Oxnard - The Other Hollywood in California
By Debbie Stock
Oxnard, the hidden retreat for celebrities escaping the glaring lights of Hollywood, has long honored its stars with beaches named Hollywood and Silverstrand. But in Oxnard, star power is more about gazing up at the sky on a warm, summer night or watching starfish cling to rocks at Anacapa Island than a celebrity sighting. Becoming the preferred destination for affordable beach vacations near Los Angeles, I discovered a beach named Mandalay and experienced nicer accommodations than at other L.A. beach hotels I’ve shared with likes of Britney Spears.
Sure, Oxnard has its rich and famous guests—it’s been the training camp for the Dallas Cowboys, film location for the hit TV series, Beverly Hills 90210, and home to stars Sonny & Cher, John Carradine and James Cameron who wrote, directed and produced the hit movie, Titanic. Harbor mansions and multi-million dollar bungalows in this elegantly-understated sand paradise share the same beaches accessible to travelers on a budget. “So many celebrities and film stars come into our beach cafe that we don’t really pay much attention,” said a waitress at Mrs. Olson’s Coffee Hut near Channel Islands Harbor.
Only 50 minutes by car from Hollywood, Oxnard is close to the L.A. action, which explains how it became a popular hideaway for the celebrity crowd beginning with silent film actors and heartthrobs Rudolph Valentino and Clark Gable. Its great location provides L.A. tourists a relaxing beach option that’s affordable and every bit as unique as any beach you’ll see along the California coast.
Agreeing to join me on this journey, my friend, Barbara, flew from Sacramento to Burbank Airport where I whisked her away curbside so we could start exploring. Like millions of travelers before us, we drove along Sunset Boulevard, impressed by West Hollywood’s billboards, expensive cars and historic bars such as The Roxy and Whiskey A Go-Go. The Hollywood scene was not our final stop, however. We were heading for the other Hollywood in Oxnard.
The drive is pleasant on US 101 and Oxnard is easy to find as you follow the exit signs to the beach. Along the way there are miles of farms selling everything from fresh strawberries (a local favorite) and vegetables to cut flowers. The rural setting offers a refreshing contrast to the city of three million people less than an hour away in L.A.
Arriving at Embassy Suites Hotel Mandalay Beach Resort - Oxnard, Barbara and I were pleasantly surprised to see Spanish-Mediterranean décor and sparkling water fountains at the entrance. I longed to put on a pair of huarache sandals and take a stroll through the grounds of the only “all suites” chain hotel directly on the beach in California. With sand at your door plus a swimming pool, sauna, waterfalls, restaurants, cocktail bar, bike rentals, sand volleyball courts and complimentary made to order breakfast each day, you’d easily pay several hundred dollars more if these accommodations were available at other California beaches.
The grounds and suites are so comfortable, it’s tempting to never leave the property and local beach. Force yourself to get out and explore seven miles of pristine, sand beaches, along with Oxnard’s great attractions and activities. There’s wine tasting, car racing, golf, shopping, dining, museums and boat tours, to name a few.
One of Oxnard’s finest attractions is the crown jewel of the Pacific, Anacapa Island, which sits 12 miles west at Channel Islands National Park. Comprised of five islands, Anacapa is known as the Galapagos Island of the U.S.
Island Packers offers daily excursions from Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor to Anacapa Island (a series of three islets). The fantastic hour-long boat ride culminates in a climb up 150 stairs to the top of a millions-of-year-old rock. In the spring the island plateau is a colorful landscape of bright yellow, daisy-like coreopsis flowers. Combined with red, flowering ice plant, it’s an artist’s palette of color and contrast. Not surprising, Anacapa Island is one of the most popular subjects in local artists’ paintings. Amidst this maze of ground cover are hundreds of stark, white western seagulls. Like an eerie scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, these nesting creatures are everywhere, and their eyes are trained on you, the invading species. When you get too close, they begin cawing with a warning to keep your distance.
90% of Southern California’s seagulls are born on Anacapa Island. Their nesting habits and island habitat are of great interest to scientists who seek to eradicate the black rat which was introduced to the island, impacting the endemic species. The island also hosts the largest breeding colony of the endangered California brown pelican.
Returning from a glorious, sun-filled day at Anacapa, Barbara and I enjoyed Oxnard’s popular Progressive Dining. This unique excursion through the waterways and restaurants of Oxnard embarks aboard Channel Islands Harbor Water Taxi at Channel Islands Harbor. Take a sunset ride to a series of restaurants serving courses that include appetizers, a main course and dessert. Interludes on the boat from one restaurant to the next offer a lovely evening of entertainment and relaxation. Harbor seals relax lazily in the bay as you cruise by sights such as the Oxnard lighthouse, marinas and harbor homes. It’s an affordable way to spend a night out on the town, costing each person less than $75, cocktails not included.
For a day of in-town exploring, get in your car and cruise over to the spectacular Murphy Auto Museum, founded by retired neurosurgeon Dan Murphy. This labor of love features over 50 unique and one-of-a-kind automobiles spanning 100 years of automotive history. Murphy’s plan to keep the museum fresh and interesting through rotating exhibits is simple. “If you want to lend us your classic car, give us a call,” he tells collectors.
In the heart of California’s Central Coast Wine Country made famous by the movie Sideways, no visit to Oxnard is complete until you’ve sampled locally-made wines. Several options include La Dolce Vita Wine Bar at Heritage Square and Herzog Wine Cellars, quickly becoming the “in” place for dining and socializing. The nation’s largest producer of fine kosher wines, Herzog purchases the best grapes throughout California’s many wine growing regions to craft its award-winning wines. Next to a spectacular tasting room and gift store is Tierra Sur restaurant, featuring gourmet Mediterranean-inspired cuisine at affordable prices.
After museums, wine tasting, dining and driving, it’s time to work off those calories and see what’s getting golfers so excited at River Ridge Golf Club. The Vineyard, a William Bell designed course, has long delighted visitors to Oxnard with its club atmosphere in a public golf course setting. A newly-built 9 hole course, Victoria Lakes, will soon expand to an 18 hole layout. Guaranteed to offer some of the finest play along the California coast, it features hilltop vistas with expansive views to inspire.
Still in “cruise” mode from our tour of the antique car collection at Murphy’s, we left our golf cart behind and stopped by Jim Hall Kart Racing School where the staff assures even the worst drivers that they can improve behind-the-wheel driving skills. What better way to learn than in a fun atmosphere with a racing helmet and attractive, leather jacket? Motor Trend magazine chose this as one of “49 Cool Car Things to do Before You Die.”
The home stretch—it’s sad when you realize the party’s about to end. Barely scratching the surface of Oxnard’s offerings, we packed our bags and said goodbye to my favorite hotel and beach. Filled with Rotary members attending a conference, my hidden gem apparently isn’t a secret to those who’ve already discovered Oxnard’s charms. A retreat close to home, but far enough away to leave my cares behind, I enjoyed a vacation most movie stars would envy in “the other Hollywood”.
For information on planning your Oxnard vacation or to receive a free Oxnard destination visitors guide, contact the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau. Toll free: (800) 269-6273