This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.
Better known for its coastline and agricultural lands, Ventura County also lays claim to a chunk of the northern Santa Monica Mountains, a rugged zone replete with trails for hikers and mountain bikers. Challenging and dramatic trails can be found here, and easier strolls along the beaches await, too.
La Jolla Canyon
Point Mugu State Park's La Jolla Canyon offers a smorgasbord of hiking trails and loop options. All have lots of sun, ample wildflowers and loads of ocean views. This is rugged country right across from the ocean with steep climbs right off the bat. Ticks like the grasses here, so be aware of that and the lack of shade. For a six-mile outing, begin in the parking lot on PCH and hike the Ray Miller Trail roughly three miles to a fireroad with an overlook, and back down.
From the moment you turn off of Pacific Coast Highway onto Yerba Buena Road in Malibu, you'll be begin a trip from sea level and gain over 3,100 feet. Sandstone Peak is the Santa Monica Mountain's tallest summit, lying just about six miles inland. Like the other hikes in this area, the trail traverses rugged terrain with dramatic views of mountains and canyons. This is a six-mile loop.
5 miles, moderate
Point Mugu State Park is also home to 1,200-foot Mugu Peak, a prominent mountain in a landscape of canyons, grasslands, and coastal scrub. Taking the Chumash Trail from Pacific Coast Highway affords numerous options for different lengths of hikes on and around the peak, including a steep two-mile jaunt to the summit. Regardless which way you go, expect views of Mugu Lagoon, grassy meadows, the Great Sand Dune, and dramatic canyons framing the ocean. This loop around the peak is five miles.
2 miles, easy
Strolling the Ventura Promenade, like the boardwalks in L.A. or San Diego, is a means to instantly get the get the local flavor, people watch, and meander along the beach. It's fitting that the promenade, like Ventura itself, is more understated, less crowded and rural-feeling than the big cities in Southern California. The promenade abuts the fairgrounds and horse stables, and a rocky point by the Ventura River mouth is super popular with surfers. Walk south and you'll pass the charming wooden pier, and head to San Buenaventura State Beach. It's about a mile between the Ventura Pier and the mouth of the Ventura River; this can be hiked in either direction.
Emma Wood State Beach
The 101 Freeway runs along much of the Ventura coastline, but there are a few spots where the freeway is set back and walks on the beach, away from too much development, are possible. Emma Wood State Beach, better known as an RV park, is one of them. The park encompasses the Ventura River estuary and a wave-pounded stretch of coastline. The Emma Wood River Trail tours this area of wetlands, and cobble-and-sand beach in a 1.5-mile loop.