Santa Paula's downtown is reminiscent of any Small Town, USA, with its century-old inn, mural-lined walls and neighborhoods with Victorian homes. The tranquil lifestyle might make it seem as if it's in an isolated part of the state, but the truth is that the town, population 28,000, is 20 minutes east of Ventura.
The 1911 Tudor-Craftsman Glen Tavern Inn (134 N. Mill St.;  933-5550, from $79) includes the on-site Enzo's Italian Restaurant, a lobby featuring a fireplace and a plethora of inviting couches, and hallways lined with classic movie posters. Add an accommodating staff, a picturesque front lawn and rumors that the hotel is haunted and you might not make it to one of the 36 rooms.
The Cajun- and Creole-inspired Rabalais' bistro (861 E. Main St.;  525-2109; no item more than $23.95) serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, which means you can start your day with New Orleans-style beignets, biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits or Creole potatoes while enjoying the view on the outdoor patio. For lunch or dinner, you can enjoy Southern staples such as crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice with andouille sausage, gumbo and jambalaya that might make you forget that you're in a California agricultural town.
The lowrider bicycles in the window give Exotic City Records & Tapes (971 E. Main St.;  525-6730) the flashiest storefront on Main Street. Inside, owner Hector Alamillo and his wife, Hope, sell an array of oldies and hip-hop CDs, but it's the customized lowriders that make Exotic City worth a visit. There are one-of-a-kind bicycles everywhere, each with a unique story, thanks to Hector's penchant for customizing two-wheelers. The best part? Hector is not only knowledgeable regarding his creations, but he's also friendly and more than willing to let you look around.
The lesson learned
Santa Paula promotes itself as "the citrus capital of the world," but city officials might want to change that campaign, thanks to four museums (three within walking distance of one another). Antique gas pumps at the California Oil Museum (1001 E. Main St.;  933-0076) are a smile-inducing blast from the past, but the working 1890s drilling rig steals the show. A few steps away is the Santa Paula Art Museum (117 N. 10th St.;  525-5554), where local art is on display in a 1920s building. A quarter-mile north is the Agriculture Museum (926 Railroad Ave.,  525-3100), home to eight vintage tractors and a beehive more engaging than any TV program. The final stop is at the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula ( 525-1109; Open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. first Sunday of the month; free) which features nine hangars dedicated to historical airplanes, experimental aircraft, motorcycles, model planes and race cars.
A Jacuzzi tub room at the Glen Tavern Inn runs $109 a night on the weekend. Lunch or dinner at Rabalais can be had for about $30. Add a quarter-tank of gas, and a trip to Santa Paula can be less than $200.