24 hour travelin’ destination: Oxnard

By Jill Weinlein, 11/08/2012


Soft ocean breezes, pelicans soaring overhead, and spectacular sunsets are a few reasons to visit the beaches in Oxnard. Just a short drive from Mandalay Beach is the Ventura County wine trail, offering tastings from various vineyards nearby.

Colorful kayaks beckon paddlers to the marina at Channel Island Harbor. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

We made the 90-minute drive to the cooler climate of Oxnard to enjoy the 8-1/2 acre oceanfront Mandalay Beach Embassy Suites. The Mediterranean-style resort is the only all-suite resort on the beach in Southern California.

The tropical pool setting is inviting, with ground-floor rooms just steps from the sand. They offer a late-afternoon happy hour with complimentary well drinks, beer and appetizers in the Surf Room. Every morning they offer a complementary full cooked-to-order omelet bar and breakfast buffet. In the evening, dine at Capistrano’s Restaurant for dinner under a thatched roof with ocean views.

The spacious two and three-room suites have two marble baths, a private bedroom and separate living room with a sofa bed. A small kitchenette with a refrigerator, microwave and sink is convenient for families.

After checking-in and unpacking, we drove ten minutes to Rancho Ventavo Cellars for our first wine tasting.

Faye Hawes and George Gilpatrick welcomed us and shared some of their red wines. The small, family-owned winery started making wine out of their home, Hawes said, and “eight-years-ago we opened our winery.” Hawes took us on a “tasting tour” offering six California vineyards for $10 and gave us the German crystal glass. Our first of two tastes were from the Paso Robles region. The mellow 2005 Merlot is easy to drink. Next, a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, known as “King of Red Wine Grapes” goes well with everything.

We enjoyed a 2006 Zinfandel from the Sierra Foothills of Amador. “This is a high-octane wine full of fruity and spicy notes,” Hawes said. The Napa Valley Petit Sirah she poured was bold. “Don’t confuse this wine with a Syrah or Shiraz,” she said. Last, was a 2006 Syrah from Santa Barbara County.

While sipping and talking to the jovial couple, we admired the beautiful rooms next to their tasting room. Years ago, 15 exquisite old homes were transported to this location in Oxnard to create The Heritage Square.

The charming home features a stamped tin ceiling, leaded glass windows and original 1902 paneling. Docent guided tours on Sat. and Sun. allow groups inside these restored beauties.

The Rancho Ventavo tasting room is in a Victorian style home at Heritage Square in Oxnard. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

The gift shop inside the tasting room has some great wine-themed “bling” shirts. We bought one and walked over to the next house that was converted into a wonderful Italian restaurant, La Dolce Vita.

The owner Michelle Kenney grew up at her family’s authentic restaurant, La Dolce Vita at the end of Hollywood Beach. “Kids would come in and order food to be put on a tab,” Kenney said. It became a well-known local market and restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. “At the end of the week, parents would come in on Friday night and settle the tab,” Kenney added. The restaurant was sold years ago, and two homes were built on the Hollywood Beach location. She moved to Heritage Square and runs a very successful business. The three-story restaurant is ideal for lunch, dinner, brunch, showers and parties, with live jazz offered in the basement “lounge”.

Kenney published a cookbook of her recipes and offers creative cooking classes. Her next class, November 17,  will showcase a menu of fennel stuffed pork loin, potato casserole, grilled eggplant and goat cheese salad atop greens. The class finishes with tiramisu martinis. Classes generally begin at 1pm and end at about 4pm. Cost is $55 per person prepaid and includes your meal, a glass of wine, and hands on training (not just watching!) reservations.

A new restaurant overlooking the Channel Islands harbor, Hollywood Beach Wine Company, is another terrific dining option.

The owner, Lois Ivanhoff welcomed us and introduced us to her sommelier, Gregory Leon, and exquisite chef, Marie McGrath. She was eager for us to try some of her dishes paired with some International and local wines tastes.

We first started with an old world shrimp Calypso soup/dip made with white wine, English cheddar cheese and chives. It’s pure comfort food. Next, arrived a lobster, bacon, tomato and avocado slider on a fresh pretzel roll. McGrath also makes a lamb with mint aioli slider and an eggplant slider. It was paired with a taste of a Loire Valley Sauvignon filled with floral notes.

Her cumin-glazed baby back ribs are served with a tangy apricot horseradish sauce. The meat was so tender it just fell off the bone with each bite. Leon paired it with a Gainey Merlot.

Try her Spanish Albondigas meatballs swimming in a warm tomatillo salsa, ideal for dipping with the variety of fresh breads McGrath purchases at the Ventura Farmers Market.

Feeling more than satisfied, we watched an acoustic guitarist set up near the window overlooking the harbor boats resting in their slips.

Hollywood Beach Wine Company is much more than wine. Marie McGrath just put this waterfront spot on the dining destination map.

After a walk along the beach at sunset, we donned new clothes and ventured out to have a light late-night dinner at Sugar Beets restaurant near Heritage Square.

Oxnard was once a sugar beet farm. A four-piece band was playing while we ate a grilled watermelon salad with BBQ shrimp, fried Navajo bread and baby greens with shallot vinaigrette. There are a lot of beets in various dishes. The beet and goat cheese Napoleon had red and golden beets. There is a pink roasted beet Angel-hair pasta with butternut squash and red and golden beets. Desserts are terrific with a Cappuccino pie and sugar beet cheesecake.

Returning to our room at the Embassy Suites, the ocean breezes kept us cool and we fell fast asleep.

The next morning, we took a refreshing walk to the Channel Islands harbor, to take a peek at the Sunday morning Farmers Market. Besides fresh flowers, olive oil and produce, we walked down to the boats tied to their slips, and stood near two fishing boats selling fresh fish off the back. Seagulls swooped down to get a tasty morsel being thrown into the water, as a fisherman filleted his catch.

For brunch, it’s hard to find a better location, than the newly re-opened Whale’s Tail restaurant. The recent “facelift” of new paint and flooring makes the place feel fresh and clean. They brought back their popular shellfish bar.

Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. they offer an all-you-can-eat champagne brunch with fresh orange juice and coffee. The price is $29.95 for adults, and $12.95 for children ages 5 to 11.

There is a seafood “boat” filled with oysters, crab legs and cold shrimp. The main buffet serves waffles, pancakes, bacon, eggs Benedict, stuffed sole, salmon and cheese enchiladas.

Next door, the new Maritime Museum is a jewel of the community. Exhibits tell stories of Port Hueneme and what it does to improve the community.

Oxnard is a great 24-hour staycation to escape the bustle of the city, and enjoy a fine glass of wine and local culinary delights among fresh ocean breezes.

Embassy Suites Mandalay

Beach, 2101 Mandalay Beach Road, (805)984-2500.

Rancho Ventavo Wine Cellars,

741 S. “A” St. (805)483-8084.

La Dolce Vita, 740 S. “B” St.,


Hollywood Beach Wine

Company, 3500 S. Harbor Blvd. Suite 111, (805)985-4677.

Sugar Beets Restaurant, 455 S.

“A” St., (805)240-7777.

Sunday Farmers Market, 3500

S. Harbor Blvd.

Whale’s Tail Restaurant, 3950

Bluefin Cir. (805)985-2511.



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