Weekend Warrior: Marina del Rey
Getting Away From L.A. for the Weekend
Written by Capt. Jeff Werner
Marina del Rey is the largest man-made yacht harbor in North America. Superlatives abound: It boasts 5,246 slips in 23 anchorages and marinas, 40 restaurants, and even offers funerals at sea. It is a wonderful boating community unto itself. For most yacht owners in South- ern California, however, going boating for the weekend means sitting on their boat at the dock in Marina del Rey, sipping cock- tails. Next weekend, be ready to expand your world beyond the marina by starting those engines and casting off your dock lines.
Day 1: Ventura
Ventura, officially the city of San Buenaventura, is a 40-nautical-mile run from Marina del Rey, so plan on an early morning cruise to give yourself plenty of time to explore what’s on shore. Ventura Harbor (venturaharbor.com) is the perfect port of call for visiting boaters. There are loads of restaurants, shops, markets and a full service boatyard, in addition to a selection of well protected marinas.
Although you can easily spend the day exploring Ventura Harbor, resist the temptation and take the free trolley to downtown Ventura. The trolley service runs 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. in 45-minute intervals (venturatolley.com). Once you’re there, the area is extremely walkable. The west end of downtown is anchored by the Old Mission San Buenaventura, founded in 1782 (sanbuenaventuramission.org). It was the last of the nine missions founded in California by Father Junipero Serra. Once you have soaked up the historic ambience, it will be time for a late lunch. A short walk from the Old Mission is El Rey Cantina, which is my favorite spot for tacos and tequila (elreycantina.com). I guarantee you will want to take home an El Rey T-shirt. Suitably fortified, you can spend the remainder of the afternoon shopping at a wide array of antiques, vintage clothing, and upscale shops. In keeping with our Mexican theme for the day, dinner at Maria Bonita is a must (mariabonitagourmet.com). This is one of the best Mexican restaurants in the area, and it will become your favorite for future visits to Ventura.
Day 2: The Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are sometimes called “the American Galapagos.” Ventura Harbor is home to the Channel Islands National Park Visitors Center (nps.gov/CHIS), and just 18 nautical miles from Santa Cruz Island, which the largest and most visited of the Channel Islands. Although there are no marinas on the Channel Islands themselves, there are anchorages available. However, there are no public mooring balls for pick up. Just make sure that your ground tackle is well set before you dinghy ashore.
Depending on the season of the year you are planning to cruise, it is always advisable to keep an eye to the weather, even though you will be boating relatively close to shore. Santa Barbara Channel can be unpredictable, so always be prepared for cool temperatures underway, fog, rough seas, high winds, and plenty of sea spray. Nevertheless, once you reach the Channel Islands, your trip will prove to be worth your effort. There are few areas to cruise in the continental United States that are so close to major urban areas and that are as pristine as the Channel Islands. If you enjoy ecotourism, you will be at home when you step ashore.
Santa Cruz Island offers a unique boating experience that includes hiking, diving among the kelp beds, kayaking, bird and whale watching, fishing, and even camping should you want to bring a tent and stay ashore for the night.
Day 3: Santa Barbara
After your 25-nautical-mile return to the coast, dock at Santa Barbara Harbor, a municipal marina with strong rock and concrete breakwaters (santabarbaraca.gov). After you tie up, stop by Brophy Bros. Clam Bar with great views of the harbor and the mountains (brophybros.com). A big bowl of their clam chowder, a half dozen little necks, along with an Arnold Palmer, makes a perfect lunch. Walk over to historic Stearns Wharf, home of the Ty Warner Sea Center (sbnature.org/twsc), where children and adults alike enjoy interactive exhibits and hands-on discoveries with sea creatures.
When you go ashore in Santa Barbara, also take the opportunity to ride the inexpensive electric shuttle bus that goes from the waterfront to downtown’s State Street. Along and branching off this main street you will find an excellent choice of restaurants, shops, museums, and galleries. If your weekend on the water made you hungry for a steak, then indulge yourself with dinner at Holdren’s (holdrens.com), a classic steakhouse that is perennially voted the best in Santa Barbara.
If you are not quite ready to depart, rent a car and venture into the coastal foothills of Santa Barbara wine country. The mountain vineyards grow classic grape varietals in an environment of cool ocean breezes and fog. This climate helps more than 100 wineries produce distinctive Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Remember the movie “Sideways,” and you’ll have the idea.
While you are up in the mountains, stop in Solvang for breakfast. Solvang is a Danish-themed village with plenty of kitsch. It is a must—if only once in your life—to breakfast on æbleskivers: spherical Danish pancakes dipped in lingonberry jam and covered with powdered sugar.