The Best Things to Do in Ventura, California in 3 Days

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Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Ventura but all opinions and recommendations are my own. This post also contains affiliate links. 

It may only be an hour north of Los Angeles, but plan a trip using this 3-day Ventura itinerary and you’ll feel like you’re a world away!

I recently spent 3 days in Ventura, California, and loved every minute of it. This unique little city is known as the place where ferries leave for the Channel Islands, but there are so many things to do in Ventura that once you’ve visited for the first time, you’ll keep coming back again and again. It’s an outdoor paradise with stunning beaches, a gorgeous botanical garden, and a fun harbor area. Plus, every one of the restaurants in Ventura I tried was amazing.

Wondering what you’ve been missing? You’re in the right place. This awesome itinerary will have you booking your weekend getaway to Ventura right away!

Arrival in Ventura / How to Get to Ventura

There’s a reason I consider Ventura one of the best weekend getaways from Los Angeles: its proximity! Ventura sits 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles and is one of those rare places in California you can actually get to by train. That, combined with the fact that it’s a super walkable town, means you may just be able to plan a car-less weekend in California. That alone would convince me to go, to be honest.

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From Los Angeles

If you live in Los Angeles, you’re in luck. Ventura is only about an hour’s drive north of LA. 

You’ve got two options if you want to travel by car from Los Angeles to Ventura California: the Pacific Coast Highway or the 101. I always recommend PCH if you have time since it’s so beautiful but if you’re short on time or traffic is gnarly, stick to the 102 instead.

Another great option for getting to Ventura from Los Angeles is to take a train from Union Station. The train takes about two hours but you’ll have absolutely stunning views during the trip. You can book your train ticket here.


From Anywhere Else

The closest airport to Ventura is in Santa Barbara. It’s a small airport, and Ventura is only about a 30-minute drive south on PCH. But because it’s small, you’ll probably have better luck finding flights to and from Burbank or LAX. A car rental is your best option for getting to Ventura although Amtrak does stop at the Burbank Airport.


How to Get Around Ventura

I had no problem walking to most of the places I wanted to see in Ventura, though I did drive to Ventura Harbor on the day I took the ferry to the Channel Islands.

If you have a car, you might find it easier to drive to the Ventura attractions that aren’t located near downtown or your hotel. There is plenty of easily accessible parking everywhere. But if you want a driving-free weekend, consider using the public buses, rideshare services, or even renting a bike if you’re feeling adventurous! There are numerous transport options in this charming city.


Best Time to Visit Ventura

It’s Southern California, so there’s not really a bad time to visit Ventura, although winter can be on the colder side. December and January can see temperatures as low as 45 degrees! Since the best things to do in Ventura are outside, I’d recommend visiting in spring, summer, or fall.

The good news is that there aren’t many rainy days in Ventura. And even though it’s right on the coast, the winds are pretty mild.


Best Things to Do in Ventura

If you haven’t visited Ventura yet, I’ve got you. Take a look at this Ventura 3-day itinerary for my recommendations for the best things to see in Ventura.

Here’s a quick list of the top 8 Ventura attractions that should be on every Ventura itinerary:

  • Day trip to the Channel Islands
  • Watch the sunset from Ventura Pier
  • Eat sustainable seafood from The Jolly Oyster
  • Explore downtown Ventura
  • Hike through the Ventura Botanical Gardens
  • Grab a fish-shaped ice cream cone at Ventura Harbor
  • Try the ultimate fish taco
  • People watch at Ventura Harbor


3 Days in Ventura Itinerary: Day 1

Travel to Ventura

There’s nothing I love more than a road trip, so if you have the time, it’s really fun to take the iconic PCH to Ventura. It makes getting there an adventure all on its own!


Lunch at Spencer Makenzie’s

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I think everyone should start a California trip with fish tacos, and if you’re going to do that, why not get the best? Spencer Makenzie’s boasts that their fish tacos are “world-famous” and they did not disappoint.

If fish tacos aren’t your thing (you’re missing out!), they’ve also got a delicious and unique tuna “pocket” and some stellar shrimp tacos. Be sure to try the sweet-hot chili sauce or any of their homemade salsas.


Explore Downtown Ventura

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Most of the time, when people say a city’s downtown is fun, it’s often because of the bar scene (as a non-drinker, that’s not really for me) or because it’s a shopping district (not always my thing). But downtown Ventura lived up to the hype and then some. It was a really great place to spend the afternoon.

Main Street is pedestrian-friendly. It’s closed to traffic for several blocks and there are all these fun little side alleys where you can find tons of unique, niche shops selling everything from antiques to outdoor gear to work from local artists. Some of my favorites include:

  • Spicetopia: You won’t even need to ask for directions to Spicetopia. Just follow your nose – it smells amazing! This shop has every kind of spice and tea you can imagine. Not only will they let you sample things you aren’t familiar with, but they’ve also got a ton of recipes they’re happy to share too.
  • Passport Habits: If there was a home décor shop that was made just for me, it would have to be this one. Passport Habits is full of global gifts and home décor that will take you back to your favorite trip – or have you planning your next one!
  • Hearts Delight: How could I not love a shop that’s full of Renaissance costumes? I could’ve spent all day looking at all the gorgeous styles and fabrics.
  • Industry Horror: Industry Horror is a fashion boutique that employs people with special needs. The shop is small but really cool and the mission is even cooler!
  • The Calico Cat Bookshop: I really love book stores, and the Calico Cat Bookshop felt like a book treasure hunt. They had tons of rare and used books stacked everywhere, and lots of nooks and crannies to get lost in.

There are so many other great shops to pop into. Fashionistas will love Tiki Girl, Kariella, and Le Monde Emporium. Contrast is a great vintage store and Findings Market has great locally made gifts (and who says you can’t gift them to yourself?!).

Ventura is also where you can find the original Patagonia store. It’s a great place to get those outdoor essentials you forgot to pack, and there’s usually something going on there, like yoga classes and community events.


Watch the Sunset

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I’m here for a good sunset over the ocean, and Ventura delivers. In fact, the sunsets alone would make Ventura the best weekend getaway from Los Angeles.

When you finish shopping til you drop on Main Street, just walk across the freeway overpass to Ventura Pier. It’s the longest wooden pier in California! The pier is full of informative placards if you want to learn more about the area or the wildlife in the area.

You can also see the Channel Islands from the beach or the pier. Watching the sun set behind them is a must-do in Ventura. It’s also a great way to get excited about day 2 of your Ventura itinerary!


Dinner at Fluid State Beer Garden

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Not going to lie, I normally wouldn’t recommend a beer garden on an itinerary, but Fluid State is no ordinary beer garden. Why, might you ask? Because they sourdough pizza. Sourdough is my absolute favorite kind of bread and that combined with pizza?! Mmmmm. Just typing this is making me hungry for some.

Fluid State is located back on Main Street. If you can, grab one of the picnic tables on the patio and grab a slice of any one of their unique pizza offerings. It’s the best pizza in Ventura.


3 Days in Ventura Itinerary: Day 2

Take a Day Trip to Channel Islands National Park

Planning a day trip to Channel Islands National Park? I got you! This is the perfect one day Channel Islands Itinerary.

No Ventura itinerary is complete without taking a day trip to Channel Islands National Park. It’s located just 50 miles off the coast and definitely tops the list of places to go in Ventura. The only way to get to the islands is by taking a ferry from Island Packers. It’s a cool trip (even if it can get really choppy on the boat). You might even see seals, dolphins, or whales!

The islands are a hiker’s paradise. There are trails for every skill level, and if the water is more your jam, there are plenty of water activities like snorkeling and kayaking. Click here for a more detailed Channel Islands itinerary, including tips on booking the ferry, where to hike, and what to know before you go.


Dinner at Brophy Brothers

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I highly recommend grabbing dinner at Brophy Brothers in Ventura Harbor when you get off the ferry. They’re the place to go for clam chowder, and I’m here to say that their seared ahi was the perfect meal after a day of hiking. It’s the best seafood in Ventura. Plus, Ventura Harbor is a great place to catch another sunset!



3 Days in Ventura Itinerary: Day 3

Brunch at Café Nouveau

So, full disclosure: I didn’t get a chance to eat at Café Nouveau. It can get busy, and it just so happened to be Mother’s Day when I tried to go, so it was busier than usual. I did check out the menu and the reviews though, so I feel confident in recommending it as a place for brunch. The beignets and blueberry corn muffins look drool-worthy and I’m SO sad I missed out and I’ll definitely be checking it out next time I’m in Ventura!

If you go to Café Nouveau, be sure to comment and tell me what I missed!


Hike the Ventura Botanical Gardens and Grant Park

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Work off breakfast with a hike through the Ventura Botanical Gardens and Grant Park. It’s located on the side of a hill, so the trail is a little steep in places. But it’s mostly switchbacks and you’ll be stopping a lot to check out all the plants.

After being damaged by a fire in 2019, the gardens have undergone extensive restoration. They’re incredibly beautiful and when I was there, there were a ton of flowers and cacti blooming. Who doesn’t love an ocean hillside full of desert flowers?

I did find the delineation between the gardens and the park to be a little confusing. I’m fairly certain they’re connected and that the park is just beyond the gardens. Or the gardens are in the park? Either way, I found the Serra Cross (it’s in Grant Park), and if you follow the signs from the botanical garden, you’ll get the best view in Ventura.


Lunch at The Jolly Oyster

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If you’re looking for the best lunch in Ventura, look no further than The Jolly Oyster. It’s in a great location right off the water. You can eat at one of their picnic tables, or climb over the dunes and have a beach picnic.

The oysters are super fresh, so if you’re an oyster lover, The Jolly Oyster is the best food in Ventura. If not – go somewhere else. There are a couple of other options on the menu but it’s pretty much oysters or bust (which I wasn’t mad about).

What makes The Jolly Oyster even more awesome is its sustainability mission. They have their own organic shellfish farm where they focus on minimal environmental impact. I love a place that has good food and a good mission!


Stroll along Ventura Harbor

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When I got off the ferry, I was too hungry (and too tired) to explore as much of Ventura Harbor as I wanted. So I made it the perfect last stop of my weekend in Ventura before driving back to Los Angeles! The area is full of souvenir shops and restaurants and great people-watching. While you’re there, don’t forget to grab dessert from Coastal Cone. You can grab a fish-shaped waffle cone to enjoy while strolling along the waterfront.


Other Fun Things to Do in Ventura

Learn to Surf

Southern Californians love to surf and Ventura is no exception – there’s even a beach called Surfer’s Point, which is an awesome spot to watch surfers do their thing. But if surfing is something you’ve always wanted to try, there’s no better place to learn than Ventura. Pre-book a lesson (like this one) before you go if you want to try it.

Pro tip: It can get pretty cold in the winter, and even though you’ll be wearing a wetsuit for the lesson, this is probably an activity that’s better for warmer months.


Tour the Mission San Buenaventura

The Mission San Buenaventura is small, with an equally small garden. But it’s well maintained and the historic artifacts inside (including a replica of a Michaelangelo sculpture!) are beautiful. There’s a small fee (paid at the gift shop) but it’s worth it for a peep into this historical place of worship.


Relax at San Buenaventura Beach

Unfortunately, it was a tad too cold for a beach day when I visited Ventura, so I didn’t spend as much time at San Buenaventura Beach as I would have liked. However, during warmer months, it’s a great place to spend a morning or afternoon and get your tan on. Plus, that’s where The Jolly Oyster is, so you have an excuse to eat more oysters (not that you need one!).


Explore the Ventura County Museum

One of the best places to go in Ventura for history buffs is the Ventura County Museum of History & Art. It’s full of art and artifacts from the Chumash Indians and Spanish missionaries. But it’s also a great place for art lovers too and features a number of local artists.


Go on a Sunset Kayak Tour

Ventura is just 30 minutes south of Santa Barbara and if you’re itching to use your car, consider driving up for a kayak tour to watch the sunset from the water. You’ll get some seriously spectacular views of the sun sinking into the Santa Ynez Mountains and this particular tour is suitable for kayakers of all skill levels (perfect for newbies!). The tour operator provides all the equipment, so all you have to do is drive yourself down.


Where to Stay in Ventura

The best thing about Ventura is that no matter where you stay, great restaurants and activities will be within walking distance of almost any hotel you choose in the town of Ventura.

Here are some of my picks for hotels in Ventura at any budget:


Amanzi Hotel (Budget)

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I highly recommend staying at the hotel where I stayed: the Amanzi Hotel Ventura. Not only is it really clean and ultra-comfortable, but the location is spectacular. It’s an easy 10-minute drive to Ventura Harbor, but if you’re staying in Ventura for a little longer, it’s walking distance both from the pier and Downtown Ventura. And it’s reasonably-priced to boot. Wins all around!

Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a Stay

Crowne Plaza Ventura (Mid-range)

The Crowne Plaza Ventura is the only hotel in Ventura that actually sits on the beach. It has been recently renovated and has amenities like a pool, gym, and onsite restaurant. It’s also located between Surfer’s Point and the Ventura Pier so the location really can’t get much better. Ask for a room on the 5th floor or higher for great ocean views.

Read Trip Advisor reviews | Book a Stay

Hotel Californian (Luxury)

For a true luxury hotel experience, you’ll need to travel up the coast to Santa Barbara (it’s a 30-45 minute drive). But if you don’t mind the drive, Hotel Californian is a stunning place to stay. It has a rooftop pool with views of the coast and the ocean that would make any visitor swoon. The whole place screams California glam, and the fabulous staff, combined with the lux digs, will have you turning your weekend getaway from Los Angeles into a week-long vacation. Just remember: The Hotel Californian isn’t in Ventura, so you’ll have to factor driving time into all your Ventura activities.

Read Trip Advisor reviews | Book a Stay


So there you have it: all the awesome things to do in Ventura! Although you can easily spend more time exploring all the fun places Ventura has to offer, three days is the perfect introduction to keep you returning again and again.


Tell me: Is Ventura the best weekend getaway from Los Angeles? Do you have Ventura attractions to add to the list?


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