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Buena Ventura: Seaside paradise awaits you in Ventura County

Zachari Dunes at Mandalay Beach
Zachari Dunes at Mandalay Beach

Secure a private piece of oceanfront paradise in Ventura County.

By Craig Outhier | Photos courtesy of Zachari Dunes at Mandalay Beach

There are few simpler pleasures in life than a cheesy sausage breakfast burrito served from a beachside food truck, and this should be a no-brainer for beach and burrito lovers alike.

One possible improvement: A scenario in which the vehicle in question dispensing breakfast is parked just steps from your resort suite in a lagoon-like corner of the property, where you can unwind in the pink twilight of early morning to the sound of breaking waves and singing birds while you wait for your food and sip a piping hot latte.

Found a nice place for vacation.

This morning burrito routine quietly enhanced my media visit to Zachari Dunes at Mandalay Beach (zacharidunes.com), one of the few true beach resorts in all of California, north of Malibu in Ventura County. Although it wasn’t the most spectacular thing about the trip or the resort, my food truck breakfast was The most unplanned and personal, one of those spontaneous rituals that give every beautiful holiday that little something extra.

It was also a perfect emblem of the larger appeal of Ventura, the Pacific-bordering beach community just north of Malibu across the Los Angeles County line. Family-oriented and idyllic, with a local economy still largely rooted in agriculture, it offers a wonderfully invigorating change from the hectic, scene-oriented beach vacations one might have further south in Santa Monica or Manhattan Beach.

From Phoenix, the drive or flight is a little longer than from LA or Orange County, but you’ll gain a lot more for the extra 30 miles.

“Man, that Is “Lots of beach,” I whistle to myself as I look at the endless expanse of Mandalay Beach stretching out in front of my balcony. When they tout Zachari Dunes as a “beach resort,” they’re not exaggerating. You leave the pool deck, walk through a gate, cross a boardwalk, and—boom!—you’re on the sand. This is a common phenomenon in Hawaii and Mexico. Less so in California, where public lands are the focus and beach resorts are usually perched on cliffs, hidden behind parks, or otherwise off the beaten track.

Technically, according to the hotel spokesman, Zachari Dunes is the only All Suites Oceanfront resort in Southern California, which sets it apart from, say, the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. As a lure, it’s not bad. Honestly, that’s what drew me to visit.

And the sea here is undoubtedly spectacular – one of the features that attracted Ventura County’s original inhabitants, the Chumash Indians, to this peninsula. Fertile land that stretches to the sea, spewing out marine life like sunflower seeds. It was no coincidence that the Spanish conquerors of the Chumash called it San Buenaventura (“luck”).

In addition to Mandalay Beach, there are numerous beach options here. A short walk or bike ride south of the resort – which is located in the city of Oxnard, next to Ventura – takes you to Hollywood Beach (visitoxnard.com). Hollywood Beach is surrounded by dunes and ends at the Channel Islands Harbor. It is known for attracting few people. If you go north, you will find McGrath Beach (visitoxnard.com), also mostly deserted, but well suited for a romantic walk or a contemplative stroll.

To find the beaches that are better for people watching, get in a car and drive six miles to Surfers Point (visitventuraca.com) near the Ventura County Fairgrounds, known for its steady swell and spectacular riders. Near Harbor Cove Beach (visitventuraca.com) offers the liveliest beach scene in Ventura, with nearby Ventura Harbor Village and its variety of shops and restaurants.

I’m looking for food recommendations for the Ventura area and get them from a friend who lives nearby. “I like Los Agaves (www.los-agaves.com) in Oxnard,” he says. “Delicious upscale Mexican restaurant. Incredible stuffed poblano chiles.

Fluid State (beer garden) (fluidstatebeer.com) is a great brewery and pizzeria in a historic building,” he continues. “And DV’s Mexican Grill (www.dvsmexicanfood.com) is a good snack place. Great for breakfast. Mango margaritas.”

The pub in Zachari
The pub in Zachari

I read the text and plan to try them all, but right now I am having a lot of fun making a Sunday prime rib with roasted local vegetables disappear quickly at Ox & Ocean (www.oxandocean.com), the flagship New American restaurant at Zachari Dunes. The restaurant is part of an eight-figure renovation that Hilton began several years ago after it acquired the 36-year-old Spanish-style building and added it to the company’s Curio Collection portfolio. The restaurant is led by chef Damien Giliberti, who is well-versed in animal proteins.

Chunky, delicious panko-crusted shrimp croquettes and grilled swordfish with fried turnips and eggplant shine on the “Ocean” half of the dinner menu, while oxtail bao with tart kimchi and fried jidori chicken with creamy polenta made from local grains stand out on the “Ranch” half. The latter dish is covered in smoked strawberry jam, a combination I far prefer to mint jelly and lamb.

Ox and Ocean Cocktail
Ox and Ocean Cocktail
Ricotta Toast by Sugar Beats
Ricotta Toast by Sugar Beats

Given Oxnard’s long history as a center of California agriculture, you’d hope to find some decent meatless dishes on the menu, too, and there are—including a flavorful beet salad with roasted poblano vinaigrette and avocado purée, with a lovely little puffed goat cheese amaranth served on the side. It’s a fitting dish for Giliberti to put on the menu. The beach town’s eponymous founder, sugar magnate Henry Oxnard, grew sugar beets here and wanted to name the community Zachari, after the Greek word for sugar, until vainer forces took over and he named it after himself.

This amusing piece of city history also influenced the name of my breakfast food truck. Sugar Beats (www.zuckerbeatsoxnard.com). In addition to those great breakfast burros with white cheddar and sausage, French toast with Nutella, and other AM-charming treats, the truck offers a lunch menu whose highlights include a Fried Chicken Sando with gochujang aioli and a Haute Street Dog with a blend of tri-colored peppers.

In short, there is no real reason to leave Zachari Dunes. At least not because of the food.

Ox & Ocean interior
Ox & Ocean interior

Not all resorts have a games room – but why not? Minimal investment and every parent accompanying minors will thank you.

After you’ve had your fill of Pop-A-Shot and Parcheesi in the Zachari Game Room, you might be in the mood for an activity outside of the resort. Stop by Henry’s Sundries and Rental Gear to rent a surfboard or telescope, or grab a complimentary bike and pedal up the boardwalk.

To get even more out of pocket, go to Arroyo Verde Park (visitventuraca.com) and spend an hour or two exploring the attractive network of hiking trails, many of which have beautiful elevation changes and offer spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and, on a clear day, the Channel Islands.

For lovers of agrotourism, Ventura is the perfect place. Friends Ranches (friendsranches.com) And Small Ranch (venturacountyfarmday.com/petty) are two local farms that offer tours where visitors can learn all about citrus farming and sample the freshly pressed fruit. Most tours also include a pick-your-own portion.

Does wine tasting count as agrotourism? If so, then I have been unconsciously engaging in agricultural knowledge since 1998. The majority of wineries in Ventura County, including Herzog Wine Cellar (herzogwine.com) are located in Ojai and Santa Paula – a bit far from Oxnard, but when is wine tasting not worth the trip?

Back in Zachari, the shadows are getting longer, the end of summer is approaching and one last swim in the cool Pacific beckons before checking out tomorrow. Adios, Pacific. Adios, breakfast burritos.

Extremely humid & incredibly close

A roundup of other famous beach properties in Southern California.

The Waterfront Beach Resort

This Huntington Beach Hilton hotel offers “direct beach access” (read: you have to walk through a parking lot) and sweeping views of the Orange County city’s legendary surf. Spend an afternoon exploring the boardwalk by bike, then relax by a fire pit on the beach as the sun sets. www.waterfrontresort.com

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Hotel Coronado

Coronado Island’s Victorian-inspired grande dame needs no introduction to Arizona residents. Check out the property’s new Shore House suites just south of the main building – a resort within a resort with private beach access. hoteldel.com

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Shutters on the beach

At the risk of being nitpicky, you have to cross a busy boardwalk and another busy bike path to walk the additional 150 yards to the water, but yes, technically you are on the oceanfront at this luxurious East Coast sanatorium-style hotel in Santa Monica. shuttersonthebeach.com

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