As the birthplace of a major American oil company and the self-proclaimed citrus capital of the world, Santa Paula would seem anything but a small town. However, a hometown feeling is what visitors enjoy when they explore the hub of Ventura County's attractive Santa Clara Valley.
A focal point for strangers and townsfolk alike is 75-year-old Glen Tavern Inn, a renovated hostelry that resembles an English manor house. The inn's early guests puffed into town on Southern Pacific steam trains.
Across the street bygone days come to life again at the Mill, a feed store, farm supply and hardware, that's been in operation since 1885. It's still the place to go when you want a saddle repaired or a saw sharpened.
Just down the railroad tracks is Santa Paula's vintage depot, a year shy of its 100th birthday. If you watched "The Thorn Birds" miniseries on TV, you saw it as an outback train station in Australia.
Where to Begin
These days it's headquarters for the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau, the place to begin an outing to Santa Paula.
Get there from Los Angeles by driving north on Interstate 5 to Castaic Junction and exiting west on California 126. Soon after that busy rural road becomes a freeway at the outskirts of town, exit north on 10th Street/California 150.
Go three blocks to the old depot, opposite a huge Moreton Bay fig tree that was planted on Independence Day more than a century ago. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Ask for the free visitor brochures, including a walking tour of Santa Paula. Also worthwhile is the 50-cent street map with a scenic driving route. Lists of restaurants and lodgings are available too.
Walk or drive back to Main Street, five blocks of which are being rejuvenated with the help of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Santa Paula was the first California city chosen in a nationwide project to preserve notable Main Streets.
Brick and Brownstone
On one corner of Main and 10th you'll see a two-story brick and brownstone building where Union Oil Co. of California was formed in 1888. The ground floor has been turned into the California Oil Museum, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission free.
You'll see a complete antique drilling rig and other memorabilia from the county's early oil fields. Also look in a front window at the wonderful re-creation of a 1930s gas station.
On an opposite corner, drop in at the old-fashioned Moore's General Store, a circa-1920 drugstore now filled with gift items from around the world. Going west on E. Main Street you'll find other gift and antique shops and an assortment of architectural styles. The town clock tower atop the Odd Fellows Hall dates to 1905.
Just a block from 10th Street, head north on Mill Street to Glen Tavern Inn, a favorite for Sunday brunch as well as other meals. A night in one of its 40 nicely redecorated rooms is $65 double, including breakfast. Reservations: (805) 525-6658.
Oldest Business in Town
Continue north to wander about in the enormous wooden building called the Mill, the oldest business in town. Folks come from miles around to buy everything from hay to homing pigeons. The smells alone make you think you're back on the farm.
To see some well-maintained homes from Victorian times, go north another block on Mill Street to Santa Paula Street and stroll between 8th and 10th streets under the shady camphor trees.
Also of early vintage are planes that make their home at Santa Paula Airport. Go south on 8th Street under the freeway and jog left to see antique aircraft in hangers, and in the sky on weekends. You can listen to pilots trading tales in the Airport Cafe.
With a day's notice, Michael Dewey Aviation arranges sightseeing flights up the orchard-filled Santa Clara Valley or down to the ocean at Ventura. Half-hour trips cost $27.50 per person, with up to three passengers. Call (805) 525-2138.
If you'd like to linger longer in the valley's peaceful surroundings, spend the night at the Lemon Tree Inn, an early 1900s farmhouse overlooking an avocado grove. The four-room B&B; has doubles for $55, $10 more with private bath. Call (805) 525-7747. No smoking, children or pets.
The Santa Paula area is home to fruit-packing plants for Calvado avocados, Sunkist oranges and Limoneira lemons. You'll drive past all sorts of orchards (and new housing tracts that are replacing some citrus) by heading west out of town on Telegraph Road. Join it by taking Harvard Boulevard west from 10th Street.
Trio of Restaurants
Along the way are a trio of popular restaurants, starting with Familia Diaz (Mexican fare) at 249 South 10th St. Next is Lins Chinese Foods at 112 E. Harvard, and then the Peppermill, south on Peck Road at the junction of Harvard Boulevard and W. Main Street.
As you drive along Telegraph Road, watch for the Faulkner House, Ventura County's historic landmark No. 1. It's a grand Victorian built in 1894, with a fancy red barn at the rear.
Join the freeway (California 126) toward Ventura, or turn south from Telegraph Road onto Victoria Avenue to pick up U.S. 101 back to Los Angeles.
Round trip from Los Angeles to Santa Paula is 152 miles.
If you have more time, extend your excursion by heading north from Santa Paula on California 150 to Ojai and circling back to Ventura on California 33 to meet U.S. 101.
That makes an especially enjoyable extension next month when the Ojai Valley Flower Club stages its biennial flower show April 12 and 13. Floral arrangements in eight classes will pay "Homage to the Artists," the 1986 show theme.
The flowers will be displayed from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday in Boyd Recreation Center, 510 Park Road, off California 150 (Ojai Avenue) east of the center of town. Admission free. The club also will have plants for sale.