'Tis the Season by the Sea

Celebrating holiday splendor in the city of Ventura.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Ventura Harbor Village

LIGHTS UP: Holiday lights announce the start of the season at the entrance to Ventura Harbor Village. In this city by the sea, palm trees take the place of traditional fir and spruce, making teetering tannenbaums with beachy style.


t’s that time of year again, when many of us are faced with a series of puzzles to solve. How do you navigate the holidays? What do you get the person who has everything? How do you take time for yourself to enjoy the season?

Ventura to the rescue.

You can shop ‘til you drop and pop into local venues for sustenance to keep on truckin’. Time for a break? Enjoy a fun activity — solo or with friends — between all those to-dos. From an overnight stay in a restored vintage trailer to harbor cruises or live theatre productions (all of which, by the way, could make great gifts) there’s so much to do, and share with loved ones, in this city by the sea.

After the devastating Thomas Fire last winter — and in light of the wildfires and other tragedies which struck East County in November — this is a holiday season to regroup, reflect and support local businesses and charities. Ventura offers many ways to do just that.


Shopping in Downtown Ventura on Main Street and its side streets is fun and easy — whether it’s jewelry, clothing, stocking stuffers or unique gifts for family and friends, you can discover all kinds of cool stuff.

One “go-to” shop for many is Copperfield’s Gifts and Rarities. Copperfield’s has unique gifts, plenty of whimsical items and great stocking stuffers: socks, candles, journals, quality shaving products and more.

Lots of cool “very Ventura” stuff for hip guys can be found at Iron and Resin Garage, including apparel, outdoor gear, leather and bar goods and even surfboards and hand planes for body surfing. Look to B. On Main for fun tea towels, tablecloths and wooden spoons. Armchair travelers would be thrilled with Passport Habits’ handmade leather sandals from Spain, blankets from England, Moroccan rugs, hammocks from Tulum and backpacks from Bali. A percentage of sales from kids t-shirts, caps and onesies made by Jolly Boy goes towards summer camps for kids. Upstairs, locally made OK Candles can be customized.

A shiny bauble from Fox Fine Jewelry would probably go over well with the ladies on your list, and the staff is super helpful if you are stumped. Great stocking stuffers can be found at all of these shops and more, as well as The Refill Store (inexpensive veggie scrub brushes, dryer balls and bath bombs). For one-of-a-kind gifts, there are plenty of antique and thrift stores to comb, and The Calico Cat bookshop has a cornucopia of used and rare books for the booklover on your list.

Avoid the post-shop drop by grabbing a bite at one of the excellent downtown eateries. How about champagne and oysters at Lure (they have a great happy hour too), a cocktail and bite at Rumfish y Vino, or a quick slice of pizza at Jimmy’s Slice or Tony’s Pizzaria? Tea or coffee and a sinfully sweet pastry at Marie Shannon Confections can provide an afternoon pick-me-up. Refuel on a burger or mac ’n’ cheese at Paradise Pantry or sip a glass of wine or beer from Grapes and Hops or Vintura.

If you’re feeling holiday fatigue, how about a trip to the tropics with the musical South Pacific, onstage Dec. 5-23 at the Rubicon? The 20-year-old professional theater company always presents cream-of-the-crop talent and exceptionally staged productions, and this year offers an excellent alternative to traditional Christmas fare.

A free trolley runs between Downtown Ventura and the Ventura Harbor. Or, you can add a dash of scenic exercise to your shopping list by parking at Ventura Harbor Village and taking a 15-minute stroll along the harbor to the Channel Islands National Park Gift Shop for great books for readers of all ages, as well as toys, notecards, mugs and more celebrating the Channel Islands.

Ladies, if you are looking for fabulous accessories for holiday parties, check out the newest shop in Ventura Harbor Village, Anja’s Boutique. Owner Anna Sosnicki imports lovely, affordable items from her native Poland including wonderful shoes, unique scarves, handmade jewelry and purses. Barefoot Boutique also offers a large selection of women’s apparel and sea glass jewelry.

How about a cozy hand-knit mermaid tail blanket or similar gifts from The Mermaid Gallery for the Ariel wannabe on your list? Or handmade ceramic bowls, mugs or sculptures from the Ventura County Potters Guild? For easy stocking stuffers, check out Lost in Socks.

Hungry shoppers can fuel up on hearty and delicious Cuban food at the Copa Cubana, excellent Greek cuisine at The Greek at the Harbor or the freshest seafood at Brophy Brothers Restaurant and Clam Bar — all boasting harbor views and full bars. Good restaurants abound at Ventura Harbor Village, so let your appetite be your guide.

If you want to do something other than shop, December at the harbor promises a sleigh full of fun.

Father Christmas himself gets into the nautical spirit when he takes to the sea for the Dec. 8 Santa Paddle. Capt. Claus trades in his sleigh for a standup paddleboard and invites the public to join in with their own watercraft. He and his (real) reindeer also pop in for the Winter Wonderland and Holiday Marketplace on Dec. 15. The festivities include Dickensian carolers, faux snowfall throughout the day and numerous vendors. Stick around until after dark for the annual Parade of Lights, Dec. 14-15, where boats get all decked out in glittery finery and cruise the harbor. The event ends with a fireworks display.

One of the best ways to enjoy the parade is aboard an Island Packers vessel, which offers special cruises just for the occasion. But you can enjoy the harbor’s holiday lights all month during a Caroling Cruise, setting off on select weeknights Dec. 11-23.

Further inland is Midtown Ventura, and in this off-the-beaten-path suburban environment you’ll find a few treasures.

One of these is Larriane’s Small Wonders, home of enchanting dollhouses and fine miniatures. Many of these wee items have surprisingly large price points, but dollhouse kits for handy builders are more affordable. Very unique, and worthy of a visit, even if just for browsing. Right next door, Allison’s Country Cafe has for decades been a local favorite for amazing breakfast and lunch.

The (full-size) Dudley House, a historic farmhouse built in 1892, holds its annual holiday boutique Dec. 7-9. More than 20 vendors sell handcrafted and vintage goods, books by local authors, antiques and more. Also taking place Dec. 7-9 are performances of The Nutcracker, presented by the Ventura County Ballet Company at the Ventura College Performing Arts Center.

Midtown Ventura is also home to the Pacific View Mall. While most of its shops are decidedly not local, it’s a good spot for staples and a quick bite, and the most reliable place to see Santa, who hangs out for pictures and chats all throughout the season.

Ventura offers enough holiday activity to justify an overnight stay, and if you crave something out of the ordinary, Waypoint Ventura makes an excellent choice. This is not your grandma’s trailer park! The brother/sister team of Carey and Kelsey Jonker have meticulously restored more than a dozen super-cool, well-appointed vintage trailers of various sizes. Toast s’mores over the fire pit at night, and squeeze your own orange juice and enjoy tasty pumpkin chia pudding set out for breakfast in the a.m. Fair warning: Construction work during the week warrants ear plugs (supplied). But the vibe can’t be beat.

These suggestions should keep you plenty busy, but they are just the tip of the icicle! Ride the wave of holiday cheer in Ventura, and discover your own favorite shops and dining spots — all close at hand and easy to access. And most of all, have yourself a safe, fun and jolly holiday season!


Throughout the season, Holidays on the Plaza at historic Plaza Park will feature more than 100 decorated trees all over the park. Themed events take place Dec. 7-Jan 2.

California Sleigh Rides take place twice every evening, Dec 7-31, at Ventura Harbor, courtesy of Ventura Boat Rentals. There’s even a bar with “Reindeer Milk” for those 21 and over!

Chabad of Oxnard hosts Chanukah at the Harbor every year. For information on this year’s festivities, visit

Winter is the season when gray whales arrive in the Santa Barbara Channel, and the Channel Islands often have exceptional weather, even when the mainland is cold or foggy. Island Packers offers whale watching and other excursions in December in addition to its holiday cruises.

Visit Santa in the Center Court of Pacific View Mall through Dec. 24 for photos and a free gift. On Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m., the Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurses Association ( holds its annual Light Up a Life ceremony near Target.

After dark, don’t miss one of the city’s best-loved traditions: the annual Parade of Lights, above, where brilliantly lit and decorated boats cruise Ventura Harbor, filling the night with holiday cheer. Photo by Mike Hucal III.

By day, Ventura’s oft-sunny skies make for spectacular shopping, dining and sightseeing in cool, eclectic downtown. Photo courtesy of Visit Ventura.

SEASIDE SPIRIT: Santa and Mrs. Claus take to the sea during Ventura Harbor’s Winter Wonderland and Holiday Marketplace. The afternoon extravaganza includes faux snowfall, carolers and vendors selling unique gifts. Real reindeer, taking a break from sleigh duty, make an appearance as well. Photo courtesy of Ventura Harbor Village.


Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau
101 South California Street
A one-stop shop for events, businesses and services throughout the city. Also includes information on the Channel Islands.

Downtown Ventura Partners
420 Santa Clara Street
Directory of shops, restaurants, events and attractions in and around Downtown Ventura.

Rubicon Theatre Company
1006 East Main Street

Waypoint Ventura Vintage Trailer Hotel
398 South Ash Street, Unit E

Downtown Ventura Harbor Trolley
Skip the drive and shuttle between downtown, local hotels and the harbor on this free trolley. 805.827.4444 or

Ventura Harbor Village
1583 Spinnaker Drive
Everything you need to know about the seaside business district’s shops, restaurants, services and more.

Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center
1901 Spinnaker Drive

Larrianne’s Small Wonders
3457 Telegraph Road,Ventura

Dudley House Museum and History Center
197 North Ashwood Avenue

Ventura County Ballet Company

Pacific View Mall
3301 East Main Street


This holiday season, the best gift any of us can give to Ventura County is support for those affected by the recent wildfires and other tragedies. The Ventura County Community Foundation is accepting donations for relief and recovery efforts at


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