Discovering Old Town Camarillo
Culture, community, and culinary creativity with a Central Coast flare
By Nicole Leonetti
I have a confession to make: I have lived in Los Angeles for almost 12 years, and I only just went to Old Town Camarillo for the first time a few weeks ago. I would zoom past it on my way to Santa Barbara several times a year, and that was that. But now that I’ve gotten off Hwy 101 and explored the area, I can’t believe I didn’t visit sooner. The multitude of restaurants, shops, and activities match up perfectly with my idea of a good time. Also, Old Town’s proximity to the Camarillo Outlets and the Metrolink are a huge plus. But perhaps I found Old Town at exactly the right time. There is currently a sense of community in Old Town that I have yet to experience elsewhere. The term “hidden gem” is overused, but that’s what I discovered upon my first visit. Take your time and enjoy all that Old Town Camarillo has to offer. It’s worth it!
Stay and play
The exclusive hotel of Old Town Camarillo, the Bella Capri Inn is the place to stay. This centrally located hotel books up quickly, and for good reason. It features cute boutique lodging with modern amenities and (bonus) it is pet-friendly. With beautiful Spanish architecture, reasonable room rates, and free parking — we’re not in L.A. anymore, Toto — it’s an easy choice.
Next door is the Old Town Café, which is an adorable family-owned café. It’s open for breakfast and lunch with favorites such as their classic French toast served with fresh berry compote and whipped cream, chicken & waffles, and — if you can take the heat — the Bacon Sriracha Burrito.
Hit The Mark
Throughout your visit to Old Town, you will be frequenting The Mark regularly. All in one building, you have Topa Topa Brewing Co, Freda’s Pizza & Woodfire Kitchen, Café Ficelle, and Rori’s Artisanal Creamery. Beer, pizza, baked goods, and ice cream — it’s pretty much heaven! I believe the pro move here is to go to Café Ficelle in the morning for a pain au chocolat or almond croissant with a coffee or tea, then head out to explore Old Town Camarillo, and return later to enjoy the rest of what The Mark has to offer. Grab a glass of Dos Topas Lager or Chief Peak IPA from Topa Topa, then stroll over to Freda’s for one of their delicious pizzas. I recommend the El Diablo with Calabrese salami, pickled chilies, fresh basil, crushed San Marzano tomatoes, Parmesan, mozzarella, and fior di latte. After enjoying the perfect pizza and beer pairing, order a scoop (or two) at Rori’s. I love their Nutella ice cream, but you can’t go wrong with any of their flavors, including their dairy free options.
After breakfast in Old Town, it’s time for some shopping! If you visit on a Saturday, you need to head to the Camarillo Certified Farmers Market. Every Saturday from 8 am to noon, year-round, you can visit the local farmers and artisans that make this market so special. They have live music each week with vendors selling everything from cold pressed olive oil to gourmet dog treats. Also, fun fact: the Camarillo Farmers Market is run entirely by volunteers!
My next stop: American Pie Records, which is one of the most amazing record shops I’ve ever wandered into. Opened in March 2022, they have rare, out-of-print collector records, as well as all of the classics. Owner Michael Curtis is a Camarillo native whose goal is to turn Old Town into a destination (mission accomplished). This place has an amazing record selection, with ’70s music being their best sellers — especially the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen. Their special Frank Sinatra and Beatles sections, along with their fun selection of movie and musical soundtrack albums, were my favorites. I found a limited-edition Desi Arnaz record, Babalu, priced at $100. Although that wasn’t in my budget that day, I am adding it to my wish list. They also have early Miles Davis records which would be the perfect gift for the jazz lovers in your life.
After grabbing a few new records, head down to Malone’s Metaphysical & More, the one-stop-shop for all of your metaphysical needs. Reiki, energy healing, and psychic medium services are offered at Malone’s. You’ll also find crystals, jewelry, books, and tarot cards alike, as well as plenty of other specialties for yourself or friends who swear by these spiritual must-haves.
If you’re hankering for retail shopping, you’ve got plenty of choices in Old Town, from surf shops (Revolution Board Co.) to jewelry stores (Green Goddess Boutique) to thrift stores (All Sorts Thrift Shop).
At this point in your day, it may be time for a mid-afternoon snack, so I suggest making a beeline for The Wine Closet. Proprietor Linda Wulzen specializes in small production, hand-crafted California wines, as well as a terrific selection of cheeses, made-from-scratch sandwiches, avocado toast, and some of the best cheese & charcuterie boards I have ever had. Come on a Thursday night for a spotlight on Southern California wineries, or anytime for excellent all-around wine flights. Love what you taste? Join their wine club to enjoy specialty pricing and curated selections.
The Wine Closet is dog-friendly with both front and back patios, but even if you don’t have a fur-baby, you’ll enjoy the views and people-watching opportunities. Also, the fact that they have a record player seems like fate, and yet another reason to stop at American Pie Records before heading to The Wine Closet.
Art and activities with a twist
Just down the street is Studio Channel Islands Art Center. Located within an old elementary school, it houses art galleries, artists’ studios, and outdoor exhibition and event spaces. There are rotating exhibits in the galleries, and on the first Saturday of every month they have open studio experiences where you can visit the studios of up to 40 area artists. If you are inspired to take your own art skills to the next level, they also offer both children’s and adult classes. Plan your visit to align with their upcoming events, like the trippy and immersive Colorspace Exhibition (Oct. 1 – Nov. 19) featuring artists Carlos Grasso, Ariane Leiter, Margaret Korishelli, and Barry Frantz. The Holiday Art Market (Dec. 3 – 4) showcases a huge variety of unique pieces from local artists, which makes this the perfect place to get all your holiday shopping done at once.
If you’re looking for an altogether different experience, head over to Zander’s Game House. This place is special — people having fun playing games, interacting with each other without screens, without alcohol, and without exorbitant prices. For just $7, you can stay and play games all day long! They have a 1,000-game library that includes WWII strategy games, Star Wars games, and, of course, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Their selection is incredible, with just about every game you could dream of, and a few I could never have imagined (can we talk about Flushin’ Frenzy?). My favorite find was a game called Masterpiece, which is an auctioneer game where you bid on famous works of art by renowned artists. Locals can enjoy monthly passes and a rental program where you can bring games home. Owner Jeanne Kuchera-Sikoff, who wanted to spend more time with her son Zander, opened the shop in August 2016. She was also intrigued by the idea of using games as therapy. Games, she says, have been proven to help social issues, and to enhance sportsmanship and cooperative skills in people of all ages. As Jeanne shared, the magic to Zanders is “No screens, just memories made.”
Looking for a fun evening out? Try Painting with a Twist. Book a private party or go in for one of their studio events. No painting experience is necessary; let the expert artists guide you, step-by-step, toward creating your very own awesome work of art. Check their website for a calendar of the paintings for each event over the next few months. You’ll find a surprising variety of choices: gorgeous nature scenes, animals, holiday décor, and fun theme nights like Blacklight Party, Couples Painting, Trivia Night, and even Paint Your Pet. Add a glass of wine and a few friends for an extra splash of fun. Frequent painters can earn reward points for discounts and other exclusive deals. Want to bring the fun home? Check out their Artwork Kits!
There is no shortage of dining options in Old Town Camarillo! One of my favorites is Twisted Oak Tavern, a fun (and dog-friendly) bar and restaurant located in a 106-year-old building in the heart of Old Town. They opened in June 2020 and, despite the pandemic, have quickly become a locals’ favorite. Their vast beer menu regularly includes 15 to 20 beers on tap. I recommend their specialty Camino Real Mexican Lager, which is a nod to California’s historic trail that eventually became Highway 101. You should definitely plan to dine at Twisted Oak, too. Their menu features delectable burgers made with custom ground beef, crafted especially for them. Try The Twisted Oak Burger, topped with applewood smoked bacon, arugula, beer onions, bleu cheese, and garlic aioli on a brioche bun; or The Big Macaroni Burger, topped with red onion, tomato, pickles, creamy pimento cheese, and sriracha ketchup on a bun made of fried mac-n-cheese (yes, you read that right, a fried mac-n-cheese bun!).
When asked what makes Old Town Camarillo so special, Twisted Oak owner Jeff Walker explained that it’s the “Small town roots. People really support their local businesses here.” You can fully appreciate this sentiment if you spend any amount of time in Old Town, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Another great dining option is Twenty88 Wine Bistro. This is a fantastic place for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Serving scrumptious steaks and other delightful options, they are centrally located in Old Town with a lovely dog-friendly patio. They have a beautiful bar with a sizeable wine list and fun cocktail offerings.
If you are craving Italian food, then make your way over to Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant. Ottavio’s provides classic Italian food in a cozy setting where you will find favorites such as linguine and clams, and sausage and peppers. They have been serving Old Town Camarillo for more than 50 years, so they really have seen the entire area come alive.
If you are a burger fan, you will love BLVD BRGR CO (pronounced “boulevard burger co.”). They have hand-crafted burgers, delicious shakes, and 22 beers on tap! The Purist is their standard cheeseburger, but if you want something a bit more adventurous, try the Savage BRGR, which includes the “works”: smoked bacon, over-easy egg, American cheese, guacamole, jalapeño onion hash, lettuce, and garlic aioli. They also have vegan and vegetarian burger options if you are so inclined. Make sure to grab one of their gourmet sides as well. I had a hard time saying no to their Smoked Bacon Mac & Cheese! If you’ve got a hankering for something sweet, go for their classic vanilla and chocolate milk shakes, or go all out and try their Oreo or Fruity Pebble shakes.
Old Town Camarillo is a wonderful place to visit any time — Camarillo is renowned for its excellent weather year-round — but as fall sets in, their special events calendar makes it even more magical. The 8th Annual Camarillo Old Town Wine Walk (Oct. 22, from 1 to 4 pm) features tastings of the best local wineries and craft breweries. Tickets ($45 presale, $60 day-of, or $75 VIP) include a commemorative wine glass, map of the event, wine, beer, and plenty of live entertainment. Also not to be missed is Boo Fest (Oct. 29, noon to 4 pm). This free Halloween celebration features a carnival, costume contests — for kids and pets! — and door-to-door trick-or-treating at businesses along the boulevard. If you want to feel like you’re in a Hallmark movie, come for the 3rd Annual Old Town Glow (Dec. 3, from 4 to 7 pm). Tickets are $30 and include a holiday cocktail, wine, or beer tasting at each of the local restaurants in Old Town Camarillo with chances to win themed giveaway baskets from various locations. Old Town spreads the holiday cheer with storefront lighting and a window decorating competition.
I can go on and on about Old Town Camarillo, but go discover this place for yourself. Don’t be a fool like me and simply drive by it for years — stop the car, explore, and enjoy!
For more, check out camarillooldtown.org.