Ventura, CA (VEC)
The Ventura station is within walking distance of San Buenaventura and Emma Wood state beaches; the latter features an estuary and wetlands that support abundant wildlife.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 41,907
- Facility Ownership: City of Ventura
- Parking Lot Ownership: State of California
- Platform Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
- Track Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
The Ventura station, constructed in 1992, consists of a concrete platform with modest open-air shelters that protect passengers from inclement weather. This stop is located south of downtown and abuts the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
The California coast was first explored by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who worked for the Kingdom of Castile. In 1542 he claimed the region for Spain, but no settlements were planned; 60 years later the coast was mapped by Sebastián Vizcaíno. Although known by the Spaniards for more than 200 years, they did not establish settlements in California until the late 18th century when the Russian Empire began to take an interest in the area.
To secure the coast, King Carlos III authorized the creation of a chain of forts and missions to protect strategic sites that could be of future use to the Spanish Empire in North America. The first “presidio” or “fort” and mission complex was established at San Diego in 1769. The Franciscan missionaries worked toward the conversion of the region’s American Indians to Christianity, a stated goal of Spanish colonization.
In 1782, a mission was founded at the present site of Ventura. The priests called it “San Buenaventura” after a 13th century Italian saint who had led the Franciscan Order. Each mission was supported by large tracts of land for agriculture and grazing that were worked by the friars and the converts; much of the land occupied by present-day Ventura once belonged to the mission.
At the time of Spanish colonization, the coastal area was occupied by the Chumash American Indians. Their name meaning “bead makers/seashell people.” They were among the few American Indian peoples to navigate the coast by ocean-going vessel. Chumash mariners constructed “tomols”, canoes that were water-proofed with pine pitch or tar, and historic accounts recall that a group of Chumash went out to sea to observe Cabrillo when he sailed into the area. In his journals, the explorer described a Chumash village on the coast where the mission was later established. Archaeological evidence pinpoints the location of the settlement on the bluffs between Figueroa and Palm Streets, just a few hundred feet east of the Amtrak station.
Early visitors to the region described the dome-shaped dwellings of the Chumash. Made from wood frames covered in local grasses, many were large enough to accommodate fifty people. The Chumash were especially noted for their woven baskets and stone cookware used to prepare meals. They gathered acorns, seeds, and wild berries, and hunted for various animals depending on their geographic location.
Mission San Buenaventura became known for the plums, pomegranates, coconuts, and other fruits and grains which grew in its rich soils; cattle and sheep grazed on the grasslands at a further distance from the principal settlement. To irrigate the fields and orchards, the Chumash constructed an impressive seven-mile aqueduct that fed fountains, storage tanks, and a large basin for washing clothes. Remnants of this water infrastructure can still be found with careful sleuthing, and they are listed as California Historical Landmarks.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, most of the mission properties were secularized and broken-up into “ranchos” or ranches that were subsequently granted to the friends and family members of important Mexican officials such as the governor. In 1846, a large portion of Mission San Buenaventura’s lands—49,000 acres—was given to mercantilist José de Arnaz, and the tract was appropriately referred to as Rancho Ex-Mission San Buenaventura. A few years earlier, a smaller 4,700 acre parcel had been granted to Felipe Lorenzana and Raymundo Olivas. For the most part, the city of Ventura rose on lands that once composed these two ranchos.
Olivas gained his land as compensation for service in the Mexican Army. Throughout the 1840s, he used the profits from his cattle ranching operation to expand his family’s adobe. The house stayed in the family until 1899 when it was converted into a hunting lodge for Max Fleischmann, whose name was synonymous with dry yeast. He later donated the adobe to the city and it is now a museum that details life during the Mexican period.
Many of the land grants survived into the period following the Mexican-American War of 1845-1848 and the resulting cession of California and much of the Southwest to the United States. The same year that the conflict ended, José de Arnaz laid out a town site around the old mission. Due to the surrounding topography, including canyons to the west and hills to the north, access to the area was difficult. Growth was therefore slow, and the village was not officially recognized until 1861 when it gained a post office; five years later, San Buenaventura legally incorporated as a town.
Within a few years, the town became a stop on the stage coach line connecting it to Los Angeles eighty miles to the southeast. While this helped bring settlers to San Buenaventura, it was not until the railroad arrived in 1887 that the community began to draw settlers from further afield. In 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) had opened a tunnel through the Newhall Pass northwest of Los Angeles at San Fernando. In 1886, the railroad decided to build a spur from the Newhall Pass to San Buenaventura and then onto Santa Barbara. The arrival of the SP had a major impact on how the town presented itself to the public: its name changed. The railroad printed tickets with “Ventura.” Although the mistake was later corrected, the post office then picked up the new version and within a generation the community was widely referred to as Ventura — although the older term still circulated.
The SP quickly erected a depot to serve passengers. Railroads often built stations of similar design in towns of comparable size; therefore, Ventura’s depot resembles those at Moorpark and Chatsworth to the east. Visually, the building on Front Street had three divisions. A central two-storey section featured an extended gabled roof whose base formed a deep eave that wrapped around all four sides of the building. The second floor held an apartment for the station master and perhaps his family.
Two one-story wings flanked the central structure, and they also had eaves supported by brackets to protect waiting passengers from inclement weather. The longer wing housed the freight room as indicated by the wide doorways that accommodated the loading and storage of crates; the other was used for passenger functions. Over the years, the depot’s exterior wood clapboard sported the various company colors chosen by the SP. In the last decade of the 19th century, a horse-drawn trolley carried passengers between the depot and the mission via Main Street. This depot was torn down in recent years.
The railroad altered the face of Ventura through more than a depot and some tracks. It carried new immigrants and citizens from the east and Midwest who had decided to try their luck in California, which sold itself as an agricultural and mineral wonderland where a hard worker could find success. Adobe found competition in kiln-fired brick and wood framing imported from the east. The adobe village was soon replaced with a growing town showing off its fancy Queen Anne houses, and subsequently Craftsman bungalows and other eclectic structures. Many residents were involved in agriculture or served local farmers and ranchers by providing needed supplies or services.
Ventura gave itself a new public face in the first few decades of the 20th century. The City Beautiful movement, inspired by urban reformers who advocated for clean, healthy, efficient, and orderly cities, motivated residents to improve the urban fabric of their seaside town. The most visible reminder of this era is City Hall, originally built as the county courthouse and opened in 1913. Designed by noted Los Angeles-based architect Albert C. Martin, the Beaux-Arts inspired, terracotta clad building stands on a slight hilltop framed by the hills of Grant Park to the north. With its front door centered on California Street, the civic edifice surveys the city below, and the buildings on either side of the roadway appropriately frame it and highlight its stature within the public sphere. From the building itself, a gorgeous vista opens down California Street to the Pacific Ocean.
One of the best-loved features of City Hall is the series of white, glazed terracotta faces that crown the keystones of the first floor windows. The varying visages represent the Franciscan friars who established the mission in 1782. A plaza at the front of the building features a statue of Father Junipero Serra, the leader of the Franciscans in California at the time that the first missions were founded. It was put in place in 1936 and was sculpted by John Palo-Kangas under the federal Works Progress Administration. Decades later, the concrete original was replaced with a more durable bronze copy.
Just as the old county courthouse was completed, the initial oil explorations were made in the area. It was not until 1921 that Shell Oil had its first major success, but within five years the company was pumping tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil everyday. Accordingly, Ventura experienced almost a tripling of its population as those involved in the oil business—geologists, chemists, engineers, and laborers—flocked to the city. A century later, oil is still important to Ventura County. The Ventura Oil Field, measuring eight miles long by two miles wide, lies to the north of Ventura among the hills. It remains one of the state’s largest oil deposits.
Post World War II, the creation of the California Freeway system further opened Ventura to visitors from Los Angeles and beyond. Today the city is noted for its revitalized downtown in the vicinity of City Hall. Tourists often stop at the remains of Mission San Buenaventura to admire the gardens and view the small museum that holds a collection of Chumash artifacts and items from the Spanish period.
Plaza Park is home to a Moreton Bay Fig Tree acquired from Australia. Planted in 1874, it is more than sixty-eight feet high and has a spread of one hundred and thirty feet. On the northeast corner of the plaza, the post office occupies a building resembling a Mediterranean villa. Its tall, welcoming windows fill the interior with golden light that shows off its hidden treasure. The walls of the main hall are covered in extensive murals painted by artist Gordon K. Grant in the mid-1930s under the auspices of the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). Similar to the better known WPA program, TRAP also financed art installations in public buildings. The works depicted subjects of local interest and were meant to instill pride in community traditions and history.
Grant was an illustrator and painter who had worked for major San Francisco newspapers, and at Ventura he created a series of colorful murals focused on the community’s agriculture and industries. In one scene, cows graze on lush green grass, and in the next panel, they are busily milked by men in white uniforms. Another wall shows a man on a ladder picking oranges while his coworkers sort and pack the bright fruit into wood crates which are then loaded onto a pickup truck. Everyone works together in unison to finish the job and get the fruit to market.
Those looking for a day at the beach head to San Buenaventura or Emma Wood State Beaches. Located south of downtown, San Buenaventura offers two miles of sandy beach as well as a pier with a restaurant and a bait shop; within Emma Wood, the Ventura River empties into the ocean, creating an estuary and wetlands that support abundant wildlife. The beach is known among the surfing community for its great shore break and the park often hosts surfing contests.
The Pacific Surfliner service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority.
Platform with Shelter
- Quik-Trak kiosks
- No ticket sales office
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible platform
- No restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- Wheelchair lift available