Best no-nonsense wine vendor



Ventura Wine Co.

4587 Telephone Road, Ste. 103,


Although I enjoy wine immensely, I can’t honestly say I have a good understanding of it. A life spent juggling words has helped me decipher descriptions of a wine’s “nose,” and “finish,” and “bouquet,” and the opportunity to live near a few wine-growing regions gave me a sense of the intricacies of viticulture.

— Bill Lascher


Best contemporary interpretation of Anytown, USA



Main Street, Santa Paula


Somewhat lost among recent debates about opening Santa Paula’s canyon’s to housing development is a discussion about what really make’s that town special.

Seemingly left unchecked for decades and lost in the shuffle as Oxnard, Ventura and Ojai clamor to rejuvenate or preserve their core neighborhoods, Santa Paula’s Downtown is one of the county’s true treasures. Nowhere else in the county is there such a sense of pure Americana. A stroll or drive down Main Street feels like a journey through any of the countless brick-lined Downtowns dotting the Mid West (all the way down to the decay wrought by nearby big box retailers, shopping malls, and chain stores).

No other Downtown in the county is as free of pretention. Sure, the more reactionary voices might point to Santa Paula’s shifting demographics and argue that the neighborhood is far from a slice of Apple Pie America, but I choose to reject the racist undertones of such an argument, and the utter intolerance toward cultural shifts and hard-working labor forces.

The language might not always be English, but the view is the same. Hardscrabble small businesses such as discount stores and café’s share space once occupied by department stores and banks. Neighbors meet and chat on street corners, and small museums pay tribute to the city’s heritage.

It’s hard to tell how hundreds of new homes might impact the city, but in case anything changes, Santa Paula’s downtown is worth a visit now.


Best Place to Save a Life



Ventura County Animal Shelter

600 Aviation Drive, Camarillo


If you’ve ever wanted to be a hero, there’s plenty of opportunity waiting for you at the Camarillo Animal Shelter. With so many dogs and cats turned in every week, many of these animals will never find homes because there’s just not enough space.

More than 100 cages are laid out like a maze, and around every corner there’s more wagging tails and furry faces, plus a separate room housing the felines. And there’s something for everyone: tiny to extra large, furry to short-haired, newborns to seniors and everything in between. There’s something magical about the moment you’re walking the aisles and suddenly that tickly feeling starts kicking in your gut and you’re suddenly face to face with your new best friend. Fenced-in areas provide a chance for you and your potential new mate to get to know each others’ personalities better and find out if indeed you are the perfect match. And if you meet the requirements for adoption, your new animal will come already fixed, vaccinated, licensed and microchipped for just more than $100.

Even if you’re looking for a specific breed, you can strike gold. On one recent weekend there were beagles, bulldogs, huskies, pugs, springer spaniels and so many others who just wanted a home.

I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on my basset hound. With gargantuan feet and ears dragging along the floor, he was just sitting there on the cold concrete, wagging his tail with the classic basset hound look that defines “puppy dog eyes.” And then he came home. And he was a monster. And there is this risk with a shelter pet — sometimes you don’t know what he or she has been through.

But this shouldn’t discourage you from adopting. After all, plenty of other animals have their own issues. I’ve had my hound for almost seven years, and he is the poster pup for where proper training and perseverance can get any dog. And every time he wags his tail I like to think it’s his way of thanking me for saving his life. Is he perfect? No, but he’s closer than I’ll ever be.

— Lindsay Foster


Best ersatz promise of the good life



Riverpark, Oxnard


I know what Riverpark is hawking. It’s trying to sell Stepford with slightly more responsive women; Pleasantville with a world beyond Main Street.

And it’s trying to create an oasis of more housing, with its own, insulated school system and a fire department at-the-ready. I get it. And with maybe 10 more years on me and a couple kids to boot, I would be signing up.

I don’t know what to make of the rather sluggish pace of development, but it’s worth questioning why, in the middle of Oxnard, we need faux Mediterranean architecture that the vast majority of residents will find beyond their budget (or perhaps I’m just projecting). Or why a community that promised to rejuvenate that area right off the 101 is so slow to pop up.

Although maybe my cynicism is misplaced. If you grew up in a Southern Californian city, most likely the span of your world was a two-block neighborhood, and the idea of walking from home to school and back again was only a distant dream, a quaint thing those kids on TV would do.

And so, yes, maybe a proper neighborhood school, town center — all the fixtures of a proper municipality — are worth fighting for.

— Saundra Sorenson


Best Sinking Apartments



Santa Clara Apartments

1381 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura


Admittedly, this wasn’t a crowded field. But if you would have asked me a year ago what apartment building in Ventura would most likely end up sinking into its foundation, I would have said, without hesitation, the Santa Clara Apartments. Located across the street from Cemetery Park, near the intersection of Santa Clara and Main streets, the complex has the cheapest studios off the Avenue — and some of them are still $800 per month.

Seeing as that at the time I first moved out of my parents’ house, I couldn’t imagine myself living with other people, all I really wanted was an affordable place to live, preferably close to my work. At a little less than $700 (utilities included), the Santa Clara Apartments was about the only spot I could find that met all my criteria: a white-walled box to call my own — for six months.

To be fair, you know what you’re getting when you move in to one of these kinds of places. Almost everyone who lived there was either 80 years old, disabled in some way or part of a family of five all crammed into one small room. You could hear every argument, every entertainment center — my neighbor once complained that I was playing my clock radio too loud. My apartment was a sauna in the summer and a freezer in the winter (the heater didn’t work, and I never bothered to have it fixed). And the whole thing seemed to be built on a slight slant.

It wasn’t all bad for my first experience living on my own, but let me tell you, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that one night, about seven months after I left, the building I was in sunk two inches into the ground. Apparently, a leaky pipe left unrepaired softened the earth enough to send the building rumbling downward. Now, six units — including my old one — are red tagged. But here’s the best part: right out in front of the building that is currently boarded up, there is a big sign advertising studios for rent. And, yeah, that doesn’t surprise me either.

— Matthew Singer