When I make my way home to Ventura, California, it is an absolute necessity that I stroll down Main Street when I’m not on the beach. I was born and raised in Ventura, California, moving to Austin, Texas in my early 20s. And though Austin is where I’ve spent the majority of my adult life, Ventura has never loosened her hold on me. Of course, one rarely appreciates their hometown until they return later as adults. It’s then that we gain an appreciation for the small things, the little nuances and quirky characteristics of the place where we grew up.
My family still lives in Ventura and I make sure to get back home several times a year. Walking through a world that is rich with nostalgia, I never fail to run into a childhood friend as I pass by the buildings and landscapes I used to know so well. Seeing the world from street level, it’s a timeless picture, evoking countless memories. And I remember what happened here or there, or that perfect meal on that ideal night. And I appreciate what was. But, the age-old adage is true — you can honestly “never go home again,” and growing up means learning an appreciation for what “home” has become, in addition to remembering what it was.
On my last trip, as I walked those streets with my cousin, Amanda, a new smell made its way through the nostalgia, awakening our appetites. We followed the delicious scent of Thai spices and our newly hungry stomachs into a new haunt – the charming Rice By Mama. This was my first time at Rice by Mama and we were stunned by their extensive menu. This wasn’t the Ventura I knew, and yet it didn’t suffer a single bit for the change. Amanda and I had a hard time deciding what to order. But, far from the mass-produced, indistinguishable Thai-inspired fare – the kind that comes in styrofoam to-go containers – Rice by Mama is the evolution of the cuisine to fine dining. Plates were as beautiful as they were delicious. Everything we ordered was excellent and it easily made its way to the list of stops I must make when I go back home.
Ventura is named for St. Bonaventure, the Italian Saint of good fortune (San Buenaventura); and while innovative restaurants like Rice by Mama have been a happy change, some of the old Italian spirit remains. Café Fiore, a mere few blocks from the San Buenaventura Mission, is dedicated to the traditional Italian fare that is the namesake of the town.
Inspired by the café’s dedication to authentic Italian, it was a must that I try their take on the classic Insalata Di Cesare, a Caesar Salad in the most definitive sense. Adorned with the simplest Italian crouton and an ample shaving of Parmesan, the dressing was light and ideally proportioned, allowing the bold flavors to compliment rather than drown the Romaine lettuce. The Calamari e Zucchine Fritti was a perfect follow up to my salad, and the tempura batter was an inspired touch to make the simple calamari, along with its accompanying zucchini, a perfect dinner. Italy’s legacy is alive and well in Ventura, thanks to Café Fiore; and it’s yet another change to my Ventura home that wasn’t expected but isn’t unwelcome.
New cuisine isn’t the only new twist to old memories that I added on this trip. Surfing has been in the blood of this coastal city since it was founded and is a signature part of my memories. The sand is in your blood when you’re from Ventura, and the waves are the metronome for your heartbeat. So, it’s no surprise that the coast didn’t much change, and the boards were still dotting the horizon. But, as my sister Rachel and I decided to take on this new adventure that was the new Ventura, we decided that the surf didn’t move fast enough. Instead, thanks to Southern California Jet Skis, we took high powered wave runners, which are conveniently available along the coast straight into the ocean, took off at top speed…and lived to tell the tale. The vehicle cut through the waves with reckless abandon and made every swell a roller coaster and every flat surface a drag strip. The day itself is the only thing that caught up with us, and we had to turn our rentals in far too soon.
The same can be said of the entire trip – that it all ended too soon. Still, while I took joy from the things that reminded me of my childhood here, letting the waves sing me to sleep each night and allowing the calm, easy life of the beach to wash nostalgia over me, the new Ventura is just as enchanting and has me longing for home in a whole new way. While it might be true that “you can never go home again,” the little changes to the places we’ve left behind can make it sparkle with adventures, both new and old.
If you’re looking to escape the Texas heat this summer, Ventura is the place to be. And if you don’t have family to stay with, try out the Ventura Beach Marriott. It’s just a short walk to the beach and beautiful views to take in those perfect summer sunsets.