If you live in Southern California, you know that summer draws crowds – visitors from across the country and around the world. That means it’s difficult to go anywhere without running into a lot of people and traffic, two main ingredients that make kids (and parents) cranky.

One place that seems to have clung to its laid-back Californian charm and has a lot of fun for kids is Ventura, particularly the three cities known as Ventura CountyWest (Camarillo, Oxnard, and Ventura). Located on Highway 101 north of Los Angeles, Ventura CountyWest features uncrowded beaches (with free parking), ocean adventures, and tons of easily accessible summer activities for kids. Here are a few to check out.

Channel Islands National Park

Take an excursion boat to the Channel Islands National Park from the ports of Ventura or the Channel Islands (Oxnard). The islands are only 11 miles off the coast of Ventura County. Along the way, you can see dolphins, seals, pelicans, and other wildlife. Hikes, overnight stays, kayaking are available once you reach the coast. Tours are booked through Island Packers, http://www.islandpackers.com/.

Ventura Harbor Village

Ventura Harbor Village contains an arcade with an old-fashioned indoor carousel, arcade, and a candy store with over 20 varieties of fudge (freshly made daily). Families can rent rowing and electric boats to cruise the quiet canals of the harbor. Back on shore, plan to eat at one of the casual harbor-side restaurants that feature freshly caught seafood. http://www.venturaharborvillage.com.

Ventura County Fairgrounds Race Track

Cars, motorcycles and all manner of “midget” racing vehicles hit the track almost every weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura. It’s all great fun as you cheer on your favorite driver.

Seagull Wings Children’s Museum

This children’s museum in Oxnard is very modest from the outside, but once inside, those under eight will have so much to do and see that they won’t know where to start. They can dress up as firefighters, doctors, or pretend they are astronauts landing on the moon in an Apollo spacecraft. There are snakes to hold, treasures to find in a geological dig, and plenty of Legos to build whatever you want. Kids can try their luck climbing rock walls or let their imaginations run wild while in the driver’s seat of a real car.

Sky High Sports

You won’t find a large sign advertising Sky High Sports Camarillo from the freeway. It is in an industrial park, it has to be, the place is huge. It’s full of trampolines with super padded floors and walls. Children can play dodge ball on the trampoline and other organized games or … just jump. Everything under supervision. Sky High also has a laser tag. Kids are sure to come out sweaty and tired, a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

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