We received this question from a reader earlier this week
Question: I am taking my family (two girls aged 8 & 9) to Oxnard this year. An article with some tips to maximize the experience would be helpful.
Rabblerousr and OCC, who've both been to Oxnard multiple times (and will both be there again this year) joined forces to answer our reader question and to give you this quick visitor's guide to Cowboys training camp and Oxnard. Rabble focused on the Fan Experience, OCC on the Oxnard Experience. Enjoy.
Training Camp: The Fan Experience
Changes are afoot in Oxnard in the area surrounding the Marriott Residence Inn, where the Cowboys set up for training camp, so it's very difficult to say with any authority just what the set-up will look like this summer. Here, therefore, I'll outline the way things have been in the past and what is changing.
In the past, fans who are members of the True Blue Fan Club ($20.00 annual membership, available for purchase at camp) have been able to line up alongside the vast majority of three of the four sides of the fence that borders the two practice fields (the fourth side is for VIPs and press). For die-hard Cowboys fans, this is a bargain at ten times the price; a position on the fence typically puts you ten feet away from your favorite players going through their drills. In the Bill Parcells era, when they would run full-contact goal line, the earth beneath those of us who crammed into that corner literally shook.
A couple of camps ago, they extended the fence availability to include both fields - an awesome development. Typically, the offense practices on the "near" field and the defense is on the "far" field; opening both fields gave fans the option to follow either unit up close. That said, when both units gather together for full-team periods, they alternate fields each day to preserve the grass, so there is an occasional need to race from one side of the fence to the other. So, make sure to pack light and wear appropriate shoes for running!
I'm not expecting this set-up to change significantly due to the new arrangement. What I understand is more likely to change is where the fans who don't want to pony up the 20 bucks will watch practice up close. In the past, the Cowboys have lined up covered bleachers just outside of the fence area on the "near" field side, as well as in the adjacent end zone, and people have happily sat there for the price of a ten-dollar parking fee and a few hot dogs for the kiddos.
That is likely to change this year, since the Cowboys will no longer be able to use an empty 20-acre parcel where parking, concessions, a "fun zone" for kids, a huge merchandise truck (and other merchandise booths as well; Jerry is always selling) as well as the covered bleachers have traditionally been set up. The new property owners, a New York investment concern who wishes to build condos on the lot, will not allow the Cowboys and the City of Oxnard to use it for parking.
Here's where fans who want to bring children to camp should focus their attention: the necessary rejiggering of the camp layout throws into question whether or not there will still be a "fun zone" for kids. In the past, the Cowboys have set up a sizeable area with slides, bouncy castles, snacks and room to run around and/ or play catch. If I read the reports correctly, it's this area that looks to be most compromised by the new arrangement, unfortunately.
The good news is that the city of Oxnard owns a vacant 10-acre parcel northeast of the fields, and has arranged to have parking on that lot. In addition, they reportedly will set up bleachers and a smaller concessions venue near what was formerly the "far" field, alongside the adjacent River Ridge Golf Club property, which is also city owned. We know Jerry will be certain to squeeze as many merchandise booths as possible into whatever space they have to operate; the open question is whether, or to what degree, the play space and "fun zone" will continue to be a part of the experience.
For those of you who are interested in obtaining autographs: the best strategy has been to align yourself at the west end of the "near" field fence, closest to the place where the players enter and exit, as that's where most of them will gather to sign various objects after practice. If you bring your children, they have had a special area, dubbed "Autograph Alley," where kids twelve and under (with a maximum of 200; each child will need to get a wristband, available in camp booths) can have stuff signed away from the press of crazed, grown men. Since these areas border on the lands that are no longer available to the Cowboys, this might well change, too, although I'd expect that the essential points - gather near the entryway; a zone for young children to get autographs - will remain.
Next Thursday, I'm planning on arriving earlier than usual, so that I can have some time to scout out the new layout. I'll try to pass on anything I find, but I'd advise anybody planning a return to camp to do the same, since this promises to be a different experience.
Outside of Training Camp: The Oxnard Experience
The Camarillo Premium Outlets are just a handful of exits south of camp on the 101 freeway, and you'll find over 160 stores full of discounted brand name products that will soothe even the most savage shopping craving. Don't forget your credit card(s) when you go there, especially if you have kids or significant others who appreciate the power of a brand name. I already have a fixed date in my calendar for a visit at Zumeiz, where my son plans to help himself to some of the Hoonigan gear popularized in the Ken Block youtube videos. If you can avoid it, don't go there on a weekend, it feels like half of Los Angeles makes the trip to Camarillo on weekends and the parking areas are packed bumper to bumper.
You can also go mall-shopping. The Pacific View Mall in Ventura doesn't really have a view of the Pacific, but is fairly close to camp, The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks is a little farther away to the south.
There are two Farmer's Markets in Oxnard, for those who appreciate such things. You'll find the Plaza Park Farmer's Market on Thursdays from 9 AM to 2 PM on "C" Street and Fifth Street. The Channel Islands Harbor Farmer's Market is a little more picturesque and takes place on Sunday's (10 AM to 2 PM) around the Marine Emporium Landing at 3600 S. Harbor Boulevard.
In general though, Oxnard isn't really much of a shopping town. If you just want to go strolling by some shops, your best bet is probably a visit to East Main Street in neighboring Ventura, which offers eclectic, locally owned shops where you can find items you probably won’t see anywhere else as you meander from storefront to storefront. Of course, if your schedule allows it, you might as well go all the way to Santa Barbara, which offers a smorgasboard of options for the discerning shopper.
Go on a cruise
Island Packers offers a bunch of different cruises of different length to various destinations. Two of their tours are especially interesting if you're traveling with your family. Anacapa Island is the nearest of the channel islands, just 12 miles outside of Oxnard, and Island Packers offers various tours to the island, along with lengthier tours that take you to some of the other channel islands. Alternatively, you could book a whale-watching tour or, my favorite, take the three-hour Channel Islands Wildlife Cruise. This non-landing tour takes you along the coast of Anacapa or Santa Cruz Island, where you're likely to see sea lions, seals, and lots of birds. En route, chances are good that you'll see some dolphins and maybe even a whale. The trip is narrated and great for kids or anybody with a camera.
If three hours on boat is too long for you, and you don't have a limit on your credit card, you could also take a tour of the channel islands with Island Air Services. Pricing for a helicopter tour of Anacapa Island start at $349.
Oxnard offers a lot of options for everybody from novices to experienced fisherman. If you don't have your own gear, drop by Walmart or Dick's Sporting Goods in Oxnard for some equipment. The former is obviously cheaper, and you can get a rod & reel starting at about $20.
If you do decide to go fishing, and plan on eating what you catch, you may want to check out the Health Advisory on safe eating guidelines for fish from coastal areas of Southern California.
Pier Fishing: You can go pier fishing on the Port Hueneme (pronounced "Wy-nee-mee") pier at the Port Hueneme Beach Park or at the Ventura Pier in Ventura. You're virtually guaranteed to catch something from a pier, as schools of Jacksmelt, Topsmelt or Sardines regularly swim by the piers, and you can easily catch some with almost any multi-hook rig.
Beach fishing: There are four major beaches in Oxnard from north to south: Mandalay Beach, Oxnard Beach, Hollywood Beach, and Silver Strand. If the beaches aren't too crowded you can try your luck there. If you're more adventurous, you can make your way to the deserted beaches behind the Oxnard Power Plant. You'll mostly be fishing for Surfperch from the beaches, if you're lucky you might hook a Croaker or a Corbina, and you'll get the most bites using a Carolina rig with live or artificial sandworms.
You'll find some rock jetties every couple of hundred yards along the beach from where you can also fish. The most popular jetty is probably the jetty at the La Jenelle Park at the southern tip of Silver Strand. The rock outcropping is named after a ship called the "La Jenelle" that sank there in 1970. Rusty pieces of ship metal can still be seen between the rocks there, but nothing else remains of the ship. The downside to fishing there is I've never caught anything in multiple trips to the place.
Fishing Charters: Channel Islands Sportsfishing offers all sorts of tours, some only suited for hardcore anglers. The Speed Twin is probably best suited for the amateur fishing enthusiast, offering half-day tours starting at 8:00 AM and returning in the afternoon just in time for you to sprint off to camp and catch the afternoon practice. You'll mostly be fishing for Rockfish, but anglers also haul in a wide variety of other fish often found in California's coastal waters.
Hit the Beaches
Silver Strand is a one-mile-long sandy beach, where you'll find most of the local surfers, boogie boarders and body surfers. Public restrooms are at the north end of the beach where you'll also find free parking. There's also a very small parking lot on the south end of the beach at La Jenelle Park. The Silver Strand Surf School offers surfing lessons for kids and adults alike.
Oxnard State Beach & Park is probably the most popular beach and features volleyball courts, barbeque stations, a small skateboard park, skating and jogging paths, bike rentals, and a kids playground with a pirate ship and a sea dragon. The rolling lawns of the Beach Park make it a perfect spot for kite flying and picnicking.
Other things to do with kids
If none of the things above are to your kids' liking, and you want them to move outside of Wifi range at least once a day, here are some ideas for your consideration:
Go kayaking. You can rent kayaks at the Marine Emporium Landing in the Harbor (but make sure to note the starting time of your rental on the rental slip, they like to charge tourists for an extra hour or two) or at places like Blue Ocean Kayaking.
Go play minigolf. Golf N' Stuff bills itself as a family fun center and features two miniature golf courses, bumper cars, bumper boats, laser tag and more.
Go trampolining. If you want to tire out the kids real quick, this is your spot: Sky High Sports has trampolines, foam pits, the works, and you can watch safely from a cafe as your kids' batteries empty faster than your i-Phone's.
Check out the PCH. The Pacific Coast Highway is the scenic route back to Los Angeles, and if time permits, this is a very nice drive that will take you through Malibu and into Santa Monica.
Visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. If you've never been to a presidential library, this is a good chance to do it. It's about a 40-minute drive from Oxnard, and regardless of your political leanings, you'll have fun touring a real Air Force One, having your kids pose under the presidential seal, or viewing a real piece of the Berlin Wall (that last one may have been more important to me than it will be to any of you guys).
Go ice skating. The Channel Islands Ice center is open every afternoon, and could be a nice way of cooling off if the temperatures in Oxnard ever get too hot.