There are more than five cool things about the city and county of Ventura, in California. But here are some sterling places to go and things to do that especially appealed to me on my recent visit to Ventura, my first:
1. Downtown Ventura Historic District. This is an eminently walkable area filled with vintage buildings, many of them refurbished and repurposed, used for shops, bars, restaurants, museums and more. The heritage building where Earl Stanley Gardner, creator of "Perry Mason,'' had his law office and the old county courthouse just up the hill, now City Hall, are especially worth seeing. www.ventura-usa.com/things-to-do/areas-to-visit/downtown/.
2. Watermark on Main. Occupying parts of the building where Perry Mason's creator once worked, is the sumptuous Watermark restaurant and its rooftop bar, W20. Owned by the husband and wife team of Kathy Hartley and Mark Hartley - Mark's talent management company manages Olivia Newton-John and country music stars Brad Paisley and Clint Black, among others - this is a gorgeous tricked-out restaurant downstars with superior versions of California comfort food, along with live jazz. W20 was added-on upstairs and expertly blended with the heritage architecture. It has a lovely bar, really jumping at the weekend. Mark Hartley told me there are something like 16 venues that offer live music within a several block area weekend nights. 598 Main St., Ventura, Calif., tel. 805.643.6800, www.watermarkonmain.com
3. Patagonia showcase retail store. The upmarket climbing and outdoor gear company has its mother ship in the restored and renovated Great Pacific Ironworks building, in downtown Ventura city. With a helpful, enthusiastic staff and row upon row of top-quality gear in a handsome redbrick building topped with skylights, this is the place to get in touch with your inner Sherpa. 235 W. Santa Clara St., Ventura, Calif., tel. 805.643.6074, www.patagonia.com.
4. Santa Cruz Island. The largest island in Channel Islands National Park, and the largest island in California, this rugged, rocky redoubt for seabirds and rare wild foxes is reached by ocean ferry from an hour to an hour and a half from Ventura city harbor with the well-run Island Packers company. En route, you may well see swarming birds, leaping dolphins and the occasional whale; blue whales, the biggest creatures to ever inhabit the planet, have been spotted here. The island is largely bereft of tourist amenities but that is by design. It has sea kayaking and hiking paths galore. I did the strenuous 7.4 mile return hike from the pier to Smugglers Cove, with its sandy beach, gnarly-trunked mature olive trees and now-abandoned ranch house, to have a picnic and rest my weary bones. National Park visitors' center 1901 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura, Calif. tel. 805.658.5700, www.nps.gov.
5. The final cool thing is, er, actually two cool things, both located down the highway south of Ventura city in the town of Santa Paula. The California Oil Museum occupies the ground floor of a 19th century building downtown. It is loaded with old oil producing equipment used in the early days of the oil fields of Southern California and has venerable knick-knacks such as tall, spindly gasoline pumps from the earliest gas stations. Upstairs, fitted-out with period furniture, is the original headquarters of Union Oil Co., now part of Chevron: 1001 E. Main St., Santa Paula, Calif., tel. 805.933.0076, www.oilmuseum.net. A short walk from the oil museum is the Museum of Ventura County Agricultural Museum. Opened in late September 2011, this fine new museum, located in a converted railroad warehouse, has old farm equipment, exhibitions on farm life, a strong interactive component to appeal to children and a clear, steady focus on the still-active agricultural life of the county, one of the United States's leading producer of fresh strawberries and its major producer of fine juicy lemons: 100 E. Main St., Santa Paula, Calif., tel. 805.525.3100, www.venturamuseum.org.