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North Hills Monthly

Oxnard an Intriguing Stop Along California’s Central Coast

May 31, 2016 12:33PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Heritage Square

Despite being a travel writer, I haven’t spent a lot of time in California; I’m usually stopping in one of the state’s larger cities on my way to somewhere else. When I think of the Golden State, images of Los Angeles or San Francisco or San Diego come to mind—little did I know that the smaller city of Oxnard, located along California’s central coast, has so much to offer.

Unlike those thriving metropolises, Oxnard has a really laid-back vibe; named for the brothers that founded a sugar beet factory there more than a century ago, it still retains much of its agricultural heritage. Two huge benefits of this? Fresh, juicy strawberries, which have been the number one crop in the area since 2000, and lots of amazing wine.

While I was not able to visit each individual winery on this trip, I did get the opportunity to sample their wares, and can tell you that it is well worth your effort to stop into their tasting rooms, which are located in the middle of the Ventura County Wine Trail. Strey Cellars is known for its more modern, contemporary feel; Tuscan-inspired Magnavino Cellars sometimes includes a greeting by Coco, the owner’s dog. I was especially impressed by their white wine blend, ‘Beautiful,’ as well as their Syrah.

Herzog Wine Cellars, the nation’s largest kosher winery, also features a stunning restaurant, Tierra Sur, within the wine cellar. Just don’t visit on Saturday, as the business is closed to observe the Jewish Sabbath. Rancho Ventavo Cellars' tasting room is located in Heritage Square, a downtown city block that includes 15 vintage homes that once housed pioneer families who moved to the area during the 1870s. The restored structures, some of which were moved to the square from previous locations and rebuilt, can be visited through a self-guided tour or a docent-led tour on weekends. 

More recent history can be witnessed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, which is located about 25 miles from Oxnard. More than 5 million people have visited the 100-acre site since its opening in 1991, and no matter what your political affiliation, there’s a lot to see here, from Reagan’s Hollywood days to his ascendancy as the nation’s 40th president. It’s quite striking to walk in and step onto Air Force One, an experience only eclipsed by the views of the Simi Valley and the Pacific Ocean from the floor-to-ceiling windows. I was especially touched by the Berlin Wall exhibit, which was dark, eerie and incredibly dramatic—the soundtrack even included raging guard dogs on the other side of the wall. I remember watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV, and this exhibit brought all of those feelings of wonder, and relief, back to life.

Speaking of dramatic, no visit to the Oxnard area would be complete without a visit to Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, which has been referred to as America’s Galapagos. Twenty-seven different species of whales and dolphins visit or live in this marine sanctuary, and we were lucky enough to spot a couple of fin whales on an afternoon whale-watching tour in the area. The five islands (Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel) that make up this area are absolutely breathtaking; and it’s a great place for wildlife watching, especially if you like to take photos of sunning sea lions. The area is home to more than 2,000 plants and animals, and if you’d like a closer look, you can even camp on the islands or take a guided kayak tour. The Marine Sanctuary is also rated as one of the world’s top 10 diving destinations.

There are a number of places to stay while visiting Oxnard, and I greatly enjoyed my time at the Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort, which offered a wonderful pool area for families, as well as an almost empty beach that was perfect for morning walks. And the sunsets there? Absolutely incredible.

I was only in Oxnard for three days, but there’s a lot more to see if you can spend a little more time. The city hosts a number of fun festivals, including the California Strawberry Festival (May) and the Oxnard Tamale Festival (December) that seem like great excuses for another visit to California’s central coast.

For more information about Oxford, check out www.visitoxnard.com. To learn more about the places mentioned in this article, visit:

Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary: www.nps.gov/chis and www.channelislands.noaa.gov, 805-658-5700

Heritage Square: www.HeritageSquareOxnard.com, 805-483-7960

Herzog Wine Cellars: www.herzogwinecellars.com, 805-983-1560

Magnavino Cellars: www.magnavino.com, 805-983-2500

Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort: www.mandalaybeach.embassysuites.com, 805-984-2500  

Rancho Ventavo Cellars:  www.rvcellars.com, 805-483-8084

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum:  www.ReaganLibrary.com, 800-410-8354 

Strey Cellars: www.streycellars.com, 805-988-1087