Nearly a decade ago, writing about this beach town that’s 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, The New York Times dubbed Oxnard the “Un-Malibu.” It remains so today, as well as the Un-Santa Barbara and Un-Santa Monica. And that makes Oxnard a boon to meeting planners. “We have beautiful weather year-round, our beaches are uncrowded and unspoiled, we have a rich agricultural history, historic homes, two harbors, and a thriving farm-to-fork and sea-to-fork culinary scene,” says Alyce Bosacki, associate executive director for the Oxnard Convention & Visitors Bureau. But for all its assets, Bosacki adds, Oxnard is very budget friendly, far more than beach towns to the north or south.
“We can work within a budget for groups,” she says. “Our hotel rooms aren’t $300 or $400 or more a night the way they are in Santa Monica or Santa Barbara. Our average rate is $150.” Oxnard can’t handle the groups of 1,000 or more that cities with major convention centers and convention hotels, like Anaheim and Los Angeles can. The sweet spot for this Ventura County city that’s the gateway to the Central Coast is groups of up to 500.
Meeting planners, Bosacki says, can expect a warm welcome and a helping hand from the CVB. “We’re a one-stop shop for meeting planners,” she says. “We’ll assist planners with where to stay, where to meet, suggestions for staffing and team-building, transportation and details like welcome bags and badges.” Visitors will get their first experience of Oxnard’s hospitality at the California Welcome Center, which is located in the fouryear- old lifestyle center, The Collection at RiverPark. The center does double-duty as a wine-tasting room, where visitors can sample wines from the Ventura County Wine Trail.
A Farm-Inspired Culinary Scene
Oxnard is a city of conviviality that’s well known for its culinary festivals. In May there’s the California Strawberry Festival, in July the Salsa Festival and December brings the Tamale Festival. Yes, food plays a large role here; Oxnard’s major industry has long been agriculture. It takes its name from the Oxnard brothers, who founded a sugar beet factory here around the year 1900.
Cooking classes with Michelle Kenney, owner and executive chef of La Dolce Vita— Italian and Mediterranean fusion cuisine—are a popular group activity. These often take place on the patio of the rambling cottage-like restaurant, which is located at Heritage Square, in the city’s historic downtown. Kenney can also cater private events in her restaurant for up to 100 people or in the Grand Courtyard at Heritage Square for up to 200 guests.
Nearby, Kenney’s sister Cathy Moreno owns and operates The Kitchen, a restaurant, featuring made-from-scratch fare, bakery, craft beer bar and banquet room all in one. The Kitchen gained national fame when Guy Fieri featured the spot on his Food Network Show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and raved about the lamb burger. The full-service banquet room seats up to 150, all of whom will likely delight in the baked-on-the-premises cupcake tower.
Across town, the Waterside Restaurant & Wine Bar, which is located in the Channel Islands Harbor and delivers on the views that its name suggests, is a favorite both for locals and special events. A private dining room seats 22 and a brand new patio off this space seats 40; another patio accommodates 93 and the entire restaurant can be bought out for standing receptions of nearly 200. The menu is wide ranging, from fresh seafood to rib-eye steak with global plates like banh mi sliders and duck confit sliders.
For a small city, Oxnard has a variety of meeting and event venues. Herzog Wine Cellars is the country’s largest producer of fine kosher wines. David Whittemore, marketing and public relations director, describes Herzog as “part winery, part restaurant, part hospitality center.” That adds up to a lot of versatility. From a boardroom that seats 40 and features state-of-the-art technology and outdoor terraces to the elegant restaurant Tierra Sur, which offers beautifully plated “new American fare” and has numerous private dining rooms, Herzog can accommodate meetings in a wide variety of ways.
Two nearby hotels, The Hilton Garden Inn and Homeward Suites, make it convenient to shuttle participants back and forth from Herzog for multiday meetings. “There are great restaurants and great wineries in Southern California,” says Whittemore, “but you seldom find them both under one roof. What’s more, when you visit our tasting room, you’re actually in the middle of a winemaking facility. And you’d be hard-pressed to find any other winery that can tailor an experience to your needs the way we can.”
Oxnard is home to two significant automotive museums, both of which accommodate private events. The Mullin Automotive Museum honors French automobiles from the prewar art deco period. About 60 stunning cars are on display in the 47,000-square-foot facility at any one time; you can expect to see a collection of cars carrying the names Bugatti, Avions Voisin, Delahaye and Tablot-Lago. The museum is open for public tours typically every second and fourth Saturday of the month and for semiprivate tours on Tuesdays; additional days can usually be arranged.
Ruby Talbot, the director of operations with the museum, says that corporate groups as large as 100 will sometimes do a tour before lunchtime or cocktail hour and then head over to Herzog Wine Cellars. The museum is also available for private events. That requires a buyout of the entire museum and use of the museum’s designated caterer, florist and party-rental company. With the cost of security, the price tag gets hefty, but, as Talbot says, “it’s a beautiful cozy place for an event. The cars aren’t roped off and tables are set up right on the museum floor.” There’s also a museum theater, where companies can stage video presentations, and the exclusive Bugatti Club, which can be used for a pre-reception for VIPs.
The Murphy Auto Museum is a more laid-back institution. It houses some 80 vehicles dating from 1903 to the present day, with the emphasis on the midcentury, in a 30,000-square-foot building. “The Mullin has the famous French cars,” says David Neel, the museum’s owner and director. “We have the cars that your parents drove.” The museum is open to the public on weekends year round, and on Wednesday evenings and on Fridays from April to December. It is also open by appointment for group tours. The Murphy is more flexible about events than the Mullin. “We’ll configure the museum based on what you want,” Neel says. “You can have a stage, a dance floor and a DJ, a sit-down dinner or a buffet. We’re very popular for holiday parties.”
Other venues include the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, which offers five meeting rooms, two banquet rooms and an auditorium that seats 1,604, and the 36-hole River Ridge Golf Club, which has two meeting rooms (capacity 40 and 55, in theater seating) and a banquet hall that can accommodate 180.
Lodging and Leisure
The poshest hotel in Oxnard is the 250-suite Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel and Resort, which sits on 8 1/2 acres of oceanfront property. Christie Evans, director of sales and marketing, says that people often refer to the E.S. Mandalay as a hidden gem. “We don’t mind being a gem,” she says, “but we don’t want to be hidden.”
There are lots of reasons for meeting planners to get to know the property. “We’re the only four-diamond hotel in Ventura County,” Evans says. “We’re right off the freeway so there’s easy access, but you still feel like you’re on vacation in a little beach community. In fact, we’ve sometimes been used as a standin for Hawaii for filming. And, as a Hilton property, we cut costs for meeting planners in many ways. Breakfast is included in the rates as is the nightly manager’s reception.”
The property has 16,000 square feet of flexible meeting space including The Mandalay Ballroom, which can accommodate up to 865, and the Embassy Ballroom, with a capacity of 500 theater-style.
Other meeting-friendly hotels include the 166-room Courtyard by Marriott Oxnard, which has nearly 10,000 square feet of meeting space in 10 rooms, including a banquet hall that can host 500, and the Residence Inn by Marriott at River Ridge, which has 252 suites and 12,000 square feet of meeting space accommodating groups of up to 750.
Among the biggest boasts that Oxnard can make is that it’s home to the closest harbor to The Channel Islands. The five uninhabited islands that comprise the Channel Islands National Park are known as the “American Galapagos,” but, in fact, they contain sea life, animals, plants and archeological remnants found nowhere else on earth. Reachable only by a boat ride of one to two hours, depending on which island you visit, a trip to the Channel Islands is an all-day excursion. You’ll want to pack a lunch (there are no services on the islands), a warm jacket, walking shoes and a camera to capture the sea lions, dolphins and whales you’ll spot during the island crossing. Island Packers runs boats on most days during the summer, weather permitting, and can recommend outfitters that offer guided kayak tours and snorkeling and scuba gear.
If some in a group are dedicated landlubbers, they can easily spend a day visiting Oxnard’s many small museums, including The Carnegie Art Museum, the Woolworth Museum, the Seabee Museum and the recently expanded Channel Islands Maritime Museum, or walking along Oxnard’s immaculate sandy beaches.
OXNARD BY THE NUMBERS
150,000 square feet of meeting space
1,800 guest rooms
1906, the year that Andrew Carnegie donated money to build a city library now the Carnegie Art Museum
73 degrees, average annual high temperature
2 nearby military bases Port Hueneme and Port Mugu