the renowned Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary, an 11-mile sail across the deep blue waters of Santa Barbara Channel.
The five islands in Channel Islands National Park — Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz — are among the planet's natural treasures. While each has its own distinct personality and particular gifts to offer the world, together they create one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world with species of animals and plants native to the Channel Islands. Visitors can watch for the California gray whale while kayaking, enjoying the hiking trails, snorkeling and camping overnight. Lucky visitors might also see some of the 30,000 dolphins that live in the area.
Back on the mainland in Heritage Square, the heart of downtown Oxnard, a striking collection of 14 buildings dating from 1870 to 1912 has been restored. Charming brick walkways lead to 11 former homes, a church, pump house and water tower. Tucked away in the three-story 1901 Colonial Revival McGrath House, owner/chef Michelle Kenney, in her award-winning La Dolce Vita, has set a table that seems right out of Italy. With Italian music playing in the background, guests can savor Linguini Bolognese, Grilled Vegetable Ravioli, Gnocchi or Chicken Picatta with wines from California. Kenney also offers a monthly cooking class and afternoon tea for six or more with reservations.
The Herzog Wine Cellars is a booming venue with ongoing events, wine-tasting and the highly acclaimed and Mediterranean-influenced Tierra Sur Restaurant, noted for its Wild King Salmon, a memorable entree prepared outdoors over an open flame, along with an intriguing seasonal menu of fresh, locally sourced produce. The stylish room is candlelit with an open kitchen and the staff offers leisurely but never indolent service. Reservations are advised. Winemaker Joe Hurliman, who heads the estatelike family owned winery with a sustainable viniculture focus and an astounding 25 grape varieties with which to work, said, "The history here is incredible. It dates back nine generations to Czechoslovakia and is ongoing at this very moment. I don't think there is another winery in the country that can match this."
The aforementioned California Mission-style Embassy Suites hotel overlooks the wide swath of Mandalay Beach, recognized as the cleanest beach in California and blessed with dramatic lingering sunsets. The midsized property, located on eight precious acres of prime beachfront land, is the only all-suite, AAA four-diamond beach hotel in California with spacious 600-square-feet, two-room suites perfect for families.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: www.visitoxnard.com
The California Mission-style Embassy Suites hotel overlooks the wide swath of Mandalay Beach, recognized as the cleanest beach in California and blessed with dramatic lingering sunsets. The midsize property, located on eight precious acres of prime beachfront land, is the only all-suite, AAA four-diamond beach hotel in California with spacious 600-square-feet, two-room suites perfect for families: www.embassysuites3.hilton.com/en/hotels/california/embassy-suites-by-hilton-mandalay-beach-resort-OXNCAES/index.html?SEO_id=GMB-ES-OXNCAES
Richard Carroll is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, California, offers wide-ranging water play, fine dining and tours to Channel Islands National Park. Photo courtesy of Halina Kubalski.