Midway between Malibu and Santa Barbara, downtown Ventura (pop. 106,433) is an offbeat little place, its three-block Main Street lined by enough thrift shops (seven at last count) to clothe a destitute retro-minded army. Apart from searching out vintage couture, the main reason to stop is the small and much-reconstructed Mission San Buenaventura (211 E. Main St., daily, $4 adults), standing at the center of Ventura just north of the US-101 freeway. This was the ninth in the California mission chain, and the last one founded by Junípero Serra, in 1782.

Ventura doesn’t get anything like the tourist trade that Santa Barbara draws, but it does have the pleasant Bella Maggiore Inn (67 S. California St., 805/652-0277 or 800/523-8479, $75 and up), offering good-value B&B rooms in a nicely restored 1920s courtyard hotel between downtown and US-101.

South of Ventura, US-101 heads inland through the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, while Hwy-1 heads south through the 10 miles of stop-and-go sprawl that make up the rapidly suburbanizing farming community of Oxnard (pop. 197,899), then continues right along the coast through Malibu and West Los Angeles.

As an introduction to the high-style car culture of Southern California, there’s no better stop than Oxnard’s unexpected treasure trove, the Mullin Automotive Museum (1421 Emerson Ave., 805/385-5400, $15). Though it is open barely two days (Saturdays) a month, the chance to appreciate one of the world’s finest car collections may be worth planning your trip around.

Travel map of Ventura
Map of Pacific Coast through Southern California.
Map of Pacific Coast through Southern California.