Located along Highway 101 on the central coast of California, San Beunaventura, a.k.a. Ventura, meaning “good fortune,” has certainly brought inspiration to the California Gypsies. Resting alongside the Pacific Ocean, Ventura’s mild, Mediterranean climate brings visitors year round. The miles of beaches at its front door is considered to be one of the best surfing areas in southern California.
Ventura’s historic Main Street is abundant with a colorful history and a collection of hidden treasures. The Gypsy adventure begins here to discover the gems this seaside town has to offer.
Bella Maggiore Inn
This charming and intimate Bed & Breakfast resides in the heart of old Ventura, nestled between the Ventura Pier that reaches over the great Pacific Ocean, and City Hall that rests on the hillside in splendid grandeur overlooking the town and its surroundings. The Inn was designed in 1927 by the Albert C. Martin & Associates architectural firm, famously known for many of Southern California’s landmark buildings including the Los Angeles City Hall and the Ventura City Hall.
The facade of the building is reminiscent of the Spanish Renaissance style. Stepping inside one is drawn back in time, its decor elegantly displays the motif of the early 1920’s. In the spacious lobby stands a grand fireplace…logs burning…sparks crackle…warming guests as they return from their seaside activities. Beyond the lobby is Nona’s Courtyard Cafe, surrounded with an abundance of greenery and flowers accentuating the beauty of the Inn.
A most interesting highlight of the Bella Maggiore Inn is the haunting of Sylvia, the resident ghost. During World War II, Sylvia, a prostitute, was found hung in the closet in room 17. Today, she is seen roaming the halls to welcome male guests and occasionally one can smell her rose-scented perfume.
An early morning cup of java is the Gypsy way to begin the day and the Gypsies are determined to find the most perfect coffee shop. The Savory Bakery Cafe is a welcome respite when the town is blanketed with a chilly fog. The ambiance of a French style cafe and freshly brewed coffee served in a 2 pint aqua marine cup added to the uniqueness of the area. Warm bagels and soft cream cheese, made with assorted flavors such as dill and finely chopped vegetables, are mouth-watering delicious!
The Savory Bakery Cafe also delights its customers with scrumptious pastries ranging from home made cupcakes to tea cakes. Of course we made afternoon stops to satisfy our sweet tooth cravings.
A late lunch, or an early dinner treat, we stepped into a traditional Indian village culture at the exotic Taj Cafe on Main Street. The aroma of Indian cuisine, the bright colors, Indian artifacts and a jumbo size mural of the magnificent Taj Mahal can give one a feeling of being on a far away journey. This is Daisy’s first Indian dining experience and her dish, lamb curry with its combination of spices, satisfied her palate. My vegetarian dish with cauliflower and potato was an excellent combination.
The Taj Cafe was at one time a retail store with two large glass window display areas on either side of the main entrance. The ingenious planning of the restaurant included converting those areas into two private, and romantic, dining experiences. Daisy and I stepped through the rich colored drapes into our window alcove, enjoying our lunch and watching the outside world gaze into our glass menagerie.
Ghost Walk with Richard Senate
The morning’s local newspaper advertised a special ghost tour was taking place at the Victorian Garden District just a few blocks away. We arrived precisely at 7:00 PM at the meeting place, “Bank of Books” used book store, as it was just closing. The evening took shape as the lights dimmed and the store became quiet. We paid our $4 fee and Daisy bought a couple of books on ghosts written by the host of tonight’s tour, Richard Senate, noted author and ghost hunter. Our excitement level rose as we headed down the narrow stairway to the floor below, not yet knowing exactly what this tour is about. We knew we were in the right place when we bumped into Richard dressed as a gentleman during the Civil War era, seated on a Victorian style sofa, waiting for twenty or so interested folks to arrive.
After a brief lecture, Richard led the group into the darkness of night to several Victorian style and California Bungalow homes that are said to be haunted. Of the many haunted buildings and stories that Richard shared, the most interesting was a church, The Center for Spiritual Living, an impressive building designed after a Mayan pyramid. Inside one gets the feeling of being in an ancient castle. We explored the infamous basement where a small room has been a hub for haunting’s for years; some call it “the door to hell.” As I neared the threshold of the room, a sudden pressure, at the back of my head, took me for loop causing nausea and a shortness of breath lasting for several minutes. Then, as I walked away of the room, it was gone just as fast as it came.
One block from The Bella Maggiore Inn is the city park. Richard told the story of a man and woman who never were able to be together in life but can be seen walking through the Park toward one another and then disappear just within reach of each other.
On the final leg of our tour, rain begins to fall. Richard stands tall like a politician under one of the two largest fig trees in California, the same place where, in years past, many political figures would deliver their speeches. Richard completes the tour with one final ghost story sending chills down my spine. The group disperses and Daisy and I race back to the Inn, soaking wet.
A major Pacific storm settled in Southern California during our last night in Ventura and was in full swing when we woke Sunday morning. Fierce winds tossed the torrential rain like pellets and slammed against the windows as we packed our bags. Though rough, the storm did not deter our plans to end this chapter with a little spiritual insight and lunch before heading home.
It was time to say farewell to the staff, and to Sylvia (the ghost), at the Bella Maggiore Inn, we walked through the garden area one last time and out to the back parking lot. A forgotten mass of metal and rubber, sitting silent for three days, suddenly became an essential component to get us where we wanted to go, especially in this weather!
We arrived at the Unity Church of Ventura, pretty much drenched. With winds blowing, the umbrella didn’t quite do its job to keep us dry. None-the-less, the service fulfilled our spiritual desires and the music added to the serenity of the soul.
After Sunday service, the Gypsies had one last edible hurrah at Eric Ericcsons on the pier. As the heavy rains and restless waters crashed into the pier and onto the shore, we slowly and cautiously walked up the wood planked steps and reached the restaurant in one piece. I grabbed the handle on the door and, with one gentle pull, the harsh winds whipped it open, almost off its hinges. The place was barren with the exception of one other customer enjoying an early lunch. The hostess led us to a table near a window with a view. On a typical sunny day the views of the mighty blue ocean and the sandy coastline are beautiful, but not today. The window screens were layered with rain, we could see just outside the window and watched the hail splatter onto the deck.
We enjoyed Eric’s famous Shrimp and Chips dipped in Jalapeno batter and its special homemade tartar sauce. This was probably one of the best meals we had in a very long time. The large, moist shrimp with just the right amount of “heat” satisfied the palette.
The Gypsy time in Ventura has come to an end and it’s time to go. Farewell Ventura, thank you for being there.