Emma Wood State Beach borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Ventura River. There is an estuary where the two meet, where you can sprawl out on soft sand and watch the gathering marine birds. See the beach, the river, and the estuary on a level and easy 1.5-mile loop through Emma Wood State Beach and the adjacent Seaside Wilderness Park in Ventura.
Starting within the 115-acre state beach wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the 101 Freeway, and split down the middle by the Union Pacific Railroad, you will hike southeast leaving the large parking area next to the group campground and picnic area. After a few hundred feet, make a right and slip beneath a railroad bridge on Ocean’s Edge Trail. On the seaward side of the tracks, turn left heading southeast along a cobblestone beach on a trail through dunes peppered with sand verbena and ice plant. Stick to the sandy path, or saunter along the rocky waterfront, where you’ll get a nice view up the shore toward Santa Barbara.
Looking west up the cobblestone coast from Ocean’s Edge Trail
The inviting sounds of the sea breeze and the pounding surf cancel out the hum of the freeway. Keep an eye out for the ruins of a World War II artillery site, which is located on the beach near the river, and now seems to only be doing battle with the waves (see the photos below).
After 2/3 of a mile with hardly any elevation gain, you’ll meet a wide shallow estuary at the bottom of the Ventura River. If the tide is out and the water flow is low, you can hop to the other side of the river and stroll farther down the coast on Shoreline Drive or head inland on the Ventura River Bike Trail. To stay dry and continue the loop, there’s no need to cross the river.
The estuary at the end of the Ventura River
Plop down in the sand and watch the ducks, egrets, seagulls, pelicans, and other water foul birding around in the brackish water. When you are ready to leave, head inland along the west side of the estuary, walking across the railroad tracks to River’s Edge Trail. The dirt single track borders the river briefly before coming to a split. Stay to the left for the shortest and the most worn route heading westward back to the trailhead. A marginally longer route breaks off to the right through more tall brush along the river. Both options lead back to the picnic area and group camp at the start of the loop.
If you are traveling up the 101 Freeway and looking for a quick and easy activity between Oxnard and Santa Barbara, take a break at Emma Wood State Beach. Camping is also an option for longer stays, and the 90-site beach campground is typically full during summer months. There is an entrance fee to access the state beach ($10 as of May, 2012). Dogs are not allowed on Ocean’s Edge and River’s Edge Trails Loop, but most humans will have no trouble completing the 1.5-mile hike with 25 feet of elevation change. It is a “no sweat” stroll exploring both ocean and river. Edge your way to the trail!
To get to the trailhead: From the northbound 101 Freeway, take exit 70A to California Street. At the bottom of the ramp, turn right and drive half a block up California Street to Thompson Boulevard and turn left. After half a mile, the road curves to the right and becomes Garden Street. Go to the end of the street and turn left on Main Street. Drive 3/4 of a mile and turn left on Park Access Road, just before the freeway on ramp. There are signs for Seaside Wilderness Park and Emma Wood State Beach Group Camp.
From the southbound 101 Freeway, take exit 71 for Main Street. At the bottom of the ramp, turn right on Main Street and make an immediate right on Park Access Road to reach the state beach.
Trailhead address: Park Access Road, Emma Wood State Beach, Ventura, CA 93001
Trailhead coordinates: 34.28057, -119.315346 (34° 16′ 50.05″N 119° 18′ 55.24″W)
Use the map below to view the trail and get directions:
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