PICTURED: The patio of Aqua Beachfront Lounge and Bar in Ventura.
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer and Kimberly Rivers
If there’s one thing better than being served a delicious meal, it’s enjoying that meal while drinking in a glorious view. From the mountains to the sea, Ventura County is blessed with dozens of eateries where the food is divine and the vistas are unforgettable. Expect to sigh in great contentment when you dine at one of these picturesque spots.
Aqua Beachfront Lounge and Bar at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach
450 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura
There is simply no better way to enjoy all the beauty and excitement of C Street than at Aqua. Yes, it’s a hotel lounge . . . but don’t let that deter you. This is a classy, spacious spot right there on the Promenade, just steps from the beach.
Indoors you’ll find ample sofas and club chairs for lounging, with a wall of windows looking out. But for a truly divine experience, head onto the patio outside. It boasts lots of comfy chairs well spaced for safety and privacy, oriented to make the most of the ocean view, plus a large round firepit with 360-degree seating.
Drinking your morning coffee (the lounge opens at 7 a.m.) while gazing at the sea is a wonderful way to start the day, but happy hour is where it’s at: Chef William Traynor serves up California cuisine and cocktails with equal panache, and watching the sun set over the water is nothing short of magical.
Beach House Fish
668 Harbor Blvd., Ventura
The large wooden building at the entrance to Ventura Pier is unmistakable, and has been a beloved landmark for nearly 25 years. Opened in 1996 as Eric Ericcson’s, it became both a local favorite and a tourist destination, thanks to its menu featuring the finest, freshest seafood and waterside location. Original owner Eric Wachter has passed the torch to daughter Kiona, who found a happy medium between tradition and a new vision with a fresh cocktail menu, craft beers (Madewest Brewing Co. even has a taproom here) and a counter-style service that keeps the lines moving along. Large windows in the spacious, airy dining room allow for unparalleled views of the Pacific no matter where you sit (as well as brisk ocean breezes; consider bringing an outer layer). Head upstairs for a more scaled-back menu with table service. Feel like keeping it really casual? Stay outside on the pier and order tacos, burritos, popcorn shrimp and other simple-but-spectacular fare at Beach House Tacos next door, or pop into the fish market and get something to take home.
32131 Lindero Canyon Road #110, Westlake Village
Steak and seafood classics with an Italian twist are beautifully and deliciously prepared at this romantic spot right on the landing of the body of water that gave Westlake Village its name. The menu seems to go on and on, no matter whether you’re having lunch, dinner, light bites with a glass of wine (highly recommended) or even a weekend brunch. Clams, carpaccio and escargot are just a few of the many starters; entrees include a dizzying array of pastas, grilled or sauced fish and meat, salads and more. Wash your meal down with something from the extensive wine list, or while away the hours with a fine cognac, scotch or decadent dessert (including baked Alaska). The sunsets here are lovely, but seeing the sun dancing on the tranquil waters and watching the ducks and geese is delightful, too. Serene, stunning, splendidly savory . . . what more could you ask for?
Home Kitchen of Ojai
1103 Maricopa Highway, Ojai
Prior to the pandemic this Ojai Valley favorite (shhh . . . I’m spilling a secret locals really don’t want to get out) bustled every morning because of the great breakfasts, comfortable booths and top-notch service. The brunch with bottomless mimosas was just icing. Located in the Vons shopping center on the corner of the building, it also boasted plenty of parking.
Thankfully Home Kitchen has survived the pandemic, and as with many restaurants that have expanded to outside dining, the sidewalk “patio” at Home Kitchen just increases the enjoyment of this great breakfast joint.
The Ojai Brunch is offered everyday and, designed for two, includes two crepes, two entrees, coffee and bottomless mimosas for $45. An option without champagne is $37.99. Pancakes, chile verde omelette, hash browns, eggs Benedict with avocado . . . Home Kitchen has all the solid basics, well done and served with easy-flowing coffee.
But the big surprise here is the show-stopping view of Chief’s Peak. Chumash history tells the story of an ancestor laying down and looking up; the Chief’s eye, nose and mouth are clearly visible. Only a few of the tables inside have the view, but now, with outside dining, almost everyone can enjoy the iconic peak.
The Lookout Bar and Grill
2800 S. Harbor Blvd., Suite B, Oxnard
An unassuming bar with possibly the best view of Channel Islands Harbor. The patio looks right out over the water, and when you’ve got a drink in hand, you feel as though you can watch the boats cruise back and forth all day long. For many locals, it’s home away from home, but liveaboards anchored in the harbor love it here, too. The food isn’t fancy and there aren’t dozens of taps, but the burgers, fries and sandwiches are more than respectable, the clam chowder is to die for and the beer is ice cold and just varied enough to keep it interesting. Music and karaoke are starting to come back, too, so get here early to enjoy all that the Lookout has to offer.
Marina Cafe at Lake Casitas
11311 Santa Ana Road, Ojai
People come from far and wide to fish and camp at Lake Casitas. The campground is now open and boat rentals are available. Local residents probably don’t think of this spot for a day outing, but they should. After a morning catch, kayak rental or walk to see the bald eagle nest, a meal at Marina Cafe is the perfect capstone.
The cafe is located right next to the boat rental desk and bait and tackle shop with some of the best views of the water from the deck. The standard American fare with Mexican food options, all made fresh to order, really hit the spot. Great burgers, tasty fries and serious breakfast burritos will satisfy your appetite while one (or more) of the 10 beers on tap will quench your thirst. Brews include 805, Topa Topa and Figueroa Mountain breweries. If you’ve got room after your meal, the ice cream cone counter has all the flavors.
Breakfast is served until closing. And entrance to the lake is free when you eat at Marina Cafe.
The Shoals at Cliff House Inn
6602 Old Pacific Coast Highway, Ventura
Frequently described as the “Jewel of the Pacific,” the Cliff House Inn sits right on a private beach between Ventura and Santa Barbara. But you don’t have to book a room to partake of this small piece of paradise. Its onsite restaurant, The Shoals, makes the most of its extraordinary setting. No matter where you sit, you feel as though you are dining amidst, not just next to, the ocean. The view is matched by a well-curated wine list and fine cuisine inventively prepared with locally sourced ingredients and beautifully plated to delight the eye and the palate. Dining al fresco here is a singular experience that everyone should try at least once in their lives. The sunsets in particular are spectacular.
Soule Park Bar and Grill
Soule Park Golf Course
1033 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
The views from the dining deck overlooking the oak-dotted golf course toward Black Mountain could be best in the Ojai Valley. Because it’s just off the thoroughfare, the throngs of visitors that are starting to clog the valley don’t think about Soule Park as a place to eat. But locals know that the onsite restaurant can be a soothing spot for a delicious meal and tasty beverage.
Breakfast includes the standard fare, plus unique options like a polenta bowl and beignets (those amazing donuts from the French Quarter in New Orleans). Build-your-own omelettes and gluten-free options round out the start-of-the-day choices. But since breakfast is served until 2 p.m., you don’t have to be an early bird to enjoy them.
For lunch and dinner, there are tacos, truffle fries, hearty burgers and delicious club sandwiches. Check out the jalapeño tuna melt for a great twist on an old favorite.
Get a table on the deck, enjoy the sunset . . . but don’t ask to share my Bloody Mary!
12689 Ojai-Santa Paula Road/Highway 150, Ojai
OK, so you want a burger. Sure, you can find your run-of-the-mill patty at any number of spots in the area. They are fine; good, even. But at the summit between Santa Paula and Ojai is the historic Summit Drive-In with burgers worthy of the trek.
They do have a great little dining room when it’s too cold to sit outside. But the outdoor dining zone is where it’s at. This place isn’t so much about the view, it’s about the spot, the scene, the ’50s vibe. A vintage car club might be parked in the lot, or a host of bikers might be sipping their strawberry shakes.
First, all the burgers are $6 — and there are a lot of ‘em. There’s the classic burger, of course. Like blue cheese? Order the Red, White and Blue. Bacon? Get a Western. Want a little fire? Try the Firehouse #20 (named for the nearby Ventura County Fire Station 20) with chipotle mayo, jalepeños, pepper jack cheese and bacon. That’s just a small sampling of the burgers available. They are always cooked perfectly and topped with fresh lettuce, tomato and with that special tangy “secret sauce.” They’ve also got a tri-tip sandwich and turkey club on the menu.
Even though they offer a healthy side salad, skip it and opt for the onion rings. The fries are excellent, but the onion rings are divine.
Ok now, let’s talk shakes. You haven’t done the Summit till you’ve had a shake. Thick, rich, perfectly flavored. And now you’re powered up to hike Sisar Road.
(Note: the Summit Drive-In is located in a spot frequently subject to the Emergency Power Shut Offs and sometimes has to close down if they don’t have power. Call ahead to confirm the power is still on.)
Ventura Harbor Village
1583 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura
Let’s just say it: There aren’t any bad spots to eat at Ventura Harbor. No matter where you take a table, you will almost certainly be dining with wonderful views of the sea and the boats in the harbor, and ocean breezes to keep you cool and refreshed. There’s hip, happening Brophy Bros., with its top-notch seafood, raw bar, delectably crafted cocktails and upstairs patio. The Greek’s spacious outdoor area guarantees both wonderful scenery and plenty of shade in which to dig into your spanakopita, moussaka and gyros (which should be washed down with a fragrant Greek wine or perhaps an ice-cold martini). Boatyard Pub has American cuisine, 805 Bar/Copa Cubana serves up grilled cheese and Cuban specialties (including amazing mojitos), Andria’s Seafood is great for fish and chips and casual dining, Le Petit Cafe is fabulously French. Craving something sweet? Coastal Cone (ice cream), Top This Chocolate (confections) and Sugar Lab Bake Shop (cupcakes) have you covered. Bring your appetite to Ventura Harbor and stroll around until you find exactly what you’re craving.
Water’s Edge Restaurant and Bar
1510 Anchors Way Drive, Ventura
On the other side of Ventura Harbor is this elegant gem offering waterside dining and fine cuisine based on locally sourced fish, meat and produce. The interior: chic and modern. The exterior: Comfortable and dog friendly. The bar: Stylish. The menu: Artfully prepared and delicious. From crab cakes and calamari to lamb and pork chops to ribeye and ahi, there are ample options from land and sea to enjoy here. Oyster lovers will be giddy at the half-shell selection, while cocktail aficionados will be eager to try the mix of classics and housemade libations. It’s true that this isn’t a budget-friendly restaurant, but the expense is worth it. Even better: Check out the extensive happy hour, where you can feast like royalty on a yeoman’s salary.