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

Sunset

Ventura has undergone a major facelift, with renovations to thehistoric downtown, a burgeoning art scene, and an influx ofcutting-edge restaurants.

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

GO

Top of Grant Park The view from the summit: the town againsta white curve of beach, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the ChannelIslands. INFO: Head inland on California St. toward City Hall, turnleft on Poli St., then follow the curve and turn right on FerroDr.; 805/652-4550.

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

Downtown Ventura Certified Farmers' Market Saturdays from8:30 to noon, the corner of E. Santa Clara and S. Palm Streetsbursts with everything from Sharon Palmer's eggs to Perry Fife'spommeloes. 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 chopsand sweet potatoes mashed with goat cheese. Fun twist: On Tuesdaynights, the restaurant serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches andbrings in live jazz. INFO: $$$;closed Mon; 3029 E. Main St.; 805/653-7433.

Andria's Seafood Restaurant and Market Affordable seafoodright off the boats. Order the clam chowder in a bread bowl, anddon't plan on eating again for a long while. (Although there's aseafood 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 beachfrontcottage 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. Headingnorth on U.S. 101, exit at California St. From U.S. 101 south, takethe Ventura Ave. exit and turn right on E. Thompson Blvd.

STAY OVERNIGHT

The oceanfront Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach(formerly the Holiday Inn; 258 rooms from $119; 800/842-0800) justcompleted 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 thePacific's edge, allowing guests a gull's-eye view of one ofCalifornia's best surfing spots (yep, C Street) and burnt orangesunsets behind the silhouettes of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. A10-minute walk puts you in downtown Ventura, or stroll east on thebeachfront promenade to the Ventura Pier.

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