Hidden Gems: A Perfect Weekend in California's Eclectic Central Coast
Updated: May 18, 2021
What is so special about the Central Coast?
The small beach towns of California's Central Coast often get passed over in favor of the big cities of Los Angeles or Santa Barbara, but I have come to adore the off-beat experiences found there. From walkable outdoor artist studios to hundreds of ostriches on the side of the road, you will be delightfully surprised by the Central Coast.
For this trip, home base will be Ventura, CA. The perfect mix of sleepy beach town and funky activity hub, it is one of my all time favorite cities in California. The fact that it's central to so many nearby adventures and just an hour from LAX makes it ideal for a 3-day weekend trip to see another side of California.
How Do I Get Around and Where Should I Stay?
Ventura is 1 hour from LAX. You can rent a car to get from LAX to Ventura or take an Uber around LA and then into Ventura. This itinerary can be done all on bike and on foot once you're in Ventura but having a car will allow you to explore a few other spots.
You can rent bikes at Ventura Bike Rentals. A beach cruiser will do the job just fine for $60 a day. If you stay at Waypoint (see below), bikes are included.
We recommend Waypoint Ventura ($165). Waypoint is a vintage trailer hotel aka a funky parking lot full of refabbed Airstream trailers! Use the complementary bikes and fire pits and meet fellow travelers!
If you're looking for something not on wheels, these rentals are in great locations and come highly rated:
The Swell Studio $132
Nantucket Style Beach Cottage $141
Day 1 Itinerary- Los Angeles Highlights
Studio Tour and Lunch
You just flew into LAX- what now? If you can get there in the morning, use the day to explore some classic LA spots. Start off the day with a morning studio tour. Choose from Sony, Warner Bro's, Paramount and more based on the shows you love (Note: Sony is only 20 minutes from the airport). Next, grab lunch at The Original Farmer's Market where you can find lots of different food stalls for choices for the whole group!
Hollywood Sign Hike
It's time to get a little exercise, so let's make it classic LA and go for a hike to see the Hollywood sign! While there is a 6.5 mile loop that takes you behind the sign, for a much easier 2.5 mile jaunt on Mt. Hollywood Hiking Trail you can see a slightly cockeyed view of the sign and get some nice views of the city. Just park at the Griffith Observatory Parking Lot and follow signs for the Mt. Hollywood Hiking Trail at the north end of the lot.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
No LA trip is complete without walking down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and seeing the names of your favorite stars in the sidewalk. If you're looking for someone specific, look them up on the official website's Star Map.
Dinner and Drinks in Ventura
It's time to check in to your hotel in Ventura, so put on your road trip playlist and make the 1.5 hour drive up the coast.
Once you've checked in to Waypoint or your chosen accommodation, if it's getting close to dinner time, walk or bike to the Ventura Pier and grab some fish tacos at Beach House Tacos and a beer next door at Madewest Brewery. Bring your food and drinks to the picnic tables on the pier to watch the sunset surf. Just make sure to bundle up, it gets chilly when the sun goes down. If you're still feeling frisky, bike or drive downtown to VenTiki, a teensy tiki bar on Main Street.
Day 2 Itinerary- Surfing Ventura or Downtown Shopping
Coffee and Sunrise at Surfer's Point
Get up before the sun rises, make some coffee and bike or walk down the Promenade to Surfer's Point to watch the many surfers roll in the waves as the sun comes up. Trust me, it's worth it- just bundle up in layers!
If you feel up for getting your own feet wet, contact Mary Osbourne's surfing camp and set up a surf lesson- board and wetsuit included! Surfer's Point, or C Street as the surfers call it, is a great spot for beginners to learn, with gentle waves, shallow water and gorgeous scenery.
Mary Osbourne Surf ~$120 for 2 hour session
Downtown Shopping & Farmer's Market
If you're not looking to surf, head downtown for the day and explore Main Street. Most shops and restaurants are local around Ventura. My favorite shops are Passport Habits, Findings Market, Ikat and Pearls and the little local used bookshop Calico Cat. Patagonia's flagship store, where Yvon Chouinard first started selling stand up shorts and climbing equipment, is now a beautiful retail shop in the area. If you're shopping on a budget, just down the street is Real Cheap Sports- same stuff lower prices.
On Saturdays you'll see the farmer's market right next to Main Street, a 15 minute walk from Waypoint or 5 minute bike. Visit for hyper-local strawberries, tender greens and citrus, but make sure you get there early- it's only open from 8:30-noon.
Ventura Farmer's Market Downtown
If you feel like splurging for a lunch out, get an Italian sandwich at Peirano's and sit outside on the fountain across the street from Mission San Buena Ventura. You can also take a self-guided tour of the historic Mission and its gardens for just 5 bucks!
Mission San Buenaventura Tours $5
Dinner at Nepalese Restaurant
In the evening, bike or drive to Himalaya, a Nepalese/Tibetan restaurant. Sit on the floor and experience this unexpected cuisine.
Evening Drive-in Concert
During the pandemic, there were near-nightly drive-in theater happenings at the fairgrounds through Concerts In Your Car. Look up what's on the agenda and sing along over the radio to a screening of Mama Mia or rock out on your tailgate to a country artist. BYOB!
Concerts in Your Car Tickets range from $30-$150 per car
Day 3 Itinerary- Bike Ride or Drive to Ojai & Solveng
Overview of Bike vs Drive Options
Depending on whether you're biking or driving, I've outlined two options for this day. In summary, the biking day is an easy 15 mile gorgeous bike ride up to Ojai, exploring Ojai, and bike back. The driving day is a drive up to explore Ojai, and then drive to explore the Dutch-themed town of Solveng and eclectic Ostrichland before returning to Ventura. Read below to make your choice! Note: See above for renting bikes if you don't have them included in your accommodation. I did this bike ride on my beach cruiser and was perfectly comfortable.
Bike Ride Route
From the start to the lunch spot is 15 miles, so plan on about an hour and a half of biking. It's a straight shot once you're on the path so you can't get lost and while there are some uphill spots it is generally very gentle. Check the full route here: Ventura-Ojai Bike Trail.
Exploring Art City at Entrance to Bike Path
Before you embark on the trail, stop and take a walk through Art City (10-5 Wed-Sun) at the entrance to the bike path. Art City is an outdoor sculpture artists collective (I don't know how to explain it better than that). Basically you walk around and can see artists creating sculptures out of stone and also visit a little indoor gallery on site to see some 2D artwork. Once you're done, hop on the bike path and follow it all the way to Ojai!
Lunch & Exploring Ojai
Have brunch or lunch at The Nest, a healthy eats outdoor patio spot. They have yummy hard kombucha and cocktails as well. Explore the super unique outdoor bookstore Bart's Books and pop into a nearby art gallery or two. Bike over to explore the grounds of the rustic-luxe Ojai Valley Inn. The grounds are incredible, with giant old trees and rolling hilltop viewpoints and is definitely worth a visit on your way out of town.
Returning to Ventura via Bike Path
Then head back to Ventura on the same path! It should be closer to an hour biking considering you will be going downhill this time around (-:
Driving Tour of Ojai & Solveng
Drive to Ojai and see above activities, including Art City, Bart's Books, Art Galleries and the Ojai Valley Inn and have brunch at The Nest. Then drive 1 hour to Solveng, a Dutch themed city. Take a photo in front of the windmill downtown and pop in a shop or two.
Once you've finished exploring, it's on to Ostritchland. This is one of the most hilarious experiences I've had on a road trip. The fact that there are ostriches roaming the countryside of California, and just the sheer number of them flapping and sprinting around, cracked me up. Be warned, they look like dinosaurs up close and very aggressively eat out of the little bucket that's a few inches from your hand. The best part- it's only $5 admission and $1 for feeding.
Beer and Chill Back in Ventura
Once you've showered and rested back at your hotel after either option, head to The Tavern for a lively beer (and some live music if you're lucky).
Day 4 Itinerary- Hiking and Kayaking In Ventura
Hike In the Botanical Gardens
After the fires in Ventura destroyed the carefully manicured Ventura Botanical Gardens, the local community raised funds to rebuild and replant and it's better than ever. Get a vigorous morning hike in or stroll slowly, taking a seat on one of the many unique benches along the way and literally stop and smell the flowers (there aren't any roses). The entrance fee is only $7! Come back to your home away from home and have breakfast.
Kayak Tour of Harbor Boat Names and Houses
More *gentle* activity! Another fun part of Ventura is the harbor. Rent a kayak from Ventura Boat Rentals ($28/hour for double kayak paying w/ cash) in the harbor and paddle around the Keys, a beautiful water-front neighborhood. It's surprisingly fun to decipher the punny boat names on the docks and admire all of the unique home designs. Afterwards, eat at one of the restaurants at the harbor or make lunch with your farmers market finds and sit at the picnic tables at Waypoint.
Sunset Viewpoint of Ventura & Casual Dinner
Around sunset, drive up to Father Serra Cross, a wooden cross erected by Father Serra in 1782 overlooking the mission. You'll be joined by locals and visitors alike to enjoy the incredible view of the entire coastline. Once the colors have faded, head to dinner at Duke's for whatever sounds good- ceviche, burgers, burritos, sandwiches etc. If you're feeling Pizza, Tony's has a fun outdoor seating near the beach too.
Let me know in the comments about your favorite Central Coast find!