By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer | All photos courtesy Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach
Oxnard’s Mandalay Beach is one of the prettiest seaside spots in Ventura County. The view seems to stretch on forever, the waves crash majestically against the shore, the wind brings a delicious crispness to the air, and the sand has (nearly) the consistency of sugar.
Mandalay Beach is also home to the luxurious Zachari Dunes, an all-suite resort that makes a wonderful destination any time of year. This year, however, the staff is particularly proud of its extensive holiday programming, much of which can be enjoyed not just by hotel guests, but by the local community as well.
History in the Making
The hotel was formerly an Embassy Suites® property. After an extensive remodeling, it reopened in the fall of 2022 as Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach. It is now part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, which means that while the resort is owned by RLJ Lodging Trust, it has some latitude with branding.
“We have the flexibility to show off the local area,” explains Andrew Sutrisno, Zachari Dunes’ director of marketing. “Oxnard has a rich history, and we have tried to express that.”
The name alone speaks to that. “Zachari” is the Greek word for sugar, and it’s what entrepreneur Henry T. Oxnard wanted to name the community that sprung up around his American Beet Sugar Company, which he opened in 1899. Zachari didn’t stick — the town became, of course, Oxnard — but that bit of local trivia has been revived thanks to the resort. Sutrisno thinks it is an especially appropriate name due to the fact that “the sand is very soft.”
The beachside influence can be felt throughout the property, where soft blues, pale beige and gray, and creamy whites abound. The onsite restaurant is called Ox and Ocean — which says something about its locally sourced meat and seafood and produce picked fresh from farms on the Oxnard Plain. A bar and game room near the pool is called the DIVE Lounge.
Other spots that highlight local history include the wall adjacent to Ox and Ocean, filled with posters, historical photos, vintage advertisements and other elements that tell the story of Oxnard in pictures. The onsite food truck (actually a converted Airstream trailer) offering coffee, light bites and handhelds is called Sugar Beats. And the gear shop, where guests can rent things like Boogie, Hover and surfboards (up to two hours free rental per guest) is called Henry’s.
Deck the Halls
With ample sunshine and ocean breezes, the Southern California coast often feels like summer all year round. Not a bad thing — but it does mean our winter holidays lack familiar emblems like icicles, chalets and fir trees covered in powdery snow.
“It can be hard to get in the holiday mood,” Sutrisno admits. “We don’t have snow and so on. But we still love Christmas!”
This December, Zachari Dunes has gone all out with decorations and activities that suit the season. It all starts with a large Christmas tree trimmed with ornaments that complement the resort’s serene and tasteful interior design. Other seasonal elements, like pine boughs and lights lining the stately staircase, can be seen strewn about. The overall effect is festively harmonious.
On the calendar: A plethora of activities designed to make participants merry.
Hotel guests, for example, can enjoy things like Holiday Movie Nights, screened in the Constellation Room — a 1,000+-square-foot space with soaring ceilings. The whole family can gather in the DIVE Lounge to decorate a stocking or make a Christmas wreath. And keep an eye out for Santa, who will be making the occasional appearance in the lobby to tell stories, interact with children and maybe even make s’mores.
Zachari Dunes has live music every weekend. But every Saturday in December, the Plaza Courtyard will set the stage for live holiday entertainment: carolers, a choir and a mariachi band. Sipping a cocktail while listening to the sounds of the season is a lovely way to spend an evening — particularly while taking in the resort’s beautiful grounds by starlight. Or, curl up in one of the comfy seats surrounding the large outdoor fire pit.
Splendid Seasonal Stays
Dining at Ox and Ocean is a wonderful way to indulge in Zachari Dunes’ ambience for a few hours. But for those who want to make the experience an overnight (or longer) affair, the accommodations are fantastic. The one- and two-bedroom suites, each with their own separate sitting area, dining area and either an outdoor patio or balcony, are well appointed and spacious. Each comfortably sleeps four or six people, and are ideal for a staycation or for family members who are visiting from out of town. With nightly rates starting around $300, Zachari Dunes may not be the least expensive option in the area, but it is an excellent value — particularly considering the property’s many amenities and location right on the beach.
In addition, the resort has created a few special rentals just for the holidays.
To be enjoyed by day: The holiday cabana, right next to the pool, complete with loungers, a couch and a table. This cabana is trimmed with pine boughs, lights and a festive wreath, and includes winter-y amenities such as a s’mores kit with its own warmer, holiday cookies and milk and hot chocolate. Up to four people can enjoy the experience together, so bring the family or some friends! There’s a large hot tub just waiting for you to enjoy, and the sprawling pool is heated year round.
For overnight guests, there are two suites that have been fully customized for Christmas. Playful yet tasteful touches of red, white and green, decorated trees, stockings hung by the fireplace and other holiday cheer make these special rooms simultaneously homey and elegant. And of course, both have phenomenal beachside views.
Come One, Come All
Zachari Dunes goes to great lengths to make guests feel comfortable and pampered, but Sutrisno says he hopes locals will feel welcome as well. To that end, he and his team have crafted a number of experiences that are open to the public.
Gingerbread cookie decorating, for example, is offered a few times a week, or sign up to create a Christmas ornament or even a dreamcatcher. Each class is just $15, and takes place in the DIVE Lounge. Reservations are required, but they’re easy to make using the QR Code found on the online “Holiday Calendar” at www.zacharidunes.com/festive-calendar.
There’s no cost to see Santa when he comes to Mandalay Beach on Dec. 16, 23 and 24, 4-6 p.m. each day. Local kids are welcome to join guests in the lobby to enjoy s’mores, stories and the jovial spirit of this jolly old elf.
Community members have already found Ox and Ocean to be a hot spot for happy hour, dinner, Sunday brunch and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. The additional holiday music performances taking place in the Plaza Courtyard on Saturday evenings can be enjoyed by one and all as well.
Other things locals should consider checking out: the Sunset Tastings. Once a month on the patio, Zachari Dunes takes advantage of its lovely grounds and even lovelier location to host evenings devoted to fine wines, craft beers or other beverages. Get a glass of something delicious just as the sun starts to set, and then enjoy it while basking in the moonlight. Craft beer will be the highlight on Dec. 22, while on Dec. 30 the resort teams up with sparkling wine producer Chandon to offer a selection of bubblies to sample — and purchase at a bottle price lower than retail. No reservations are necessary for the Sunset Tastings, and Sutrisno insists that “the more the merrier” — feel free to drop by.
Many Ways to Stay and Play
According to Sutrisno, guests have traveled across the world to see this beachside slice of California paradise — and Zachari Dunes staff has made every effort to offer a full range of services.
“We don’t want to be just a hotel stay,” he says. “We have full programming and lots of amenities for guests on the property. And we’re opening it up to the community, too.”
If you’re looking to bring a little seaside revelry to your holiday celebrations, Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach is an excellent place to find it.
Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach
2101 Mandalay Beach Road, Oxnard
For calendar of holiday activities,
Reserve class spots by scanning the QR code
with your smartphone.
For more information on holiday suites and to
reserve, visit www.zacharidunes.com/holiday.