Ventura is California the way you dreamed it; a throwback to the things that matter. Family, fun, world-class outdoor adventure, dreamy sunshine, and slow, beachy ease alongside surprises you’ve never seen.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ventura.

Let’s start with the beachy ease. A happily hidden secret sixty miles north of Los Angeles, and one of the last genuine Southern California beach towns, Ventura elevates beach easy to new easy heights. In our small-town downtown—two blocks from the beach—you can park for free (yes, you read that right) and walk, well, everywhere. We’re only slightly larger than this ad. But small isn’t lacking. Our downtown is packed with a lively array of all kinds of, well, lively fun. Unique, locally-owned stores, art galleries, restaurants of every ilk, craft breweries, live music (in intimate—and usually cover free—venues), thrift stores brimming with antiques and bargains, and a free admission Museum (the Museum of Ventura County). Just up the hill—yep, one walkable block—behind our City Hall, you’ll find the Ventura Botanical Gardens, a lovely display of stunning plants rivaled only by a high-in-the-hills panoramic ocean view. Like history? Walk (a theme here) to the Mission Basilica San Buenaventura. Founded in 1782, the secluded garden is as fine a place as any to sit and breathe history and solace. And maybe rest your feet.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ventura.

But not for too long. With all due humility and honesty, Ventura offers outdoors like no other—quite literally in one case. That would be the Channel Islands. The closest of the five islands of Channel Islands National Park are just a 70-minute boat ride off Ventura’s shore, and they offer precisely the wild silence you’d expect from one of America’s least visited National Parks. They’ve been called the Galapagos of North America, but frankly, that’s selling them short; a wild and wondrous place where housecat-sized foxes (you won’t find the island fox anywhere else in the world) scamper through fields of Seuss-like flowers, and moon and sun shine down on the untamed and the empty. There’s remote camping, hiking (picture seascapes that steal your breath), sea kayaking (paddling into a sea cave is like descending into the throat of some softly breathing beast), snorkeling and world-class scuba diving (Jacques Cousteau called the Channel Islands one of the world’s best dive spots), and bird-watching (some of the birds on the Channel Islands—the Island Scrub Jay, for one—are found nowhere else). At night, from certain island campsites, you can see the pinprick lights of civilization flickering like the campfires of some tremendous army. While you breathe in silence, the stars, and the sea. And, on the trip out, pods of dolphins and, depending on the season, whales along the way.

So many ways to feel the pounding of your heart.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ventura.

Back on Ventura’s shores, there’s world-class surf and kite surfing. A 2,100 acre nature reserve (Harmon Canyon) for hiking, biking, and solace. Biking along coastal trails where dolphins are a common sight. Or inland loops that allow you to see deer and dolphin on the same ride, and mountain bike rides on trails that wind through countryside peopled only by silent oaks. Places where you can hear the things that matter. That would be nothing.

The lot of it bathed in 273 sunny days a year. Daytime temperatures average 70 degrees. Year-round. That is not a typo.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ventura.

Empty beaches where you can hear yourself think, or watch your child catch their first wave. A Taco Trail that is home to real deal Mexican food, at prices that will make you grin. A craft beer scene—over a dozen breweries—featuring an astonishing alchemy of wild creativity and happy suds raised to Pacific Ocean sunsets. A small, walkable harbor where you can pedal a Swan boat, fork up fresh-off-the-boat seafood, shop boutiques, sip wine, and bask in waterside sunshine. Surf, sun, kaleidoscopic culture, friendly folks, and a simple, not-so-simple pleasure. Ventura is everything you could hope for in a beach town and more.

Yep, things are a little slower here. So taste both the salt on your lips and the moments that matter in Ventura, California.