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Ventura County, California - Beaches to Movie Ranches
By:Cary Ordway

The name "Oxnard" doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Catalina, La Jolla or Coronado, but the city named Oxnard does lay claim to some of the state's most wide open, accessible beaches and a whole host of nearby attractions that make it definitely worth considering as base camp for your next beach getaway in the Golden State.

Even though this part of Southern California boasts lots of sun, sand and scenery, the prices for your Oxnard getaway are likely to be a little less than more famous beach communities. And in today's economic climate, that becomes a major consideration for many families who don't want to entirely forego their getaways, but also want to be prudent about costs. Driving about 60 miles northwest of L.A. helps lower those costs.

Don't let the suburban look and feel of Oxnard fool you. Oxnard is a rather bustling suburban city centrally located so that you can easily visit such attractions as the Reagan Library, the Paramount Movie Ranch or nearby cities such as Ventura or Santa Barbara. And about seven miles from our convenient location near the 101 freeway was the beach and nearby Channel Islands Harbor.

When you visit Oxnard, the primary attraction is that beach - a place we've visited on several occasions and never seen more than a few families and surfers scattered over a vast expanse of sand. While the surf can get a little busy because of the beach's angle to the sea, that's just another advantage for folks who prefer some wave action. As you explore the area, you begin to realize there are a lot of upscale homes along the beach areas and scads of public parks and access points.

You'll want to check out Hollywood Beach where Clark Gable once lived and where Rudolph Valentino filmed a movie. In fact, such movies as Spartacus, Only You, It's a Mad, Mad World, Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Back to the Future were all filmed at Hollywood Beach.

McGrath State Beach is where the bird-watchers flock, and you'll especially enjoy the dunes at Mandalay Beach where you'll also find jogging paths, volleyball courts and barbecue areas - kind of a Venice Beach for everyday families.

Down at Fisherman's Wharf we enjoyed browsing the Ventura County Maritime Museum with its extensive collection of antique sailing ship models, maritime paintings and various sea-themed exhibits. There also are waterfront restaurants and shops down in this part of Channel Island Harbor.

After checking out the nearby attractions, we spent a little time basking in the sun poolside at the Courtyard Marriott Oxnard Ventura, a hotel with amenities that appeal to both the leisure traveler and the businessperson. Our king suite, with its two over-sized rooms, gave us plenty of room to stretch out and was especially convenient for us because we were combining business with pleasure - a nine-year-old who couldn't wait to turn on a Disney movie full blast and a father who had business to conduct while on the road. Solution: separate the suite into a business side and a kid side. If you do have a smaller room, the hotel features an elaborate business center where you can work uninterrupted.

This Courtyard is full updated and has pleasant color schemes as well as lots of travelers amenities. The new fitness center, pool, lobby areas and service are all top-notch and befitting Marriott's excellent reputation in the hospitality industry. Also, don't miss the hotel's full breakfast buffet offered each morning - it's an amazing assortment of hot and cold dishes offered for one reasonable price.

This Courtyard is, in fact, a little bigger than most you've seen, and all of the rooms are especially spacious. The Plaza Grill restaurant offers breakfast, while lunch and dinner are served in the lounge, which is also a popular spot for business travelers to gather in the early evening. The hotel's location is especially good if you want to use your stay in Oxnard to visit nearby cities and attractions. It's quick to hop on the freeway north to Ventura and Santa Barbara, or south to the Reagan Library and Paramount Ranch.

Paramount Ranch was on our list of must-see's this trip because we'd always wanted to visit a movie ranch - a place where they filmed westerns back in that genre's heydays. Paramount Studios bought the 2,700-acre ranch back in 1927 and proceeded to use it over the decades to film major movies with many of the top-name stars of the 30's, 40's, and 50's. Among the movies filmed at the ranch were Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Streets of Laredo, The Virginian, and Hopalong Cassidy Returns.

Paramount Ranch was later used for such television shows as The Cisco Kid, Have Gun Will Travel, the Rifleman, Bat Masterson and, more recently, Charlie's Angels, Chips, the Dukes of Hazard, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Diagnosis Murder.

Today the ranch is still used for occasional filming, but has been turned into a recreational park that is ideal for hikes and picnics and just enjoying the wooded hilly scenery in this part of the Santa Monica Mountains. The main attraction at Paramount is the western town that you can walk through -- the scene for many a TV or movie western.

If you plan ahead, you can use Oxnard as your jumping off point for a trip to Channel Islands National Park - either half or full day excursions are offered. These magnificent islands are just off the coast and visitors will find they are completely isolated once the boat leaves them for a camping trip on one of the islands.

If you just want to get out on the water, kayaks, paddle boats and motor boats are available for rent at Channel Islands Harbor. During winter and early spring you can take whale-watching trips out of the harbor and you can go fishing or enjoy seeing dolphins and other sea life any time of the year.

Wine-lovers will enjoy the Ventura County Wine Trail, a progression of several different wineries, all relatively close by and plotted on a map for visitors to follow.

Drive about a half hour east from Oxnard and you'll find the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which we made a point to visit in Simi Valley. The library features a fascinating collection of artifacts, photos and records that help us to learn more about our former president.

The most spectacular exhibit at the library has to Air Force One, the plane used to fly Reagan on his historical trips around the world.

Cary Ordway is a syndicated travel writer and president of Getaway Media Corp, which publishes websites focused on regional getaway travel. Among the sites currently offered by GMC are http://www.californiaweekend.com, which will help you travel California, and http://www.northwesttraveladvisor.com, covering northwest travel deals and other travel destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

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