Increasingly a haven for painters, sculptors, musicians and more, Ventura's cultural renaissance is something to experience. And with the city's proximity to Los Angeles, it is not uncommon to find big-name talent performing in one of Ventura's newly renovated and intimate stage settings, such as the Laurel Theatre. View a complete list of Art Galleries & Studios Guide.
Begin the perfect day with a coffee and pastry at one of downtown Ventura's charming cafes before embarking on a self-led walking tour of the area's galleries and art installations.
Start things off at San Buenaventura City Hall. Both historic and grand, this striking example of neoclassical architecture overlooks city and sea from its picturesque perch. Be sure to see the City Hall Municipal Art Collection on the second floor. This collection is a showcase of Ventura County's most masterful artists.
Stroll down to California Plaza at California Street and Harbor Blvd. Here you'll encounter the leaping water and underfoot bronzes of "The Five Senses," a 1995 sculpture by Mark Lere that was commissioned by the City's Public Art Program.
Next, head over to the parking structure on Santa Clara Street. Here, you can't help but run right into "Traveller," a 30-foot steel sculpture celebrating the Native American Chumash culture. Depicting a tomol canoe, this 1998 piece by Blue McRight & Warren Wagner was commissioned by Ventura's Public Art Program.
Buenaventura Gallery, at 700 East Santa Clara Street, is Ventura's oldest gallery and features high quality, original, contemporary and traditional artwork from more than 150 of the county's leading artists.
Reminiscent of another era, WPA murals by Gordon Grant are to be found inside the post office just across the way from the Buenaventura Gallery.
Now that you're refreshed and refueled, check out the other galleries on East Main Street including Sylvia White Gallery, Red Brick Gallery, Fox Fine Jewelry & Gallery, Arts on Main and Studio 6.
The nearby E.P. Foster library has more to offer than books. Adorning the building's restored entrance is "Matrix"-a 1999 light installation of digital images created by Sally Weber and commissioned by Ventura's Public Art Program.
Now's your chance to soak up sunset views and peaceful marina scenery before dining at one of the many restaurants in Ventura Harbor Village. Prior to sunset, stroll through the village shopping area so that you can absorb the vibrant colors and intricate detail of the Ventura Harbor Mural Project. The 29 separate murals were created by hand using more than 50,000 pounds of raw stoneware clay. The artist, Ventura's own Michellino, designed the murals to depict local history and the marine environment. Continue your stroll to visit the Davey Miller Gallery and enjoy his abstract paintings of waves and skylines. The Harbor Village Gallery & Artisan Store -a Buenaventura Art Association art space located in the Ventura Harbor- show rotating exhibits of local artists and an artisan store of smaller original works.
You're in for an enormous treat as you head to the intimate 200-seat Rubicon Theatre for one of the Rubicon Theatre Company's professional and award-winning stage performances. Other seasonal events that are "must sees" if your timing is right include: New West Symphony; the Ventura Music Festival (two weeks in May); Music Under the Stars (outdoor concerts Fourth of July through Labor Day); Ventura Master Chorale (10-concert season); and Artwalk, taking place downtown annually.
There's nothing like the fresh, cool salt air to get you going. Bagels, pastries, coffee on the go as well "eat-in" cafes are all part of the beach culture experience along the Seaward Avenue Beach District. Many of these funky, affordable and delicious cafes are extremely popular with visitors and locals alike!
If you happen to be in Ventura on the first Sunday of the month, take the time to tour another beautiful structure, Ventura's historic Dudley House. Admission is free, and the grand Victorian occasionally hosts teas, mystery plays and other events.
Sometimes it's tough to separate art and history. Picturesquely set along Main Street, Mission San Buenaventura is noted as Father Serra's last masterpiece with its elegant courtyard, statues of saints and 250-year-old paintings. The mission museum, church sanctuary and peaceful grounds are inviting places through which to wander.
On your way to lunch at one of downtown's pleasant cafes, check out Ventura's eclectic mix of architecture including Victorian, mission-style, Craftsman, Neoclassical, Cape Cod, Mediterranean and more.
Distinctive rotating and permanent collections at the Museum of Ventura County are definitely worth exploring. The museum is most famous for its "Gallery of Historic Figures" by George Stuart.
On the corner of Thompson Blvd. and Ventura Avenue visit Working Artists Ventura (WAV), an exciting new artist live/work project in downtown Ventura. The innovative project, combining 50 permanently affordable rental units for artists strives to bring together people from different socio-economic backgrounds in a creative and collaborative environment. Artists in residence open their studios for viewing and sales throughout the year.
Arranging a tour of the nearby Stoneworks Studio is ideal for seeing sculpture work by local artists and learning about the process. Bell Arts Factory -an old mattress factory- on Ventura's Westside has transformed into a 20,000 square foot community art center housing 40 artist studios; gallery, performance/meeting space and Tea Cafe. Vita Art Center at Bell Arts Factory is home to rotating exhibits and diverse art experiences for individuals and the community through classes, exhibitions, special events and community outreach programs.
And highlighting the rich history of Ventura Avenue is "Avenue Library Murals at Casa de Anza," created in 2000 by Sally Weber. Included here is Catherine Day's "Portrait of a Neighborhood.
Over on clandestine Peking Street, Pacific Stoneworks offers an amazing ensemble of craftsmen working in marble, granite and natural stone.
The higher education galleries are also worth investigating. Gallery 2 and New Media Gallery exhibit the faculty and student artwork of Ventura College as well as work from prestigious artists from throughout the country. And in downtown Camarillo, you'll find Studio Channel Islands Art Center.
Courtyard cafes, historic venues and grills with gusto serve up a great experience for both casual and fine dining in Ventura's downtown district. As far as entertainment, check to see what's playing tonight. The choices are often many! The Livery Theatre presents a lively mix of drama and improvisational comedy; the Rubicon Theatre offers stage plays; Ventura College Theater is a showcase for local thespians; Music Under the Stars (10 weeks of outdoor concerts Saturday nights, July, August and September); and Opera Unplugged unveils amazing talent and creative interpretations.