Land of Endless Summers: Oxnard

WHEN PORTUGUESE EXPLORER JUAN RODRIGUEZ CABRILLO disembarked from his ship in the Point
Mugu Lagoon in 1542, he discovered a place with such a temperate climate, he declared it
the land of endless summers. More than a century later, in 1865, the port of Hueneme
(pronounced “Y-nee-mee”) was established for shipping local agricultural crops. (It is
still the only major commercial and military port between Los Angeles and San Francisco.) A
few years later, the four Oxnard brothers built their sugar-beet plant on the nearby plain.
Its success led to a growing community bearing their name, incorporated in 1903. Today’s
visitors to the city of Oxnard find abundant recreational activities and historical sites
in and around what remains a slow-paced beach town. The biggest tourist attraction is
offshore: Channel Islands National Park. Island Packers’ boats take visitors out for half-
and all-day hiking, kayaking or scuba-diving trips or for overnight tent-camping on a
couple of the islands. (Sorry, no vehicles allowed.) Anacapa, the nearest of the five
islands in the park, is an hour’s cruise from the Oxnard harbor. Despite its diminutive
size (one square mile), this is actually three islets. East Anacapa has a working
lighthouse, a tiny visitor center, a 1.5-mile hiking trail and a colony of California sea
lions and seals. West Anacapa is a rookery for one of the largest colonies of the
endangered California brown pelican, which nests here from January through May. Many other
birds may be spotted here. In fact, the Channel Islands park recently was named one of 100
Globally Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy. Among Anacapa’s flowering
plants are the island morning glory and the giant coreopsis, which blooms bright yellow in
April and May. Each of the islands has its own unique flora and fauna, which the National
Park Service (NPS) is seeking to restore after decades of nonnative plants and grazing
sheep very nearly destroyed them. You can learn all about this and much more at the
excellent Channel Islands Visitor Center, located in neighboring Ventura; (805) 985-4852.
The center, which offers a film, tide-pool exhibits and a bookstore, is open daily except
on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Note: The NPS has posted warnings regarding the presence of
deer mice, which can carry the dangerous hantavirus, on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San
Miguel islands. None have been found on Anacapa or Santa Barbara island.) In addition to
exploring the wild beauty of the islands, visitors can participate in all sorts of other
activities, on the sandy beaches or in town. Among them are biking, hiking, sailing,
surfing, sportfishing, whale-watching, beachcombing and golfing. In addition, the city
hosts several annual festivals. One of the most delicious such occasions is the California
Strawberry Festival, scheduled for May 18 and 19 this year. This event salutes the area’s
status as the world’s largest producer of strawberries with a host of edible treats, as
well as arts and crafts given a berry twist. If you’re a history buff, you’ll be interested
in two extraordinary historical sites that are open year-round. Downtown’s Heritage Square
contains 15 Victorian and turn-of-the-century buildings that have been restored to their
original elegance for use by various businesses. The Convention and Visitors Bureau
occupies the Connelly House. In the summertime, the square hosts free Friday concerts.
Guided tours, also free, are offered most Saturdays and by appointment; (805) 984-6260.
Also, you might drive through the Henry T. Oxnard National Historic District, an entire
neighborhood of homes dating from about 1900 to the 1920s. During the Spring Floral Tour
and the Autumn Home Tour, some of these homes are open to the public. Tour information and
tickets are available from the Convention and Visitors Bureau (see sidebar to the right).
Oxnard also is home to some intriguing museums. The Ventura County Maritime Museum houses a
collection of exact-detail models of antique ships dating from 1796 to 1815. It’s located
at the Channel Islands Harbor, where you will find shops, boat rentals, eateries and a
harbor taxi. In neighboring Port Hueneme, the U.S. Navy’s Seabee Museum features an
extensive collection of military uniforms and weapons from World War II through the Vietnam
War. Oxnard’s agricultural bounty is available at two farmers markets, one on Thursday
mornings downtown in Plaza Park and the other on Sundays at Channel Islands Harbor. What a
handy opportunity to restock your motorhome with fresh produce for the trip ahead! If you’d
rather dine out, local restaurants offer a variety of menus. Chinese, Italian, Japanese,
Mexican and Thai cuisines compete with traditional American steak and seafood dishes.
Golfers should check out the 18-hole PGA-rated River Ridge Golf Course on Vineyard Avenue,
just off U.S. 101. Like everything else, it’s only minutes from the harbor or the beach.
Oxnard’s Esplanade Mall was rebuilt last year and has three dozen brand-new stores,
including Cost Plus World Market, Nordstrom Rack and T.J. Maxx. A few miles south, shoppers
will want to check out the Oxnard Factory Outlet, where stores offer 25- to 75-percent off
brand-name merchandise, and Shopping at the Rose, featuring Sam’s Club and other discount
stores. These shopping centers are located just off U.S. 101, and all have spacious parking
lots. Oxnard remains a small, laid-back beach town despite a population of more than
160,000, which is larger than Ventura, the county seat. And its location, situated between
Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, is a convenient one. With an average annual temperature of
59 F, the area warms up to an ideal 82 F from July through September. It is, indeed, the
land of endless summers, one that beckons visitors any time of year. Before You
Go:
Oxnard campgrounds: Evergreen RV Park, (805) 485-1936, and McGrath State
Beach, (805) 654-4744. For more campground information, visit the Trailer Life Directory.
For information about Channel Islands excursions: Island Packers Inc.,
(805) 642-1393; isle.net. To request a free copy of the Oxnard visitors guide: Oxnard
Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 269-6273; oxnardtourism.com. For additional Golden
State travel information: (800) TO-CALIF; gocalif.ca.gov.

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