River, Meet Ocean

Exploring the Ventura River Estuary

The city of Ventura is officially known as Buenaventura, meaning “good fortune.” That applies to one of the least-known but most abundant estuaries in the region, where the Ventura River meets the Pacific Ocean at Emma Wood State Beach. If you have the good fortune to visit, you’ll have a chance to see a wide variety of winged creatures from waders to waterfowl as well as shore, sea, and land birds. Common resident sightings at this particular spot include coots, cormorants, killdeers, egrets, and even ospreys.

After you park, grab a map and head for the 1.5-mile Ocean’s Edge Trail just past the picnic area on the right edge of the grounds. The path immediately meanders under the railroad bridge and curves left along the cobblestone-covered shore, where kiters share the space with in-sync flocks of sandpipers and sanderlings. The trail continues across a coastal dune environment until reaching the estuary at the 0.67-mile mark. The water is brackish here, a mixture of fresh and salt, which helps account for the great variety of fowl.

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Before heading inland to complete the loop, note that just south of the estuary is an elevated bike trail heading east. This 0.5-mile path leads to Ventura’s Main Street, a prime starting point for exploring the city’s charming downtown. Otherwise, directly north of the estuary is a narrow path (called the River’s Edge Trail) leading inland among Monterey pines and thick palms. Follow this along the water to the train tracks and carefully cross them. Stay right at the junction as the peaceful, shaded trail maneuvers through tall brush back to the campground, parking lot, and hopefully a continuation of good fortune.

To get to the Emma Wood State Beach day-use and campground lot from the south, take US-101 north to the California St. exit and turn right, followed by an immediate left onto Thompson Blvd. Follow this for 0.7 mile, turning left on Main St. After another 0.7 mile, turn left on Park Access Rd., which leads into the park.

From the north, take US-101 south to the Main St. exit and turn right immediately onto Park Access Rd.

Park in the protected day-use area ($10) or just outside on the street. No dogs on trail.

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