06/26/2013 12:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Exploring Oxnard, California

2013-06-24-ChannelIslands_Oxnard.jpgCaught up in the hustle and bustle of life, many of us drive past the same towns year after year, never taking the time to stop and explore our surroundings. Over the past 30 years, I have driven past Oxnard, California many times on my trips between San Luis Obispo and Southern California yet my car had never left the confines of the 101 Freeway. Recently, I packed my daughters into the car and we set out with a mission to explore all of the family-friendly gems that I could find in this little seaside city which is nestled just 60 minutes up the coast from Los Angeles.

Much to my delight, we discovered a beach resort that is situated on eight acres of ocean front property. The Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach was the perfect fit for our family-friendly getaway. The property boasts an enormous swimming pool and two very large hot tubs, which my daughters found absolutely thrilling!. My favorite part was that the resort literally sits on the beach. We were able to wake up in the mornings and have our toes in the sand by simply stepping out onto the backside of the property. The miles of coastline and dunes provided hours of entertainment for our family. I instantly felt worlds away from the demands of the real world.

I was informed by the hotel concierge that a trip to Oxnard is not complete without exploring the Channel Islands. On our first day in Oxnard, we boarded an "Island Wildlife Cruise" with Island Packers behind the helm for a fun-filled afternoon of whale watching. This was definitely the highlight of our adventure as we watched magnificent humpback whales travel alongside our boat. At times, they were so close that we could actually see the sea barnacles which had attached themselves to their backs! Once the awe of the whales began to subside a bit, I caught my first view of the breathtaking Channel Islands. The islands can only be described as wonders of nature that are mysteriously tucked into the Pacific Ocean. According to our tour guide, these islands score as one of the top ten places in the world to scuba dive. Knowing the wonderment that I felt while gazing at the islands from above the water's surface, I can only dare to imagine the experience that one has while exploring the deep blue waters surrounding them.

After our world-class island adventure, we decided to explore the Channel Island harbor area, which proved to be another fun-filled family exploit. We embraced our wild side by eating dessert before dinner after smelling the fresh cupcakes baking at Missy's Cupcake Creations. My personal favorite was the Dulce de Latte, which was an incredibly moist coffee cupcake that was filled with a dulce de leche and topped off with a dulce de leche butter cream frosting. While I don't want to admit that I had two cupcakes, the finger-licking-good snickerdoodle may have come in at a close second! Shortly afterwards, we sat overlooking the harbor while eating phenomenal pizza at Toppers Pizza, an award-winning restaurant which seems to be the buzz amongst the locals. In addition to the pizza, we thoroughly enjoyed the views of the sunset over the harbor from our second story window seat.

On our last day in Oxnard, we ventured to the Downtown area and into the historic Heritage Square. The Heritage Square came into fruition in 1985 in an effort to preserve the historical and architectural individuality of turn-of-the-century Oxnard. Inside the square, we discovered eleven gorgeous homes, a church, a water tower, pump house and a storehouse which had been moved to the square and restored to their original conditions. My daughters were thrilled to read the plaques in front of each building and learn about the family that had once resided in the home. I was thrilled to watch a real-life history lesson being absorbed with such eagerness and enthusiasm during our summer vacation. While we opted for a self-guided tour, docents are available during the weekends.

Some additional "hidden gems" that we discovered in Oxnard:

  • Coastal Grill in the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach was family friendly and has amazing fish tacos. You can order from the restaurant while lying poolside or enjoy a sit down dinner with your entire group.
  • Fisherman's Catch totes their famous phrase, "We catch it, sell it and serve it" which has been passed down for three generations of commercial fishermen. While a bit on the pricey side, the freshness of the seafood was apparent with every bite. They do offer a "Nemo's Menu" which is a hit with the pint-size travelers. I highly recommend the spicy sushi salad!
  • La Dolce Vita is Tuscan with a twist and is located inside the historic Heritage Square. The Mediterranean menu paired with the turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture makes for a fun play on the term, "old world" dining.
  • Fresh & Fabulous Café and Bakery is located in the historic Woolworth Building and offers delicious breakfast items, a wide variety of fresh salads and to-die-for pastries!
  • Island Packers offers multiple tours to the Channel Islands and depending on your preference, you can choose a tour that allows you to explore the islands on a day trip or you can stay on the boat and explore the sea life that surrounds you. If you are truly an adventurous one, Island Packers can provide transportation for your camping trip to the islands!
  • Carnegie Art Museum was originally financed by Andrew Carnegie more than 100 years ago and is a must-see Oxnard landmark. Attendees will discover an ever changing menu of major exhibits on California contemporary and regional art.
  • Maritime Museum lets you sail into history and discover a vast collection of antique model ships along with nautical exhibits and world-class marine art.
  • FootGolf is the latest craze and River Ridge Golf Course is the first FootGolf course in California! For those who like the concept of golf but don't have the patience to play, FootGolf allows you to kick a soccer sized ball into a hole while experiencing golf-like obstacles such as sand traps, bunkers and rolling terrain. Extremely fun for the entire family!

My recent adventure to Oxnard further fuels my desire to find hidden gems in and around California. It also further proves that we should all slow down and take a peek at the places that we drive past every day. I never imaged that we could have so much fun in the very town that we formerly thought of as a place to stop for refueling on the drive to Southern California. In Oxnard, we were able to refuel our spirits and create memories that we will cherish for a lifetime.