Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Ventura, CA

  • Published 2023/02/06

Ventura is the county seat of Ventura County and is a gorgeous coastal town northwest of Los Angeles.

Also known as Ventura, the city is a popular tourist destination famous for its beaches, seaside piers, resorts, and historical landmarks.

It also has a rich history and was inhabited by Chumash Native Americans, Spanish missionaries, and Mexicans.

Best of all, you can explore Ventura without breaking the bank!

If you’re looking for a budget weekend getaway, here are the 15 free things to do in Ventura, California:

Walk around Downtown Ventura

City hall at Downtown Ventura

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Downtown Ventura, filled with old and new landmarks, is the best place to start your exploration of the city.

Dotted with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and other places of interest, downtown Ventura is a great way to get an overview of the place.

Aside from food and shopping options, Downtown Ventura features historic buildings, theaters, farmer’s markets, and quaint parks.

Mission Basilica San Buenaventura at Downtown Ventura

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On your first day in Ventura, dedicate an hour or two to exploring downtown and admire the view of tree-lined streets, Spanish architecture, and the Southern California mountains.

Some of the must-see places downtown include Mission Basilica San Buenaventura, Museum of Ventura County, Century 10 Downtown, Plaza Park, and the Historic Ventura County Courthouse.

Street scene at Downtown Ventura

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Conquer the Lake Casitas Loop

If you’re looking for new terrain to conquer with your bike, take the Lake Casitas Loop.

The bike trail is around 40 miles, with challenging climbs and steep descents and breathtaking views.

The Lake Casitas Loop begins in Ventura and heads towards Ventura Avenue, passing through Ventura Canyon before going around Lake Casitas via Casitas Pass.

The ascent over Casitas Pass may be difficult, but the rewarding views of the ocean as you descend are worth it.

The trail passes along the Rincon Trail, and you’ll get to catch seaside views before returning to Ventura.

Tour the Museum of Ventura County

Located in Downtown Ventura, the Museum of Ventura County is the best place to get a deeper insight into the area’s rich history and culture.

The museum celebrates, preserves, and spreads awareness about the art, history, and culture of Ventura County through its exhibitions, collections, programs, and events.

It started out as a collection of Dr. Cephas Bard, a Pennsylvania doctor who came to Ventura after the Civil War, until it expanded and became an important landmark in the county.

Today, the Museum of Ventura County houses more than 30,000 objects, 1,000 works of art, 200 historical figures, and over 150,000 research materials.

Explore the museum and don’t miss collection highlights like an old Chumash basket, a 19th-century marine clock, and historical figures made by the famous sculptor George Stuart.

Watch the Sunset from Ventura Pier

Aerial view of Ventura Pier

Matt Gush / Shutterstock.com

Ventura Pier on Poli Street is a centuries-old testament to the city’s history and development, having been built in 1872, and serving as a transportation hub and commercial wharf.

It is also designated as Ventura Historic Landmark No. 20 and takes pride in being the oldest pier in California.

Today, it is a popular tourist attraction for walking, jogging, bicycling, and catching postcard-perfect views of Ventura’s Coastline and the Channel Islands.

Walkway of Ventura Pier

Nigel French / Shutterstock.com

The pier is also popular among fishermen, and you can catch species like jacksmelt, mackerel, sand sharks, halibut, and crabs.

Walk along Ventura Pier during the sunset and marvel as the sky meets the sea and breaks out in warm, golden hues.

Don’t forget to bring your cameras and immortalize the breathtaking scenery before you.

Structure of Ventura Pier

kesterhu / Shutterstock.com

Take the Ojai Valley Trail

Embark on a cross-city adventure to Ojai via the Ojai Valley Trail, a nine-mile paved trail ideal for biking, walking, jogging, and even walking your dog.

The trailhead is located in Foster Park in Ventura, and the trail itself is parallel to Highway 33 to Ojai.

A wooden fence separates the paved path from a dirt path for equestrians.

Furthermore, the wooded areas along the trail and sweeping mountain views make Ojai Valley Trail a memorable experience in Ventura County.

Since the trail is paved, it is also ideal for amateur bikers, those on wheelchairs, and tourists with limited mobility.

If you want a longer adventure, you can start at the Ventura River Bike Path at Rex Street in Ventura and follow the trail to Foster Park.

Explore San Buenaventura City Hall

Front view of San Buenaventura City Hall

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With views of the Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands, the San Buenaventura City Hall on Poli Street is an imposing yet majestic structure overlooking downtown.

Formerly the Ventura County Courthouse, the building was designed with a Neoclassical and Beaux Arts style by the renowned architect Albert C. Martin Sr.

The city hall features white glazed terra cotta panels, Doric columns, Roman-arched windows, whimsical faces of Franciscan friars, and a majestic Italian foyer.

Rainbow over San Buenaventura City Hall

Angel McNall Photography / Shutterstock.com

Because of its historical and architectural value, San Buenaventura City Hall is the first building in the city to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Explore the grand exteriors and interiors of the city hall, see the works of art, and learn about the history of the city.

Catch Oceanside Views from Rincon Bike Trail

The Rincon Bike Trail is one of the easiest bike trails in Ventura, and it offers plenty of opportunities for dolphin sightings.

Since the trail surface is mostly flat, beginner bikers can take this trail and enjoy the waterside views.

Start your Rincon Bike Trail excursion near Ventura Bike Depot and follow the pathway for a good 13 miles.

On a good day, you may get a chance to see dolphins!

If you’re not in a hurry to finish the trail, you can stop along the shore for a quick dip in the sea.

Go on a Self-Guided Historical Walking Tour of San Buenaventura

History buffs can go on a historic walking tour around Ventura and see which locations shaped the history of the city and Ventura County.

Visit the Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau for a complimentary brochure and set off on a walk-through memory lane.

Most of the locations in the self-guided historical walking tour of Ventura are within walking distance from one another, so you can easily cover many sites in one area.

Start at the Museum of Ventura County and Mission Park before heading to the San Buenaventura Mission.

Other sites included in the walking tour are The Clock Tower Inn, Hotel Ventura, The Ventura Theater, and the Bank of Italy.

Hike at Harmon Canyon Preserve

Wildflower at Harmon Canyon Preserve

Alia Ollikainen / Shutterstock.com

Harmon Canyon Preserve on Foothill Road is Ventura’s first large-scale nature preserve, established in 2020 through the efforts of the Ventura Land Trust.

The nature preserve has more than 2,100 acres and boasts rolling hills, majestic canyons, oak groves, and stream crossings.

In addition, it features sweeping views of the coast, Channel Islands National Park, and the Southern California mountain ranges.

If you’re looking for a good hiking trail or a nature escape near the city, head to the trails of Harmon Canyon Preserve.

The multi-use trails at the nature preserve take you through towering oak trees, stunning vistas, and a breathtaking landscape that’s worth the hike.

Dogs are allowed in the area, but they have to be leashed, and owners have to be aware of the presence of other wild animals in the preserve.

Soak up the Sun at Harbor Cove Beach

Among the many beaches in Ventura, Harbor Cove Beach on Spinnaker Drive is famous among locals and tourists for its gentle waves.

Due to the surrounding breakwater and jetties, the beach is relatively safe and is perfect for families with young children or elderly members.

Spend the day at the beach and enjoy waterfront activities like kite flying, swimming, and walking along the shore.

Pitch your beach umbrellas, perfect your sun tan, or watch as the boats go to and from the harbor.

Harbor Cove Beach is conveniently located near Ventura Pier and is surrounded by plenty of shopping and dining options after your swim.

Not far from the beach are The Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center and Channel Islands National Park.

Spend the Day at Arroyo Verde Park

Landscape of Arroyo Verde Park

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Arroyo Verde Park is a 132-acre city park at the northern end of Ventura that has everything you need for an outdoor excursion.

The park offers multiple hiking and walking trails, picnic areas, BBQ sites, outdoor meeting areas, children’s playgrounds, and a vast open area for sports or relaxation.

It is also one of the few parks to offer an inclusive play area, so children of all physical capabilities can enjoy the swings, balance beams, sensory garden, and a motion-inclusive carousel.

Trail at Arroyo Verde Park

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Head to Arroyo Verde Park and follow the multipurpose trails, have a picnic, and let the kids have fun at the playgrounds.

If you prefer a relaxing way to spend the day at the park, you can read a book or simply lie down in the grass and bask under the warm sun.

A butterfly at Arroyo Verde Park

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Bring Your Dog to Camino Real Park

Camino Real Park on Dean Drive and Varsity Street may be a smaller city park at 38 acres, but it packs plenty of facilities for a worthwhile day outdoors.

The park has playing courts, baseball fields, a snack bar, concession areas, picnic tables, children’s play areas, barbecue grills, and restrooms.

However, what makes Camino Real Park a favorite in Ventura is its dog park, where your furry friends can run off-leash and socialize.

The dog park is fully fenced and has double gates for small and large dogs to enter and exit the park safely.

Other dog park facilities include drinking fountains for dogs and humans, benches, garbage cans, and poop bags.

If you’re bringing your dog to the park, ensure they are vaccinated for rabies, and owners should take full responsibility for their pets.

Relax at Pierpont Beach

Another beach that has free parking and admission is Pierpont Beach, located along South Seaward Avenue.

This long stretch of shore is lined with seafood restaurants, cafes, and pubs, making it a popular destination in summer.

That said, expect that it can get crowded during the high season.

Regardless, Pierpont Beach is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, body surfing, beach combing, and taking long walks along the shore.

You can also bring your dogs to the beach as long as they are kept on a leash.

Other Things to Do Nearby

See the Heritage Sites in Downtown Oxnard

Water fountain at Downtown Oxnard

Clotee Pridgen Alloc…, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From Ventura, take a 20-minute drive to Downtown Oxnard and discover the rich heritage sites of this city.

Although it might take another weekend to explore the whole of Oxnard, you can scale what the city has to offer by checking out the establishments and places downtown.

Start at Heritage Square and find early-1900s homes around the place, then head to Plaza Park, where you’ll see the famous Oxnard Pagoda, which has been around since 1910.

Post office at Downtown Oxnard

Fettlemap, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At Downtown Oxnard, check out the Greco-Roman style building housing the Carnegie Art Museum, the Henry T. Oxnard Historic District, and the Santa Clara Roman Catholic Church.

If you’re visiting during the holidays, don’t miss the much-anticipated Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and see the colorful light displays around the area.

Show Off Your Skills at Bedford Pinkard Skate Park

Brush up on your skating abilities or show them off at Bedford Pinkard Skate Park in Oxnard, located 20 minutes from Ventura.

The park is open for skateboarding and in-line skating and has decent lines and ample space for you to practice.

Bedford Pinkard Skate Park is open seven days a week, and entrance is free, but all skaters must wear helmets for safety.

In addition, skaters 17 years old and below must present a waiver signed by a parent or guardian.

Located within the larger College Park, explore its other facilities like its ballparks, walking trails, and picnic areas.

Final Thoughts

Ventura offers a gorgeous coastal location, friendly locals, and an interesting history.

Whether you’re a beach bum, an avid biker, a history buff, or a curious tourist looking for the next city to tick off your bucket list, this city in Ventura County has plenty of activities to offer.

So if you’re on the hunt for a weekend getaway, consider this list of free things to do in Ventura, California!

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