Oxnard, California: More Than Great Strawberries

You can bet your shortcake that The Beatles’ hit song, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, is about Oxnard, California! This city has been deemed “The Strawberry Capital of the World”, as 8,500 acres of strawberries are grown on the fertile and flat Oxnard Plain of California. If you’ve never had fresh strawberries before, and happen to get some in Oxnard, you’re likely to agree that they are by far the best because of their unspoiled California freshness, plumpness, and sweetness. It’s worth coming to this city for strawberries alone! As a matter of fact, Oxnard celebrates the strawberry with a weekend-long California Strawberry Festival, held every May since 1984.

Oxnard lies on the California coast situated between Malibu and Santa Barbara, roughly 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It doesn’t get the worldwide recognition of other California coastal cities, so that means a more unspoiled experience for beaches, an eclectic collection of museums, historical preservation, and great seafood dining.

History

The Chumash Indians inhabited this area of what is now Oxnard, California, long before Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer, became the first European to encounter it, then claim it for Spain in 1542. By the mid 19th Century, the Oxnard area was known for ranching and the growing of lima beans and barley. In 1897, Henry Oxnard and his brothers founded a sugar beet processing plant. Oxnard wanted to name the town after a Greek word for “sugar” (sakchar), but for reasons not totally known, the town ultimately was named after the Oxnards, and incorporated as a California city in 1903.

Oxnard played an important port role for the Navy during World War 2, and now many defense and aerospace companies are based here, as well as two Navy bases, Port Hueneme (pronounced “Why-NEE-mee”, the name stemming from the Chumash Indian word for “resting place”) and Point Mugu. Oxnard is Ventura County’s largest city, with over 200,000 people. Its mild Mediterranean climate produces over 350 sunshiny days per year.

Sandcastle Dreams

The California city of Oxnard is home to seven miles of white sand beaches. The sand is really soft, and Oxnard’s sand dunes have been used for Middle-Eastern settings for movies and television. Rudolph Valentino’s “The Sheik” was filmed on Oxnard’s sand. The two mile long Ormond Beach (between Port Hueneme and Point Magu Naval Air Station) is really an eco-friendly beach, one of the few left in ever-so-developing California. This is thanks to the Coastal Conservatory’s project of restoring some 400 acres of wetland and grassland habitats. Port Hueneme Beach Park is loaded with 50 acres of park space and a mile-long strip of beach. It has a fishing pier. The mile long Hollywood Beach is where you can see the Channel Islands, and is at the end of Harbor Boulevard. Mandalay Beach at Oxnard Beach Park offers opportunities for kite flying, BBQ-ing, volleyball, etc., in its park-like atmosphere.

Heritage Square: Old History, Modern Uses

Heritage Square is a real treat of a walk because you get to see 11 historic Craftsman and Victorian-style houses from generations’ past all located in one locale, as well as an old church (still rented out for religious events), water tower, and a pump house. Even more interesting is that these old houses aren’t museums, but are actively used as California businesses, including a Christian Science Reading Room, realty company, and an insurance company. Adding to the scenery are over 150 types of plants, shrubs, and flowers. The intimate Petit Playhouse is in the basement of one of the houses, where theater performances entertain guests over the course of the year. The businesses do provide free guides to the square.

Heritage Square: 715 South ‘A’ St. Private guided tours take place Saturdays, 10am to 2pm. Donations appreciated (call or email for more information on weekday tours). 805-483-7960. email: heritagesquare@aol.com

Eclectic Art at the Carnegie Art Museum

Built in 1907 with the funding from Andrew Carnegie for a library, this grand Neo-Classical building has been home to Oxnard’s premier art museum since 1984, and is listed in the National Register of Historical Places. This California museum features local and international exhibits which change every 2-3 months, as well as a permanent collection of California Impressionism and Hollywood photography. From June 24 – August 20, 2006, a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition highlighting the work of seven contemporary Chinese photographers will be based at the Carnegie. The photos will document the radical social changes in China over the last few decades. It’s called “Documenting China: Contemporary Photography and Social Change”.

The Carnegie Art Museum is a great place for art and culture lovers as various art workshops for all ages plus poetry readings take place.

Carnegie Art Museum: 424 South C St. 805-385-8157/8158. www.vcnet.com/carnart Admission charge.

The Henry T. Oxnard Historical District: TV Land Calling

Oxnard’s businessmen and tradesmen have lived in a multi-block perimeter of downtown Oxnard since 1909, including the current Mayor Tom Holden. It has one of the largest concentrations of 20th century bungalows in Ventura County as well as Craftsman and Revival Style homes. 137 homes are on the list of the National Register of Historical Places. Some of the homes have been used for filming various television shows, including one large gable-style house, whose exteriors were shot for Beverly Hills 90210.
In the fall, a tour of several of the homes will take place, a favorite event to be a part of in Ventura County, California. It will take place September 25 and does cost, but the proceeds go to charity. See below website for details.

Website: www.oxnardhistoricdistrict.com

The Murphy Auto Museum: The strange and bizarre in old automobiles

Recently opened in Oxnard, this museum contains 50 autos on display at any one time, from antique cars through 1970’s vintage. 30 different collectors contribute to the museum. A large collection of Packards is on site since the founder Dan Murphy, a retired California neurosurgeon, loves Packards. My two favorite cars were the 1947 Crosley pickup and a 1955 bright red Ford Thunderbird. Other cars that are on display currently include a sleek 1955 Packard Caribbean Convertible and a 1927 Willys Knight. Mannequins are dressed up in clothes from eras gone by to enhance the history of the cars in this museum.

Murphy Auto Museum: 2230 Statham Blvd. 805-487-4333. www.murphyautomuseum.com Admission charge.

Gull Wings Children’s Museum: Kid’s Delight Since 1989

Gull Wings Children’s Museum is a place you may have a hard time taking your kids away from. It was hard for me to leave the 15 interactive exhibits at this Oxnard museum for “kids of all ages”! The museum staff attempts to bring in a couple new exhibits every six months. Some of the current exhibits include an Art Nook, where you go inside a darkened room to see glow-in-the-dark artwork; an interactive hospital; a Space Shuttle exhibit, where you hear actual NASA radio transmissions. The Treasure Cavern contains a variety of rock and mineral exhibits. Though I was in the dark while viewing them, I actually could see to take notes! I even got to pick up a fat guinea pig to pose with it, for a number of the creatures at Gull Wings can be held.

Gull Wings Children’s Museum: 418 W. Fourth St. 805-483-3005. www.gullwings.org Admission Charge except for children under 2 years of age.

Eating Oxnard: Italian and Progressive Dining at Its Best!

Given that Oxnard is on the coast of California, the city offers some great seafood and Italian fare, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, because Oxnard is in the midst of a prime growing area for produce, especially strawberries! Many fields are right in the city itself, so the salads are really fresh. The renowned progressive dining cruise is a favorite for both locals and visitors alike, and not to be missed during a late afternoon and evening in Oxnard.

Capriccio’s Italian Restaurant uses very dated movie posters to heighten its Old World motif and quiet charm. The most interesting Northern Italian cuisine menu item was the lasagna: its sauce, rather than being bright red, was actually orange because it’s made up of creamy tomato sauce which tasted very spicy due to the addition of green and red peppers! From your dining area, you can watch the chefs make your meal. The table bread has a strong rosemary spicy taste! The meatball soup with ricotta cheese is a great starter, again, very spicy, since the dishes of Northern Italy tend to be. My filet mignon was smooth and tender and came with great tasting Fettuccini Alfredo, whose sauce was smooth, heightening the pasta taste. The course servings are large. As for dessert, you just can’t beat the lemon tartâÂ?¦it’s got the zing!

Capriccio’s Restaurant: Centennial Plaza, 221 W. Fifth St. 805-486-1100. Lunch and dinner served.

California Progressive Dining along the Channel Islands Harbor is more than a great sampling of food and dinner conversation. You may be lucky enough to have the very gregarious water taxi Captain, and former Coast Guard mate, Bob Russell, allow you to steer the boat around the harbor between the three courses of meals. I got to steer the “G G” a couple of miles, and it was quite a joy indeed, and I have the certificate handed to me by Captain Bob plus the pictures to prove it!

For our first progressive dining course, we started out at Port Royal for appetizers. They included great tasting Fried Shrimp and very cheesy Jalapeno Poppers. The atmosphere in the Port Royal is quite peaceful to the tune of jazz-style music, and offers grand views of the Channel Islands Harbor, which is a man-made creation from the 1950’s and docks well over 2,500 varying sizes of sailboats and yachts. One of which is a large yacht called the “Southern Cross”, supposedly owned by one of the famed trio of Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

Next, we went to the Lobster Trap for the main course. I feasted on the succulent Prime Rib, which was char-broiled to perfection and very tender. Like the Port Royal, the atmosphere can’t be beat for ambience, though in the bar section, it got a little festive while the Los Angeles Lakers were engaging in a play off game. Still, first class food all the way!

Finally, for our desert, we cruised to the Whale’s Tail Restaurant for cake and ice cream. The chocolate tower cake was quite rich, with its strong cocoa flavor. The ice cream itself was the excellent Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry-flavored sort.

Channel Islands Harbor also offers boating, shopping, and holiday-related activities for the family throughout the year. For more information on these opportunities, visit www.channelislandsharbor.org

For more information on the Progressive Dining Tours, call 805-985-5828. They are available 7 days a week, and currently cost $65 (beverages not included). They last about four hours for 6-22 person parties.

You can also take a harbor cruise without the dinner for $8 and lower, depending on your age, via the Channel Islands Water Taxi. Call 805-985-4852 for more information or visit www.channelislandsharbor.org

Port Royal Restaurant: Channel Islands Harbor at 3900 Blue Fin Circle. 805-382-7678.
Soon it will become an Italian restaurant, but is still expected to be an option for the progressive dinner cruise.

Lobster Trap: 3605 Peninsula Rd, Channel Islands Harbor. 805-985-6361 or 800-44-RELAX. www.casasirenahotel.com/LobsterTrap.html

The Whale’s Tail Seafood House: 3950 Bluefin Circle, Channel Islands Harbor 805-985-2511. www.thewhalestail.com

Channel Islands Harbor Visitors Center: 2741 S. Victoria Ave., Ste. F. 805-985-4852. http://www.channelislandsharbor.org/VISITORS.CFM

Important Information on Oxnard

Getting There:

Oxnard Airport (OXR) is conveniently located near Oxnard’s beaches and major attractions. You may even get to hang out with Minnie, the airport’s California Calico kitty cat, who wonders around the terminal as she pleases. She’s a bit standoff-ish, but you can pet her. As I was checking out my digital pictures, she came up to the stringy handle on my camera and batted at it, almost knocking my new Olympus out of my hands! United Express via Skywest serves Oxnard from LAX: www.united.com 1-800-241-6522. www.ventura.org/airports/oxrmain.htm

Shuttle service from LAX is provided by Ventura Shuttle: www.venturashuttle.com

Hotels:

Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort resides in front of Mandalay Beach. You can ask for a great view of the Pacific Ocean from the shores of California. The suites have large living rooms and spacious bedrooms. The central courtyard boasts waterfalls, lagoons, and gardens that make it seem like a tropical paradise. You can swim in the courtyard’s free-form pool that’s heated.

As for internet access, this could be a problem. Not only does it cost ten bucks for 24 hours of usage, but the WIFI may not always work, as it didn’t in my case, so I had to check into a 2nd floor room with wired access. If you really need internet access, ask for a 2nd floor room to be safe. A free wired hook-up is available in the lobby of the hotel, but it’s first come, first serve. I used the internet in the lobby for a couple hours very early one morning before checking out of the hotel to the serenity of some soothing classical music.

Mandalay Beach Resort has an onsite restaurant and bar called Capistrano’s, which serves up lunch and dinner. I had the French Onion Soup au Gratin for lunch. It’s loaded with sweet onions in a broth that’s quite tangy, and comes with awesome-tasting sourdough bread to dunk it in! I also noticed that their hamburger platters are very large!

2101 Mandalay Beach Rd. 805-984-2500 or 800-EMBASSY.
www.mandalaybeach.embassysuites.com

Hilton Garden Inn Oxnard/Camarillo: You get spacious rooms and free high speed internet access that worked fine for me. Besides comfy king/queen-sized beds, many rooms come with a sleeper sofa. At the work station, you’ll sit in an ergonomic chair, which is really comfortable for surfing the net or working on your travel articles! The hotel features a complimentary fitness center and pool. The restaurant and eating area are right next to the lobby. Try the strawberry salad. It’s a wonderful mix of California strawberries, greens, and other goodies like nuts and cottage cheese!

2000 Solar Drive. 805-983-8600 or 877-STAY-HGI. www.oxnardcamarillo.stayhgi.com

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