In Ventura County, you can stand on the beach and gaze at the mountains. Between the surf and the summits is a diverse area that boasts bucolic farms and ranches, industry-leading businesses and clean, safe neighborhoods in communities that date back a century or more.
Ventura County was called the land of everlasting summers by early Spanish settlers. Formed in 1873 when it was split from Santa Barbara County, Ventura County covers an area of 1,873 square miles of coastline. Ten incorporated cities can be found within the county and each has its own distinct personality. Smaller unincorporated communities are also sprinkled throughout the county. All of these communities are separated from the others by some of Ventura County's most picturesque features-lemon, orange and avocado groves, strawberry and vegetable fields, grazing land or open space that is home to deer, hawks and a host of other California wildlife.
Ventura County has a strong economic base supported by major industries that include agriculture, biotechnology and telecommunications. The county's fertile soil has made it 10th in agricultural production among California counties. It has an annual crop value in the $2 billion range and more than 100,000 acres of crops harvested.
Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru, Somis, Moorpark, Camarillo and Oxnard are some of the Ventura County communities whose histories include large contributions from successful agricultural pursuits. San Buenaventura, usually simply called Ventura, the county's first city, is the county seat and home to the mission that gave both the city and county their names.
Ventura County has a climate well-suited for any activity. It's combination of mountains, valleys and coast line give Ventura County six micro-climates, more than any other county in the U.S., and, its annual average high temperature of 74.2 degrees makes outdoor activities a favorite pastime in the county.
With a symphony, numerous local theater companies, a performing arts center, the county fairgrounds, three community colleges and both a private and public university, Ventura County offers a wide array of cultural and educational opportunities.
The Spanish named the county area, "Buenaventura," meaning "good fortune." Surely, that is an apt name for this beautiful area on California's central coast.
A visit to Santa Paula is like a trip back in time. On Santa Paula Street, trees form a graceful arch over the residential street that features blocks of historical Victorian and Craftsman-style homes. The recently renovated downtown area, along with the landmark train depot, attract film crews from Hollywood to their All-American, picturesque locations.
First settled in 1873, and incorporated in 1902, Santa Paula is one of the oldest cities in Ventura County. It was built on and grew from the success of the agriculture and oil industries.
Nicknamed the Citrus Capital of the World, this city of about 30,000 is still surrounded by thousands of acres of lemon, orange and more recently, avocado trees. It is also home to thriving nursery and flower seed businesses. Oil wells dot the hillsides outside town, a reminder that the Union Oil Company, now Unocal, was founded in Santa Paula.
Whether it's the annual Citrus Festival, the Farmers Market on Main Street, joyous noise from the high school football stadium or the bells ringing from the church steeples on Sunday morning, Santa Paula still offers its citizens a way of life that is disappearing from the American experience.
If you had to use one word to describe Fillmore, that word might be "spirit." The spirit of community, pride, perseverance and persistence is alive and well in Fillmore. Heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Fillmore has rebuilt both its city and its image.
A city of about 15,000, Fillmore is located about halfway down the Santa Clara Valley, snuggled up against the base of the mountains that are the gateway into the Sespe Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest.
The newly restored downtown area is charming and pedestrian friendly. Fillmore, incorporated in 1914 was named after the general superintendent of the Southern Pacific railroad's Pacific Division at the time, illustrating how important the railroad was to Fillmore at the turn of the century. It's just as important today as highly popular tourist excursion trains leave Fillmore for scenic rides through the citrus groves that offer spectacular views of the Santa Clara Valley and the mountains that tower over it. The train leaves from the Central Park Plaza, just a half-block from down town and right behind City Hall.
Museums, antique shopping and wine tasting are all a part of the small town charm Fillmore has for tourists and residents alike.
There are more houses than cows on the rolling hills of Moorpark these days, but the city known as the Garden Spot of the World and the Star of the Valley still has some of the most beautiful scenery in Ventura County.
Surrounded by oak-studded hills of grazing land and the dark, rich soil of vegetable farms, this city of about 33,000 is rapidly becoming one of the most popular residential communities in the county. Home to Moorpark College, one of the county's three community colleges, Moorpark attracts worldwide attention because of the college's renowned Exotic Animal Training and Management program. Other attractions include year-round farming operations that offer pick-your-own vegetables, petting zoos and hayrides.
Convenient to all of Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, Moorpark's newer homes, safe neighborhoods and increasingly plentiful shopping are attracting new residents and making Moorpark one of the fastest growing cities in the county.
The Spanish influence is everywhere in Camarillo. It's in the architecture, the history and even the street names of the city. Named after Juan Camarillo. who purchased Rancho Calleguas in 1875, the city of Camarillo still uses his beautiful Victorian home that was the ranch headquarters as a site for community events.
Located mostly on the coastal plain, Camarillo spreads from Oxnard to the base of the Conejo Grade. In between are thousands of acres of agriculture, high-tech industry, shopping malls and commercial developments. Most of the residential areas are in the hills overlooking the city and out to the ocean, or just below them. With a population of about 60,000, Camarillo is a nice-sized city that has managed to retain its small town charm.
Camarillo has some of the best golf courses in the county and is home to California State University, Channel Islands. It also has a large outlet store mall that is nicely balanced by the newly restored Old Town area.
Somis isn't so much a town as it is a way of life. The rural community of Somis is centered around an intersection whose main features are a hardware store and a fire station. But Somis is the heart of a prime agricultural area in Ventura County. The crossroads of Highway 118 and Highway 34 is the farming center of the wonderfully named Pleasant Valley.
The name Piru comes from an Indian word for the reeds that grow along the stream banks near the community. The Indians used those reeds to make baskets, but the current residents of Piru are more concerned with filling fruit baskets than making them. Oranges and lemons are the lifeblood of the town.
Piru is a tiny farming community located in the Santa Clara Valley about halfway between the city of Fillmore and the Los Angeles County line. Isolated by miles of beautiful citrus orchards, Piru has a strong sense of civic pride. The small area that compromises downtown has been completely renewed and a just-opened park features a large gazebo that serves as a community focal point. There are a number of historical buildings in the area, including the Piru Mansion, a showpiece Queen Anne-style Victorian.
Piru also serves as the gateway to Lake Piru, located just five miles above the city. Lake Piru is a popular destination for swimming, boating and fishing activities. It also has camping facilities and excellent hiking opportunities.
San Buenaventura (Ventura)
San Buenaventura, commonly called Ventura, is the county seat of Ventura County and is also home to the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, Mission San Buenaventura, the Ventura County Fairgrounds and the Ventura Harbor.
This city of about 102,000 has a little something for everyone. Boating, surfing, and swimming and fishing at the beach can all be found within sight of Ventura's famous wooden pier that extends out from other base of California Street. On the city's north end, working oil fields are a reminder of an important part of Ventura's history. Sprinkled throughout the city, but particularly towards the east end, orchards and fields still make up an important part of the economic base.
Ventura boasts a neighborhood to fit any taste. From quiet streets with historic homes, to beachfront living, ranch estates or suburban developments, there is a home for any lifestyle in Ventura.
It is also home to one of the county's three community colleges, Ventura College. Its academic program attracts students from a wide area in the county, but the college is also known for its outstanding athletic programs.
It it's history you want, Ventura has some of the most interesting attractions in the county. There are any number of landmarks in the city, but the historical gems are the San Buenaventura Mission and the Ventura County Museum of History and Art. Located across the street from each other in downtown Ventura, the two venues provide one-stop shopping to learn the history of the county.
Shopping is also plentiful. In the typically beautiful weather, shopping in pedestrian-friendly downtown Ventura is a pleasant way to pass the time. Those looking got national chain stores need go no further than the Pacific View Mall, a recently expanded shopping center with four major anchor stores and more than one hundred smaller ones.
Life is good in Ventura, the county's flagship city.
Nestled in a valley if the same name, Ojai is a city unto itself. Surrounded by Sulphur Mountain, the Santa Ynez Mountains and imposing Nordhoff Peak in the Topatopa Mountains, Okai has embraced is seclusion with relish.
Ojai served as Shangri-La when Ronald Coleman and Hollywood came to film a movie decades ago, but must of Hollywood's interest in Ojai these days is a home for the stars. It's quiet, benevolent atmosphere has made Ojai a favorite of celebrities for years. Film, television and stage actors can still be seen walking through downtown Ojai and any number of artists and writers have also called Ojai home.
Because it is dominated by the Los Padres National Forest about it, the tiny community of about 8,000 us a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts heading into the back country. Ojai's downtown shopping district features an eclectic mix of stores and shops that offer something for everyone in the family, from ice cream to music, food, clothing or books, it's all right there on Ojai Avenue.
Surrounding the city, running right up to the base of the hills, and then extending up them, are beautiful citrus and avocado orchards. Dotted among them are livestock operations and even an occasional Christmas tree farm.
Ojai is reached from Ventura on Highway 33 and from Santa Paula on Highway 150.
Located on the coastal plain between Ventura to the North and Camarillo to the south, Oxnard is Ventura County's largest city. Its population of about 182,000 is as diverse at the businesses and industries in the city.
The city is named for the Oxnard family whose sugar beet refinery was, for a time, the county's largest agricultural operation. The sugar beet refinery is long gone, but agriculture is still a mainstay of Oxnard's economy.
Vast fields of strawberries are scattered throughout Oxnard and, every spring, the city celebrates by hosting the California Strawberry Festival. And, while strawberries are Oxnard's biggest crop, farms in the city also produce many vegetable varieties, lemons, orange's avocados and artichokes.
The third of the county's three community colleges is located in Oxnard. With a wide spectrum of course offerings, Oxnard College draws students from several neighboring communities as well. Oxnard is also home to the county-run Channel Islands Harbor. Here, pleasure and commercial fishing boats share the ocean with tourist's boats taking people to visit the nearby Channel Islands or for whale watching tours.
Oxnard has a number of business parks and shopping areas, some reflecting the city's heritage and others representative on the modern, cutting-edge industries that re finding Oxnard and excellent location to expand their business.