Great restaurants and more in the new Ventura

A historic surf town in Southern California spiffs up but keeps its charm

Ventura has undergone a major facelift, with renovations to the historic downtown, a burgeoning art scene, and an influx of cutting-edge restaurants.

Although it keeps its mellow pace and still has its surfers, the rest is history. It's now the kind of place where the man in the white jacket perusing produce at the farmers' market turns out to be the chef who prepares your meal that evening.

GO

Top of Grant Park The view from the summit: the town against a white curve of beach, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Channel Islands. INFO: Head inland on California St. toward City Hall, turn left on Poli St., then follow the curve and turn right on Ferro Dr.; 805/652-4550.

Zoey's Café Enjoy an espresso and top-notch entertainment ― blues, country, rock, and even stand-up comedy. INFO: $; entertainment Thu-Sun, closed Mon; 451 E. Main St.; 805/652-1137.

Downtown Ventura Certified Farmers' Market Saturdays from 8:30 to noon, the corner of E. Santa Clara and S. Palm Streets bursts with everything from Sharon Palmer's eggs to Perry Fife's pommeloes. INFO: 805/529-6266.

EAT

The SideCar Restaurant Tim Kilcoyne (he of the white jacket) takes pride in serving local produce. Try cocoa-dusted pork chops and sweet potatoes mashed with goat cheese. Fun twist: On Tuesday nights, the restaurant serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and brings in live jazz. INFO: $$$; closed Mon; 3029 E. Main St.; 805/653-7433.

Andria's Seafood Restaurant and Market Affordable seafood right off the boats. Order the clam chowder in a bread bowl, and don't plan on eating again for a long while. (Although there's a seafood market right next door.) INFO: $$; 1449 Spinnaker Dr.; 805/654-0546 (restaurant) or 805/654-8228 (market).

SHOP

B. on Main Beach books, signs, and more for that beachfront cottage you wish you'd bought 30 years ago. INFO: 337 E. Main St.; 805/643-9309. -Ken McAlpine

GETTING THERE

Ventura is about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Heading north on U.S. 101, exit at California St. From U.S. 101 south, take the Ventura Ave. exit and turn right on E. Thompson Blvd.

Berry time
Solitary sands
Fish story
Tortoises and roses
STAY OVERNIGHT

The oceanfront Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach (formerly the Holiday Inn; 258 rooms from $119; 800/842-0800) just completed a major upgrade, adding the new C-Street restaurant (California cuisine, featuring local seafood and wines; $$$$) and the Aqua Beachfront Bar.

The location required no renovation. The hotel sits right at the Pacific's edge, allowing guests a gull's-eye view of one of California's best surfing spots (yep, C Street) and burnt orange sunsets behind the silhouettes of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. A 10-minute walk puts you in downtown Ventura, or stroll east on the beachfront promenade to the Ventura Pier.

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