Travel Feature Story

A Trip Back in Time: Santa Cruz Island

A fascinating interlude on Santa Cruz Island, Oxnard and Ventura


Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2015 | 3:07 PM

Ever wonder what California looked like before roads, cars, smog and people? You can’t travel back in time but a visit to one of the Channel Islands will give you a good idea.

Most of us have been to Catalina but the Channel Islands? Now that’s a different story. Our island trip was to Santa Cruz the largest of the Channel Islands.

The Hampton Inn view from balcony

But before we took off on our adventure we were booked harbor-side into the Hampton Inn, located at the Channel Island Harbor. Quiet with spectacular views of the harbor, the Hampton Inn was a home-away-from-home with a refrigerator, microwave and free full-breakfast every morning.

The rooms were clean, beds cushy and the view from our room was great. We had a nice-sized balcony with a table and chairs that overlooked the boats bobbing in the harbor. There’s free wireless internet (a must) and a fitness center.

Avocado Club Egg Rolls

After we had acclimated ourselves it was time to head out for dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen in nearby Ventura. Like the Pasadena location the Ventura location has been freshened up with a new contemporary design and new menu additions.

We began our meal with an old favorite the Avocado Club Egg Rolls. Crispy wonton wrappers were filled with avocado, chicken, tomato, Jack cheese, and bacon. Served with two dipping sauces the spicy ranchito sauce and mild and mellow herb ranch this was a great way to begin a meal.

On the advice of our very knowledgeable waiter we shared a half sized Moroccan-spiced chicken salad packed full of roasted butternut squash, dates, avocado, toasted almonds, beets, red peppers, chopped egg and cranberries all tossed with a housemade Champagne vinaigrette. Sweet, salty, tart and savory all melded into a party in my mouth.

Moroccan-spiced chicken salad

For dinner we decided to try two of CPK’s new menu items: Hearth-Roasted Halibut and Fire-Grilled Ribeye.

I had the Halibut. I’d pretty much given up on Halibut, it’s usually tasteless and overcooked. CPK’s halibut was done perfectly, tender and juicy and full of flavor. It was roasted on a cedar plank and served with grilled asparagus, butternut squash farro and baby kale. The farro had an almost risotto-consistency and was creamy and delicious with the sweet squash and nutty kale.

The ribeye was cooked to order (medium rare) with Pinot Nior sea salt and creamy bleu cheese butter topping. The steak was served with roasted fingerling potatoes and a light salad of arugula with lemon garlic dressing. Smoky with a true-grilled taste the steak was tender and juicy and cooked perfectly. The peppery arugula paired well with the steak and the potatoes were crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Fresh Strawberry Shortcake

Since we were on the strawberry coast we decided on fresh strawberry shortcake for dessert. A flaky shortcake biscuit was topped with sweet-fresh strawberries, whipped cream and to guild the lily a scoop of Haagan Dazs vanilla bean ice cream. Scrumptious.

The next day we were off to Ventura Harbor for our trip to Santa Cruz Island via Island Packers. There were two departure times to the island 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Not being an early riser I choose 12:00 p.m. Knowing what I know now, if I were to go again I would go at 9:00 a.m. and return on the last boat leaving the island at 4:00 p.m. Three hours was just not enough time to really explore the island.

Island Fox

The trip to Scorpion Anchorage takes about an hour and on the way we encountered a pod of Bottle-Nosed Dolphins. The boat stopped and let us get a good look while telling us about the species and then took off to allow the Dolphins to play in the wake of the boat. What an exciting interlude! They also kept their eyes peeled for whales but alas, we did not spot any. Island Packers also offers whale watching cruises that are happening now.

Upon our arrival we were given a short introduction to the island by one of the two Rangers that live there. We were told about the island Foxes who love a good meal from visitors and are completely unafraid of them and the scavengers of the island, the crows, who will get into anything that is not nailed down.

Our ship awaits our return trip

Remnants of the ranch that was on the island before the Federal government took it over are dotted along the trail to the camp ground as are some of the buildings. There are also a variety of trails from easy family hikes to more strenuous trails.

There was plenty to discover, beginning with a visit to the island Visitors Center located at historic Scorpion Ranch. Panel displays, exhibits and a topographic relief map describe the vast bio-diversity and rich cultural history of Santa Cruz Island.

We brought a picnic lunch, poked our heads into the Visitors Center and strolled to the campgrounds. Before we knew it the return boat was docking and it was time to leave for the mainland. What a peaceful, wild, and fascinating trip. We really enjoyed ourselves.

View from the patio at Brophy Bros. Restaurant

That evening we were to have dinner at Brophy Bros. in Ventura Harbor. We sat out on their large patio overlooking the harbor. The restaurant offers indoor seating, a beautiful bar that faces the harbor and that wonderful patio.

I started off with an appetizer portion of the breaded bay scallops which was really enough for two. The scallops were sweet and tender and had just the right amount of breading. There were two dipping sauces; a spicy cocktail and creamy tartar.

Shrimp Cocktail

My companion order his usual shrimp cocktail which came with the usual cocktail sauce, but this one added a kick. A small container of fresh horseradish was included to take the cocktail sauce up a notch and that’s exactly what he did. He declared the shrimp to be fresh and flavorful: a winner.

For dinner I ordered the Ahi and my companion the Sea Bass. Brophy Bros. offers a good variety of fish, shellfish and even land lubber food.

My Ahi was breaded with roasted cashews and cooked to a rare pink in the middle. A choice of sides including clam chowder, or salad and rice or fries was included and all meals were served with cole slaw. I opted for the salad and rice pilaf. The Ahi was very tender and the crust lent a nuttiness and crunch to the fish. I don’t know how they did it but the crust actually stuck to the fish and didn’t fall off in sheets.

Ahi

My companion’s Seabass with dusted with Cajun spices and seared in a hot skillet. For his sides he choose the clam chowder and fries. A cup of drawn butter accompanied the fish instead of the usual tartar sauce. It was a nice touch, adding to the spices and giving the fish an almost crab-like quality.

No dessert for us as we were on a seafood high and didn’t want to harsh our mellow.

That night back at the hotel I enjoyed a good night’s sleep and dreamed of waffles. Why waffles you might ask? Since I didn’t have breakfast at the hotel the day before (I was afraid of getting sea sick on the boat ride) I was looking forward to The Hampton’s waffles.

Fresh waffles at the Hampton Inn, photo: Hampton Inn

You make them yourself, there’s a dispenser for the batter, you put it into the waffle iron and then a timer counts down. There’s butter, syrup, strawberries, and whipped cream to top them with. I’m a purist; just butter and syrup for me. They are crispy with a tender center and I just love them.

If waffles are not your bag you can choose from an assortment of eggs, bacon, yogurt, potatoes, fruit, cereal, bagels, cream cheese, toast and jam, coffee, tea, juice….you get the idea.

Our three-days in the Oxnard/Ventura area just flew by and it was time to come back to reality. Fortunately or unfortunately reality was only a short drive away.

The 411:

The Hampton Inn, 3231 Peninsula Road, Oxnard
(805) 985-1100, www.hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/california/hampton-inn-channel-islands-harbor-OXRCIHX/index.html

California Pizza Kitchen, Pacific View Mall, 3301 E. Main Street, #1150, Ventura
(805) 639-5060, www.cpk.com/locations/pacific-view-mall

Island Packers Cruises, 1691 Spinnaker Drive, #105B, Ventura
(805) 642-1393, www.islandpackers.com

Brophy Bros., 1559 Spinnaker Drive, Venutra
(805) 639-0865, www.brophybros.com

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