Beach-town bliss

Find cool clothes and cooler jazz in Ventura's blossoming downtown

The revival of downtown Ventura has done that rare thing: revitalized without destroying past charms. A new restaurant nestles within the confines of a converted 1875 livery; Starbucks shares the sidewalk with signs for ETHICAL AND INTUITIVE TAROT READING, and family-run cafes with two-table balconies serve espresso and an ocean breeze. (After all, the Pacific is only a couple of blocks away.) Along pedestrian-friendly Main Street, you can do some eclectic shopping or hear live jazz so intimate you can shake hands with the musicians from your table.

SHOP: Prêt-à-Porter Boutique. WHAT: A mother-daughter clothing store, with offerings from upscale to bohemian. WHEN: 10:30-6 Sun-Thu, 10:30-7:30 Fri-Sat. WHERE: 607 E. Main St.; 805/643-7384.

Le Monde Emporium. WHAT: Everything in the store is for sale, from couch sets to jewelry, handbags, and shoes. WHEN: Open daily. WHERE: 542 E. Main St.; 805/648-7463.

EAT: Tutti's Off Main. WHAT: Now in Ventura, this former Montecito favorite serves tutti ("all" in Italian) from roasted green chile omelet to grilled flank steak in a lovely courtyard. WHEN: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Tue-Sat, brunch Sun. HOW MUCH: $$$. WHERE: 34 N. Palm St.; 805/643-0880.

Payan's Main Street Bakery. WHAT: Scones, muffins, cookies, and lemon bars in a tiny, family-owned bakery. WHEN: 8-4 Mon-Sat. WHERE: 518 E. Main St.; 805/648-4453.

Café Bariloche. WHAT: South American specialties such as lomo―sirloin strips with red onion, tomato, garlic, and spices. WHEN: Lunch and dinner Tue-Sun. HOW MUCH: $$. WHERE: 500 E. Main St.; 805/641-2005.

HEAR: Café Des Artistes. WHAT: Live jazz, blues, R&B; a given night might feature Natalie Cole's former pianist. WHEN: Lunch and dinner daily; performances 6 p.m.-midnight Tue-Sun. HOW MUCH: $$$; no cover for most performances. WHERE: 533 E. Main St.; 805/641-9951.

The Loft at Zoey's Café. WHAT: Soak up live folk, jazz, bluegrass, or rock while enjoying pizza or panini sandwiches. WHEN: Live music at 7 p.m. Thu and Sun, 8 p.m. Fri and Sat. HOW MUCH: $5-$10 (no cover Thursdays). WHERE: 451 E. Main St. (at El Jardin Courtyard); 805/652-1137. ―Ken McAlpine

INFO: Ventura is about 30 miles south of Santa Barbara. For information, contact the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau ( www.ventura-usa.com or 805/648-2075).