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Unique Things to Do in Ventura County, California with Kids

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Want a few days away from the glitz of city life and the hubbub of theme parks during your California vacation? Ventura County will soothe your soul with its mellow pace and beautiful scenery. Located along the Pacific Coast, vacationers come to Ventura County to escape the crowds and higher prices of its neighboring counties, Los Angeles to the south and Santa Barbara to the north. Ventura County is all about water, water, water. You will, therefore, want to visit the beach during a stay here. But there's much more to explore in this lovely area. Check out these seven unique things to do in Ventura County, California with kids.

7 Unique Things to Do in Ventura County, California with Kids

1. Venture to the Channel Islands.

In looking at a map of California, you may have spotted some wee islands off the Pacific Coast and wondered what these are, who lives there, and if you can visit them. I know I have. Eight islands make up the Channel Islands archipelago. Further south, Santa Catalina Island (or Catalina Island, as it's often called), is part of Los Angeles County and is the only one of the Channel Islands where civilians live year-round. But from Ventura County you can journey to the Channel Islands National Park.

Scorpion Landing on Santa Cruz Island ~ 7 Unique Things to Do in Ventura County with Kids

Scorpion Landing on Santa Cruz Island (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Five islands make up this National Park: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Yes, rather than exploiting these isles for profit, all five of these land masses are undeveloped and protected preserves. The only people who live here are employees of the National Park Service. And, even they only live there part-time. You can, however, join the foxes, lizards, mice and birds on these islands for a day trip or overnight camping adventure.

Travel to the islands to get a glimpse of what California looked like before it became the Golden State. If you're flush with cash and strapped for time, hop aboard an eight-person airplane with Channel Islands Aviation to reach the islands. All planes land in Santa Rosa, a 25-minute flight from Camarillo. Choose from their half-day, full-day, and multi-day camping options.

Dolphins on the way to Channel Islands ~ Unique things to do in Ventura County, California with kids

You might see dolphins on your journey to the Channel Islands (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Most tourists, however, take a boat to the islands. Island Packers provides the only motorized boat service to the Channel Islands National Park. Take your pick of the five islands to be your destination. Island Packers also offers dolphin- and whale-watching cruises. In winter, you just may spy the world's largest animal – a blue whale! I didn't get so lucky on my journey to Santa Cruz. But I did see sea lions, a humpback whale, and a pod of hundreds of leaping dolphins.

Sea lions galore spotted on the way to the Channel Islands ~ 7 unique things to do in Ventura County California with kids

Sea lions galore spotted on the way to the Channel Islands (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

On Santa Cruz, you will find several hiking trails, a small visitors center/museum, picnic tables, bathrooms and designated campgrounds. You can also sign up in advance for a sea-kayaking tour with Santa Barbara Adventure Company. (Minimum age is 5 years.) The best part for me, though, was spying on a family of foxes. Mama, daddy and two pups seemed nonplussed by the presence of humans.

A family of foxes on Santa Cruz Island ~ 7 Unique Things to Do in Ventura County, California with Kids

A family of foxes on Santa Cruz Island (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

You should wear sturdy water shoes or hiking boots and bring along a hat, sunblock, and a jacket or hoodie for the chilly ride. If you are prone to motion sickness (and even if you aren't), I suggest bringing along Dramamine. You may also want to stand at the front of the boat, staring out at the horizon. Beware that waters are typically more tumultuous in winter. Even after taking a pill for my summer journey, I felt a bit woozy after the 1.5-hour boat ride to Scorpion Landing on Santa Cruz. Still, I fared much better than a few of my fellow passengers who were 10 shades of green and spent the day laying with eyes closed on picnic benches.

Hiking paths on Santa Cruz Island ~ 7 unique things to do in Ventura County, California with kids

No Back Home Editor Karilyn Owen's son, Cian, running along one of the hiking paths on Santa Cruz Island (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Keep in mind that there is no electricity on any of the protected islands. No campfires are permitted either, but you can bring a gas camp stove if planning to campout. If you are looking to unplug for a few days, the Channel Islands feel worlds away from the mainland and “real” life.

Healthy food from Island Provisions for your Ventura County picnicking ~ 7 Unique things to do in Ventura County, California with kids

Healthy food from Channel Island Provisioners for your Ventura County picnic (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Go for a family picnic, Ventura County-style.

Since there is no food for purchase on any of the protected isles, you will need to bring your own. Channel Islands Provisioners specializes in creating healthy, fresh and delicious meals for visitors to the islands. They will meet you at the harbor with your goodies wrapped in eco-friendly packaging. They can set you up with breakfast wraps, sandwiches and salads for lunch, or even a few days of meals for your camping adventure. Whatever trash you bring to the island, plan to take it back with you, including food wrappers and leftovers. Of course, you could order food from the Channel Island Provisioners for a picnic on the mainland too.

McGrath Family Farm is worthy of a stop, whether you're picnicking or not

McGrath Family Farm is worthy of a stop, whether you're picnicking or not (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

If you'd rather pack your own picnic, be sure to stop by McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo. Their impressive organic roadside market is open daily. Go here for an array of veggies, fruits, and flowers. You can also buy jars of jams and honey. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to pick your own tomatoes, winter squash, pumpkins or the best strawberries you've ever tasted. Ever.

No visit to Ventura County without a visit to Ventura Harbor Village ~ Ventura County California with Kids

No visit to Ventura County is complete without a visit to Ventura Harbor Village (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Explore the unique offerings at Ventura Harbor Village.

This darling harbor is the hub of activity in Ventura. It's also the spot where you'll board your Island Packers boat to the Channel Islands. You'll want to spend a couple hours wandering through the cute surf and souvenir shops, unique clothing boutiques, and art galleries here.

Village Carousel and Arcade ~ 7 unique things to do in ventura county california with kids

Village Carousel and Arcade is a must during a visit to Ventura with kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Kids will also enjoy the Village Carousel and Arcade. Or, give the Ultimate Escape Rooms a whirl, with 60-minute escapes for bigger kids and adults or 30-minute escapes just for families with little ones (2.5 to 6 years).

Cherry nut ice cream from Coastal Cone ~ things to do in ventura county california with kids

Deeeeeelicious cherry nut ice cream from Coastal Cone (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Choose from several restaurants at Ventura Harbor Village. Brophy Bros. Restaurant & Clam Bar boasts reasonably priced seafood, generous cocktail pours, and great views of the harbor. Meanwhile, The Greek offers Mediterranean cuisine along with entertainment in the way of Greek folk dancers and musicians. And then, you simply cannot go to Ventura Harbor without a stop at Coastal Cone. They serve 40 ice cream flavors, tons of fun toppings, and even Dole Whip for those who need their Disney treat fix.

Keep fit as a family with Ventura Pop Up Yoga ~ Unique things to do in Ventura County California with kids

Keep fit as a family with Ventura Pop Up Yoga during your visit to Ventura County, California with kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Get Your zen on with Ventura Pop Up Yoga.

Rid yourself of any ice cream guilt with Ventura Pop-Up Yoga during your visit to Ventura County, California with kids. Children are welcome to join in sun salutations and downward dog poses at these yoga sessions. What a fun way to get fit while experiencing different locations throughout Ventura County! Most classes are based on donation payments. So, tip your instructor well. Check their website for upcoming classes.

Camarillo House ~ Unique things to do in Ventura County California with Kids

Camarillo Ranch is a historic mansion in Ventura County (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

There were a few families with children in attendance at my Ventura Pop Up Yoga session at the beautiful Camarillo Ranch. This historic home's grounds were gorgeous. (Due to a tight schedule, I didn't get a chance to explore the interior. But this mansion, built in 1892, looked worthy of a visit for a glimpse back into Ventura County's past. Next time!)

Pilot a Duffy boat during your visit to Ventura County, California with kids ~ 7 unique things to do in ventura county california with kids

I piloted at Duffy boat during my visit to Ventura County (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Pilot a Duffy boat.

Head to Ventura Harbor Boat Rentals at Ventura Harbor for all sorts of ways to explore the waterways. Choose from such vessels as kayaks, pedal boats, SUP boards and jet skis. For a true Ventura County experience, though, rent a Duffy boat. Invented in California, these adorable battery-powered boats are so mellow and slow-moving, you might even let the kids have a turn at the wheel.

Gondola Paradiso ~ 7 unique things to do in Ventura County California with kids

Gondola Paradiso's owner and gondalier, Mark Schooling (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Take a gondola ride.

For a unique way to explore the romantic canals around Coral Island in Oxnard, check out Gondola Paradiso. Reservations are required to take 50-minute man-powered tour from the Channel Islands Harbor with owner and gondalier, Mark Schooling. He'll even serenade your group of up to six passengers as you pass beneath a bridge, just like a traditional Venetian gondolier would.

Channel Islands Maritime Museum ~ things to do in ventura county california with kids

One of many intricately carved model ships at the Channel Islands Maritime Museum (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Embark on a maritime treasure hunt.

Located in a gorgeous spot along the Channel Island Harbor in Oxnard, the Channel Islands Maritime Museum is filled with all sorts of maritime-themed artwork. Most interesting to kids will be the model ship collection, which includes many elaborately detailed miniature ships carved from wood or real bones. Volunteer docents bring stories of sea-wayfaring to life for families. For a maritime treasure hunt of sorts, ask the front desk for a scavenger hunt to keep kids entertained during your visit to this petite museum.

Beach and pool view from my room at Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach ~ Things to do in Ventura County California with Kids

Beach and pool view from my room at Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Where to stay in Ventura County, California with kids

Two hotels stand out among the rest for a visit to Ventura County, California with kids. One, where I stayed, is the beachfront Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach. Views of the Ventura Beach Pier and Promenade will impress any guest. The decor is modern and decidedly beachy with pastel sand and aqua hues. An outdoor pool as well as on-site bike rentals will please families. Read reviews and book this hotel via TripAdvisor.

Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Bay Beach Resort is one of the swankiest Embassy Suites hotels ~ Ventura County California with Kids

Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Bay Beach Resort is one of the swankiest Embassy Suites hotels (Photo credit: Embassy Suites)

As a big Embassy Suites fan, I have always wanted to spend the night at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Bay Beach Resort. It's the only all-suites beachfront resort in Southern California. Situated along a fantastic stretch of sandy beach, it's home to a sweet pool, complete with waterfalls in a lush garden setting. In fact, it made our list of the 10 Best Embassy Suites Pools.

I have to admit, I didn't know much about Ventura County before my visit. I was happily surprised by the area's affordable prices, natural beauty and depth of offerings. Would I recommend parents visit Ventura County, California with kids? For sure, dude!

Learn more about visiting the Channel Islands with kids over on the No Back Home blog. Headed further south in California? Read my picks for the 15 best San Diego attractions for kids.

Would you like to visit Ventura County, California with kids? Do you have any tips to add or questions? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I was hosted by Ventura County Coast and I will receive compensation related to this post. All opinions are mine, as always. 

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About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Wow. So many activities are there. It looks the best place for family vacation.

  2. Ventura County seems truly picturesque, Colleen! Excellent post. When’s the best time of the year to go there?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      With average high temps in the 60s and 70s F. year-round, there’s really no bad time of year to come to Ventura County. Monarch butterflies migrate through Ventura October through February, so I’m sure that’d be a beautiful time to visit!

  3. Ahhh! I just want to go to Santa Cruz Island and never leave. All of your other spots looked great, but I love animal life. My kids and I could stay there for days enjoying the beauty and the critters.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      You really feel a part of nature on Santa Cruz Island, for sure. I hope you get a chance to visit someday!

  4. This looks like a gorgeous place to visit. My kids would be excited to go anywhere with animals.

  5. I love California so much, each visit has been a business trip so I haven’t had much extra time to explore. I love San Fran and Santa Barbara so much. I would love to take the Dolphin Excursion, it was one of my favorite memories when I visited Mexico, and I also took a great whale watching tour in Boston, that and horseback riding are my favorite things to book when I go on vacation. I am totally bookmarking this, sounds like I need to check out Ventura County the next time I make it out to California!

  6. There’s no wrong way to enjoy this place! I think it’s awesome that there’s so much that you can do with the kids! Everything sounds so fun and exciting!

  7. I would love to experience these things especially exploring the Channel Islands and going on a picnic! It’s such a beautiful place and there’s so much to do!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      You really can’t beat a picnic on the Channel Islands ~ such beautiful scenery and so removed from civilization!

  8. I am adding this to our Summer Travel Spots for 2018. I have been to California only twice in my entire life and I would love to explore Ventura County this time. This place is fantastic! So beautiful and family friendly!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Yay! I bet you love Ventura County…and it’s much more affordable than a lot of places in California, too!

  9. We’ve not ever been out that way! I have no doubt the kids would love all of this.

  10. Wow I would love to visit Ventura! There are so many things to do that I would love. Watching dolphins and seals, gondolas, ice cream, carousels are all at the top of my list!

  11. All of the time I’ve spent exploring California, and I’ve spent far too little time in Ventura County. Definitely need a road trip to check out the coast.

  12. Annemarie LeBlanc says:

    Looks like an awesome place to visit. California has so many travel worthy counties. I would love to visit Ventura County sometime. I will suggest this to my husband and if he gives it a go, we’ll start planning for the trip. 🙂

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