Explore Ventura's beaches, shops and family-friendly restaurants on a weekend escape

Amber Morris and her son, Augustus, play in the sand outside the Inn on the Beach in Ventura. (Mike Morris)

Looking for a weekend escape before summer escapes? My family and I visited Ventura in May so I could run the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon from village-like Ojai down to surfer-friendly Seaside Park in Ventura. The race allowed me to see the region’s diverse landscapes on foot: citrus orchards, the Ventura River Valley and the beachfront Ventura Promenade. One thing I was surprised not to see: much evidence of December’s wildfire. Aside from running I walked miles with my wife and our two kids, exploring Ventura’s beaches and downtown shops. The tab: Three nights (Friday through Sunday) at the Inn on the Beach cost $520; our meals totaled about half that.

THE BED

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We stayed at the Inn on the Beach, which, as the name indicates, features beachfront rooms facing the ocean. Our ground-level room had two queen beds and a patio area. Although the hotel could use updating, the staff was friendly and the location is ideal for those who want to step directly onto the sand. Breakfast, with pastries and coffee from Santa Barbara Roasting Co., was included along with free parking and Wi-Fi.

THE MEAL

My family and I found a handful of kid-friendly restaurants steps from the inn. We had pad Thai with tofu and fresh spring rolls at Lucky Thai Cuisine ($54), and pizza, pasta and tiramisu from Spasso Cucina Italiana ($48). Next door, Kay’s Coffee Shop served one of the best spicy chai lattes I’ve had. On our walks to downtown Ventura we would pass the Jolly Oyster at San Buenaventura State Beach, where you can buy bivalves, cooked or raw, from a food truck. Either way, the outdoor picnic setting is fun.

THE FIND

Downtown Ventura is home to the San Buenaventura Mission, galleries, restaurants and plenty of shops. We found treasures seemingly everywhere — at retailers such as Patagonia and Birkenstock as well as in thrift shops and record stores. I picked up an old Neil Young vinyl for a buck at Jockamo Records; our 11-year-old daughter procured ocean-themed artwork from a vendor near the Ventura Pier, one of California’s oldest wooden piers.

THE LESSON LEARNED

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All that running, eating and shopping meant we ran out of time to try surfing. Ventura is known as one of the best surfing towns in the country, and with lawmakers recently making surfing the official sport of California, there’s never been a better time to give it a go.

Inn on the Beach, 1175 S. Seaward Ave., Ventura; (805) 652-2000. One wheelchair-accessible room.

Lucky Thai Cuisine, 1141 S. Seaward Ave., Ventura; (805) 444-4563. Wheelchair accessible.

Spasso Cucina Italiana, 1140 S. Seaward Ave., Ventura; (805) 643-2777. Wheelchair accessible.

The Jolly Oyster, 911 San Pedro St., Ventura; (805) 798-4944. Wheelchair accessible.

Jockamo Records, 522 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura; (805) 667-8178. Wheelchair accessible.

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