by Elaine J. Masters
Whether it’s a girlfriend’s getaway or a romantic rendezvous, historic Ventura’s got it down. I met my sister there recently. She came in by train from Santa Barbara and I ventured north from San Diego. We arrived within minutes of each other.
I love day-trips by train. It’s a guilty pleasure to scoot north from San Diego by rail and slip past commuters stuck on the 405 freeway. With gas prices high, the Amtrak fare’s reasonable and you can get a discount with a three day advance purchase if you’re a AAA member. You can nap, read or, with your laptop, get a little work done. There are outlets for charging at most seats. Take care though not to let your computer keep you from enjoying the views. Just north of San Diego, the rails hug the coast. The train then turns inland through industrial neighborhoods, passing close enough to Disneyland to spy the peak of the Matterhorn ride. You may have to transfer trains. With at least a half hour before departing, you can stretch your legs and admire the Art Deco detailing in the historic Los Angeles Union Station.
If you’re lucky, your train will continue north with a domed observation car. You’ll roll through tunnels and past the great boulders north of Chatsworth. Watch for Iverson Ranch and Corgill Park – you may recognize the bluffs that were featured in many old cowboy movies.
When you disembark in Ventura, the station is a bare platform. Everything you need is a short walk a few blocks away. Across the street, the overpass shelters colorful, muraled walls detailing the history of the area. There’s homage to the original Tortilla Flats, inspiration for Steinbeck’s novel; illustrations of Babe Ruth, who played there, and other figures. Walk up a few blocks to China Alley where another mural honors the immigrant merchants, laborers and families that helped establish the city.
Along Main Street are dozens of historic buildings that have been lovingly restored, including Mission Buenaventura, with its gardens and small museum. It’s a stark contrast to the statuesque City Hall, one block up a steep hill, with its Doric Columns. A more modest pleasure is the Erle Stanley Gardner office building, ‘the home of Perry Mason’. If the lobby’s locked you can peer inside to see pictures from the TV series.
My sister and I wound through antique shops and hunted bargains at the many consignment and thrift stores. It was no easy task to select a place to eat, as the neighborhood is full of options from modest to pricey. We finally rested our feet and thoroughly enjoyed our sandwiches at the Savory Café and Bakery.
Around the corner on California Street is the European-styled Bella Maggiore Inn. I can picture having breakfast in the interior courtyard café when I return for a longer visit. One afternoon isn’t enough to take in all that charming Ventura holds.