This California Fool’s Gold is an introduction designed to provoke interest in the communities of Ventura County. And, armed with a little information, please vote for as many communities of Ventura County as you’d like to see featured in forthcoming episodes of this series by clicking here.
Ventura County is located on the Central Coast, a roughly 600 kilometer long coast region bookended by Point Mugu in the South and Monterey Bay in the north. Three counties in Southern California are located within the region: San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.
Ventura County is largely characterized by small coastal communities but the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area is moderately urban. As of 2010 the county’s entire population was only 823,318. Ventura County is generally divided into two regions, East County and West County. The largest body of water is the human-made Lake Casitas and the tallest peak is the 2,697 meter tall Mount Pinos, historically known to the Chumash as “Iwihinmu” and regarded by them as the center of the universe.
The bulk of the county is covered by the mountain ranges including the Santa Monica Mountains, and in the southeast, the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains. In the southwest is the coastal Oxnard Plain and several valleys, including chiefly the Santa Clara River Valley. In the northeast are the Cuyama Badlands. Offshore are two sizable islands. 53% of the Ventura County’s total area is comprised of national forest lands. Natural areas in Ventura County include the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge as well as parts of Angeles National Forest, Channel Islands National Park, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the Dick Smith Wilderness. State beaches include Emma Wood, San Buenaventura, McGrath, and Mandalay State Beach.
Before humans the land was dominated by thousands of species of flora and fauna, the latter including bobcats, coyote, deer, fox, grizzly bears, mountain lions, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, seals, sea lions, skunks, snakes, and more than 300 bird species. In 1924, the last known California grizzly was spotted in neighboring Santa Barbara County and afterward declared to be locally extinct. Even though the state flag and seal of California both depict a California Grizzly, in 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a petition to reintroduce the pre-human apex predator.
For at least 13,000 years, humans have lived in the region, with the oldest dated human remains yet discovered having been found on the Channel Islands. Two of the Channel Islands, Anacapa and San Nicolas, were for thousands of years part of the homeland of the indigenous Chumash people. The Tataviam and Tongva arrived around 3,500 years ago, from the east, and settled in the inland areas (and in the case of the Tongva, on San Nicholas Island as well). Burro Flats Painted Cave, located between the the historic Chumash village of Hu’wam and the Tongva settlement of Jucjauynga, contains remarkable pictographs, the purpose of which was forgotten after the Spanish Conquest.
The first Spanish arrived in 1542, when Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and his party dropped anchor near Point Mugu. The Spanish didn’t actively begin their occupation of the area until 1769, after Gaspar de Portolá i Rovira led a expedition from San Diego to Monterey. Also present in de Portolà ’s military was Franciscan Father Junípero Serra, the recently canonized Catholic priest founded the Mission San Buenaventura in 1782. Shortly after the conquest, land concessions began being granted by the Spanish Empire to retired soldiers including, in what’s now Ventura County, Rancho San José de Nuestra Senora de Altagarcia y Simi in 1795 and Rancho El Conejo in 1802.
Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1810, an act followed by eleven years of revolution. The missions were secularized by the Mexican government in 1834 and their land holdings granted to Mexican ranchers and Mexican land grants in Ventura County numbered nineteen before the region was conquered by the United States.
The United States made California its 31st state in 1850. At the time, the new state was divided into only 27 counties and what’s now Ventura was part of Santa Barbara. Ventura County was born on 1 January 1873. The discovery of oil, the development of wharfs and agricultural interests, and the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad helped the new county grow, albeit slowly. More substantial growth occurred in the 1960s and ‘70s, when large numbers of Angelenos crossed the county line and largely settled in East County. 71% of residents identify as being white, 7% as Asian, 2% as black, 1% as Native American, 4% as mixed race, and 15% as another race. 40% of residents are Latino, of any race, and 39% (a plurality) are registered Democrats.
Ventura County is served by the trains of Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink’s Ventura County lines as well as the buses of Greyhound, Gold Coast Transit, Heritage Valley Transit Service, Valley Express, and Ventura Intercity Service Transit Authority (VISTA). The cities of Camarillo, Moorpark, Simi Valley, and Thousand Oaks all have their own local bus systems. The only commercial airport in the county is Oxnard Airport. Camarillo Airport is a general aviation airport whilst Santa Paula Airport is private.
Anacapa Island is actually three volcanic islets: East, Middle and West Anacapa. It’s the only one of the Channel Islands whose modern name isn’t derived from Spanish. Its name comes from the Chumash, “‘Anyapakh,” meaning “mirage island.” Due to its lack of consistent supplies of fresh water, the Chumash established no permanent villages there although shell middens indicated the historic presence of summer camps. Today it’s home to a ranger station which is home to three permanent residents, the Mission Revival-style Anacapa Lighthouse (1932), and the the SS Winfield Scott, which sank near the coast in 1853, a twelve meter high natural bridge known as Arch Rock, an endemic subspecies of deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), and the country’s largest breeding colony of the California Brown Pelican.
Bardsdale is an unincorporated, rural community located in the Santa Clara River Valley, on the north slope of South Mountain. Bardsdale was established by real estate developer Royce G. Surdam in 1887, four years before he died of an opium overdose. It was named after the lands former owner, Thomas R. Bard. It’s characterized by the presence of lemon, organge, and avocado groves and is home to the historic, carpenter Gothic-style Bardsdale United Methodist Church (1898, formerly the Bardsdale Methodist Episcopal Church).
Bell Canyon is an unincorporated equestrian community located in the Simi Hills which as of 2010 had a population of 2,049. Nearby is Burro Flats Painted Cave, which exists in a protected space which formerly marked a space shared by the Chumash, Tongva, and Tataviam. Bell Creek (also known as Escorpión Creek) is a significant tributary to the headwaters of the Los Angeles River.
Brandeis’s roots are in the Brandeis Camp Institute, founded by Dr. Shlomo Bardin in 1941 and named to honor the US’s first Jewish United States Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis. “Brandeis, California” was granted as a place name in 1958, and a zip code was assigned in 1961. In 2007, the school merged with the University of Judaism to become the American Jewish University, now know as the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University.
Buckhorn is a Census-Designated Place (CDP) in the Santa Clara Valley which arose from a stagecoach stop located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The stop was operated by the Warring family, who also operated the nearby Buckhorn Ranch. After the opening of the Santa Susana Tunnel in 1904, Buckhorn was no longer situated along the shortest route between it’s larger neighbors and the rails were subsequently washed away. Today it’s home to Bennett’s Honey Farm, Cactus Mart, and the Green Oasis.
Camarillo is a city which as of 2010 had a population of 65,201. The community is named after a Californio, Adolfo Camarillo, who operated a lima bean farm and bred Camarillo White Horses. Attractions include the Camarillo Ranch House (1892), and California State University, Channel Islands, established in 2002, and the Camarillo Christmas Parade, held annually since 1962.
Casa Conejo is an unincorporated island surrounded by Newbury Park. It was created as a planned community, developed between 1960 and 1965. If my limited Spanish ability serves me correctly, it means “Rabbit Hutch.” As of 2010 it had a population of 3,249.
Casitas Springs is an unincorporated community located near Lake Casitas. Its home to a couple of trailer parks and not a whole lot else although its main claim to fame is that for a five of his 71 years (1961-1966), Arkie country music legend Johnny Cash owned the house at 8736 Nye Road.
CHANNEL ISLANDS BEACH
Channel Islands Beach is an unincorporated coastal community primarily consisting of two subdivisions, Hollywood Beach and Silver Strand Beach, which are separated by the mouth of Channel Islands Harbor and developed in the 1920s. As of 2010 it had a population of 3,103.
El Rio is a small unincorporated CDP which as of 2010 had a population of 7,198. It was founded in 1875 as New Jerusalem, by the owner of general store who in 1882 became the town’s first postmaster. The name was changed to El Rio, an apparent reference to the Santa Clara River, around 1900. Parts of the historic community have been annexed by Oxnard but a stretch of Vineyard Avenue remains its main commercial corridor.
Faria, also known as Faria Beach, is an unincorporated community which as of 2010 apparently had a population of 34. It’s home to Faria Beach Park and Faria Beach Cafe.
Fillmore is a city in the Santa Clara River Valley which as of 2010 had a population of 15,002. It was named by the Southern Pacific Railroad after J. A. Fillmore, general superintendent for the company’s Pacific system who was, in the words of the Marin County Tocsin, “claimed by the reaper” in 1902. Attractions include the Fillmore Towne Theatre (1916, originally known as the Barnes Theatre) and Fillmore Historic Park.
La Conchita is a small, unincorporated community which as of 2000 had a population of 338. A civil engineer and surveyor, Milton Ramelli, subdivided the community of La Conchita del Mar in the mid-1920s. It was hit hard by landslides in 1995 and 2005. About the only business of note is Howie’s Fruit Avocado and Seafood Stand.
Lake Sherwood is an unincorporated, entirely residential community in the Santa Monica Mountains, which overlooks the Lake Sherwood reservoir, named so after it was featured in Allan Dwan‘s 1922 film, Robin Hood. As of 2010 it had a population of 1,527. The community consists of little more than a golf course and three, smaller gated communities.
Meiners Oaks is a unincorporated CDP which as of 2010 had a population of 3,571. It’s named after German beer brewer, John Meiners, who acquired the land as payment for a debt in the 1870s. Today it’s home to a few establishments including Coffee Connection, Deer Lodge, Don Lalo’s Mexican Food, the Farmer and The Cook, Ojai Sports Grill, Papa Lennons Pizzeria, and the Ranch House.
Mira Monte (not to be confused with Miramonte) is an unincorporated CDP which as of 2010 had a population of 6,845. It’s home to a few establishments including AJ’s Express, Full of Beans Coffee House, Ideal Seafood, Spin Rotisserie & Spaghetteria, and the Blue Iguana hotel.
Moorpark is a city which, as of 2010, had a population of 34,421. It was founded by Robert Poindexter (former secretary of the Simi Land Company) and his wife Madeline in 1900. It was named after the Moorpark apricot, first introduced to England in 1688 at Admiral of the Fleet George Anson, 1st Baron Anson‘s estate, Moor Park, in Hertfordshire. Moorpark was the first American city powered entirely by nuclear energy, courtesy Atomics International’s Sodium Reactor Experiment (1957 to 1964). It’s home to the liberal arts Moorpark College, founded in 1967. It incorporated as a city in 1983.
Mussel Shoals is an unincorportated coastal unincorporated community. It was subdivided by Milton Ramelli as “Mussel Rock” in 1924. Oil was struck off the coast and in 1958, the artificial Rincon Island, was constructed for the purpose of oil extraction and gas production. At some point it was renamed Mussel Shoals, an apparent reference to the better-known community of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Newbury Park is a CDP in the Conejo Valley adjacent the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The community is named after Egbert Starr Newbury, a landowner and a postmaster in the Conejo Valley in the 1870s. It was later developed, along with Thousand Oaks, as part of a master planned community by the Janss Investment Company. As of 2010 it had a population of 37,775. Attractions include the Grand Union Hotel (now the Stagecoach Inn Museum), built in 1876. It was also the birthplace of the Cal-Mex chain, Baja Fresh.
Oak Park is a CDP in the Conejo Valley which as of the 2010 census had a population of 14,266. The community was created in the 1960s by Metropolitan Development Corporation on land previously owned by Cosmo Stevens and Marian Jordan of Fibber McGee and Molly. Today it boasts several restaurants including Beanscene Espresso, Breakfast Cafe, Green and Bean, Margaritas Mexican Grill, Sub Contractor Sandwiches, Tony’s New York Pizza, and Zen Garden Chinese Cuisine.
Oak View is a CDP located along the shores of the Ventura River in the Ojai Valley which as of 2010 had a population of 4,066. It was mostly developed in the 1940s and ‘50s to house oil workers. It’s home to a few restaurants: Boccali’s Pizza House, Casa de Lago, Donuts and More, El Charro, J & M Cafe, JJ’s Sports Zone, Oak View Coffee, Om Fusion of Thai, Q-Time BBQ, Vegan Mario’s, and a bar, Top of the Hill.
Ojai is a city in the Ojai Valley, which as of 2010 had a population of 7,862. Its name is derived “awhaý,” the Chumash word for the Moon. In 1837 it became part of the Mexican Rancho Ojai. Its owner, Fernando Tico, sold it in 1853. Real estate developer R.G. Surdam created the town of Nordhoff in 1874, named after Prussian-American writer Charles Nordhoff. In the face of World War I-era anti-German sentiment, it was renamed Ojai in 1917. Today it has the deserved reputation as a New Age hippie town popular with tourists and bikers. It annually hosts the Ojai Music Festival and is home to the historic Charles M. Pratt House (1909, also known as Casa Barranca), and St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel (1918, now home to the Ojai Valley Museum).
Oxnard is the largest city in Ventura County, with a 2012 population of 203,585. It forms the core of the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area and is located on the Oxnard Plain. It’s California’s largest producer of strawberries and annually hosts the California Strawberry Festival — but it’s no slouch when it comes to lima beans either. Named after Henry T. Oxnard, one-time president of both the American Beet Sugar Company and the American Beet Sugar Association, the city of Oxnard was incorporated in 1903. Attractions include the Oxnard Public Library (1907, now the Carnegie Art Museum), the Ventura County Courthouse (1912), and the 28 hectare Henry T. Oxnard Historic District, consisting of homes primarily built before 1925 in a variety of architectural styles.
Piru is a CDP in the Santa Clara River Valley near the Santa Clara River, which as of 2010 had a population of 2,063. The name is derived from the Tataviam word for the tule reeds which grow along the banks of Piru Creek. The town was founded in 1887 by David C. Cook after purchasing Rancho Temescal. He planted trees mentioned in Genesis, including apricots, dates, figs, grapes, olives, and pomegranates. The Piru Post Office was established in 1888. Attractions include historic Rancho Camulos, now the Rancho Camulos Museum, the Piru Mansion (1890, also known as Newhall Mansion), 1.5 hectare Warring Park, Piru Pizza, and a Mexican restaurant, Poncho’s Place.
Port Hueneme is a Coastal Town surrounded by the city of Oxnard and the Santa Barbara Channel. It’s name is derived from the Chumash “wene me,” meaning “resting place.” Hueneme Wharf was built in 1871 the Port Hueneme was a busy port until the 1980s. It was incorporated as a city in 1948. Attractions include the Women’s Improvement Club of Hueneme (1915, now a public library), Berylwood (1910, remodeled and expanded 1926, also known as the Thomas R. Bard Estate) and Point Hueneme Lighthouse (1941) and the town annually hosts the Hueneme Beach Festival.
SAN NICOLAS ISLAND
San Nicolas Island is 59 square kilometer land mass known to the Chumash as “Niminocotch.” Archaeological evidence suggests that the Tongva, who made their home on the island at the point of Spanish contact, may’ve wrested control of the island from the indigenous Chumash through violent battles. At 119 kilometers from the mainland, its the most remote of the Channel Islands and it was famously home to a woman who live alone there for eighteen years and whose story was the basis for Scott O’Dell’s 1960 book Island of the Blue Dolphins. Its currently administered by the US Navy, who permanently maintain a permanent presence of about 200 military and civilian personnel on the base.
Santa Paula is a city in the Santa Clara River Valley which had a population of 29,321 as of 2010. Although primarily known as an oil town, Santa Paula is advertised as the “Citrus Capital of the World.” The original headquarters of the Union Oil Company (the Santa Paula Hardware Company Building, 1890) are now home to the California Oil Museum. Other attractions include the George Washington Faulkner House (1894), the Tudor–Craftsman-style Glen Tavern Inn (1911), the Ebell Club of Santa Paula (1917), and a famous sycamore tree near the intersection of Hall Road and State Highway 126.
SANTA ROSA VALLEY
Santa Rosa Valley is a CDP which as of 2010 had a population of 3,334.
Santa Susana is a CDP which as of 2010 had a population of 1,037. The community was developed as a railroad town, the borders of which straddled the modern Ventura and Los Angeles county line. The Simi Valley Land and Water Company first surveyed the area in 1887.
Saticoy is an unincorporated community. Its name is derived from the Chumash “Sa’aqtik’oy” meaning “it is sheltered from the wind.” The Saticoy Post Office was established in 1873 on land that was granted as part of the Rancho Santa Paula y Saticoy to Manuel Jimeno Casarin in 1840. Historic attractions include the Walnut Growers Association Warehouse and the Saticoy Bean Warehouse.
Sea Cliff (sometimes spelled Seacliff) is an unincorporated community on the south coast.
Simi Valley is a city located in the eponymous topographical feature situated between the Santa Susana Mountains and the Simi Hills. As of 2010 it had a population of 124,237. Its name comes from the Chumash name for a certain type of clouds, “Shimiyi.” Attractions include the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where the remains of the former president are also interred. Historic buildings include the Colony House (1888) and the Simi Adobe-Strathearn House (1893) and there’s a noted folk-art attraction, Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village.
Solimar Beach, or Solimar Beach Colony, was formerly known as Dulah. Now it consists of a small, gated community of 58 homes.
Solromar is an unincorporated community on the south coast of Ventura County, just west of Leo Carrillo State Park and the North Beach Campground.
Somis is an unincorporated community in Las Posas Valley which as of 2000 had a population of 2,946. It was established in 1892 by Thomas Bard and D.T. Perkins and may’ve derived its name from Chumash. It’s home to Alpacas and Beyond, Somis Market, the Somis Nut House, and Las Posas Berries.
Thousand Oaks is a city in southeastern Ventura County in the Conejo Valley. Its population, as of 2010, was 126,683. Much of the city was developed as a master planned community by the Janss Investment Company in the mid-1950s, including the developments of Newbury Park and Thousand Oaks.
Attractions include the The American Radio Archives (one of the largest radio broadcasting collections in the world), California Lutheran University, Conejo Valley Botanical Garden, Conrad Buff and Don Hensman’s Case Study House #28 (1966, the last single-family house built under the program), Joel McCrea Ranch, the Stagecoach Inn (1876), and the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center.
Upper Ojai is an unincorporated community.
The city of Ventura (officially the City of San Buenaventura) is the county seat of Ventura County and as of 2010 had a population of 106,433. Its roots are in the Mission San Buenaventura, founded in in 1782. It incorporated as a city in 1866. Early historic attractions include the Dudley House (1891), the Elizabeth Bard Memorial Hospital (1902), the Emmanuel Franz House (1891), Feraud General Merchandise Store (1903), Hill of the Cross (1782), Mission San Buenaventura (1809 — the original burned down in 1801), the Olivas Adobe (1841), the ruins of the San Buenaventura Mission Aqueduct (1815), and the Ventura County Courthouse (1910).
The Ventura Oil Field was first drilled in 1919 and a boom followed in the 1920s. Notable buildings from that era include the Elks Lodge – B. P. 0. E. #1430 (1928), First Baptist Church of Ventura (1926, 1932), the First National Bank of Ventura (1926), the Hobson Brothers Meat Packing Company (1923), the Hotel Washington (1928), the Masonic Temple (1929), the Mission Theater (1928), the Swift & Company Building (1928), the Thomas Gould Jr. House (1924), and the Ventura Hotel (1926). More recent ruins include those of the USA Petrochem refinery, abandoned in the 1980s.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century varieties of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Click here to offer financial support and thank you!
75 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — A Ventura County Primer”