While Ventura is perhaps better known for its State Beaches, the city does have a couple of interesting trails in the foothills that one can visit. Less than 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, the trails in both Arroyo Verde and Grant Parks lead through native coastal sage scrub and offer views out across Ventura.
Arroyo Verde Park is the largest of Ventura’s parks and includes 3.5 miles of trails that one can explore.
To get to Arroyo Verde Park from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south to State Route 126. Continue on State Route 126 to Victoria Avenue. Take Victoria Avenue north towards Foothill Road. Turn left on to Foothill Road and continue to Day Road, which dead ends into Arroyo Verde Park.
The park is open from dawn to dusk. Parking on the weekends and holidays is $2 per hour or $5 per day; access is free during the week.
The 132-acre park is, in many ways, an idyllic community park. Along the western side of the park road is the 14-acre developed portion of the park, which features open grassy areas, barbecue grills, picnic tables, children play areas, and group sites.
Along the eastern side of the park road is 118 acres of open space that expands up into the canyon. With the network of trails in the park, it is possible to craft a roughly three-mile loop hike that traces the contours of the canyon and provides a tour around most of the park. For more information about the park go to http://www.cityofventura.net/parks. A map of the trails can be found here.
For the loop hike, look for the beginning of the trail along the eastern side of the park, just past the park entrance. The trail leads through predominantly coastal sage scrub. Here, you will find purple sage, coastal sagebrush, coyote brush, lemonade berry, and in a couple places some poison oak. Further along the trail is coast live oak, toyon, elderberry, and even a couple of California black walnut trees.
The trail parallels the park road for a quarter-mile to the first trail juncture. Here, the trail to the right leads somewhat steeply up to a vista point overlooking the park, while the trail to left parallels the road further, before turning east into the canyon. The two trails meet a quarter-mile later and briefly follow an access road before continuing deeper into the canyon.
Continuing around the canyon the trail passes a couple more connector trails that lead back down to the developed area, before reaching what’s affectionally described as the “wall”. Here, the trail branches again, with the trail to the right climbing steeply before leveling out, while the trail to left bypasses the climb. Both trails return to the developed area and arrive at a redwood grove, completing the open space portion of the hike.
At different points along the hike the views extend out across the park and Ventura towards the ocean.
To complete the last mile of the circuit, from the redwood grove continue back through the developed park area towards Vista Bluff Group Site, where you can find the beginning of the trail along the western side of the park. The tree-lined trail leads back to the park entrance.
The park was created in 1959, when the city of Ventura acquired the land from various landowners. A master plan for the park was developed and, in 1961, the site officially became Arroyo Verde Park.
The park is also home to Twilight’s Last Gleaming Cross Country Challenge. The four-mile run along the park’s trails was created in 1986, by Andrew Hecker, and typically coincides with the last Saturday before Daylight Saving.
Ventura’s second largest park is Grant Park. The park is located behind City Hall and offers some of the best views of Ventura. The park features a new mile-long trail that leads up into the foothills. From the trail, a short side trip can be made to historic Serra Cross.
To get to Grant Park from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south to the Ventura Avenue exit. Turn right onto Thompson Boulevard and follow it to California Street. Take California Street north towards City Hall, which dead ends into Poli Street. Turn right onto Poli Street, and then make an immediate left into the parking area for City Hall. Continue to the upper parking lot, where one can find parking near the trailhead. The park is open from dawn to dusk.
Grant Park was created in 1918, when Kenneth and Tonie Grant donated 109 acres to the city of Ventura. Grant had originally envisioned building an observatory on the hillside property.
Over the years, the park remained undeveloped, and with no trails, also under-used. In 2005, community members began envisioning a botanical garden at the park that would include plants from the five different Mediterranean biomes around the world. The park would feature native plants from Chile, the Cape of South Africa, Australia, the Mediterranean, and of course, California.
In 2012, Demonstration Trail was built and opened to the public. The mile-long trail will connect to the various features of the garden as they are added. In 2014, the first Chilean plants were installed along the trail, and it will be exciting to watch the envisioned garden grow and develop over the coming years.
From the parking area, Demonstration Trail continues up the small canyon behind City Hall and follows a series of switchbacks to an overlook, which offers some great views out across the city. This first quarter-mile section of trail is also ADA accessible.
From the overlook, the trail continues along the ridge of the canyon arriving at Brakey Road. The trail crosses the road and continues east along the hillside to another overlook that features an even more expansive view of the city.
In the future, a second trail from the parking area may be added along the eastern side of the canyon that would also connect to Brakey Road.
Other features the garden hopes to add may include an educational center, heritage center, gift shop, cafe, and amphitheater. For more information about Ventura Botanical Gardens, or to make a donation or volunteer, go to http://www.venturabotanicalgardens.com.
From Demonstration Trail, one can make a short, quarter-mile walk over to Serra Cross Park for additional views. Starting from where Demonstration Trail crosses Brakey Road, continue west on Brakey Road to where it meets Ferro Drive and the road into Serra Cross Park. The park can also be reached directly from Ferro Drive.
The park is named for Father Junipero Serra, who founded the first nine of California’s 21 missions. In 1782, Serra founded Mission San Buenaventura. Shortly after the mission was built, a cross was placed on the hillside as a landmark for travelers. Over the years the cross has been replaced a number of times. The current cross was installed in 1941, and stands on a circular stone pedestal overlooking the city.
In 2003, the city of Ventura sold the cross and surrounding one acre of land to Serra Cross Conservancy, which now maintains the one-acre park with donations from the community. The sale was in response to a potential lawsuit centered on the separation of church and state, and the city’s ownership and maintenance of the cross site.
A popular wedding location, the park also offers some of the best views of the city. To the southeast, one can see out across the Santa Clara River and Oxnard Plain; to the south out towards Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands; and to the west out across the Ventura River.
Regardless of how far you hike, you’ll have a chance to see some of the local scenery of Santa Barbara’s neighbor city to the south.
This article originally appeared in section A the November 16th, 2015 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.