Catching (Light) Waves on the Oxnard Shores

Eye-Opening Enjoyment at Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach

Sparkling wine pairs with sunsets at Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Santa Barbara is no slouch when it comes to sunsets. But the Oxnard Shores may sport the best end-of-day views in California, which puts this sandy stretch of coastline in the running for best in the world. 

Zachari Dunes is a truly coastal resort on the Oxnard Shores. | Credit: Courtesy

While our gaze upon the Channel Islands is illuminated by sideways rays, those from these southern Ventura County beaches catch the star slipping just behind the archipelago. That angle turns the low-lying end of Anacapa into the snout of an alligator, lurking just at the surface, ready to snatch a sparkly oil rig treat. The tiny island’s taller western peaks form the head, with the ridges of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa finishing its serpentine back. The color scheme is rainbowotic: deep purples and bright fuchsias, of course, but then topaz and periwinkle and orange sherbet, all swirling into ever-shifting Impressionistic chaos. 

I observed as much at the end of 2022, perched on my balcony at the recently rejuvenated Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, which was an Embassy Suites from 1986 until last October. Now the 250-room, nine-acre spread is part of the Curio by Hilton collection, which puts a lifestylized, Kimpton-esque spin on design and offerings, emphasizing culinary, wellness, and outdoor adventures.  

Mason cuts into the O&O Burger at Zachari Dunes. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

“Every day, it’s different — some days, it’s more purple, today it was more pink,” agreed Ben Ly, the Boston-raised, UCSB-educated general manager of the resort, who started his career at the then-Fess Parker Hilton on Cabrillo Boulevard. “That’s one of the most amazing things about this place, the sunset.” After riding the Hilton train through properties in Los Angeles and South San Francisco, Ly came back south with his family in September 2022 to spend a year reenvisioning this property, which included embracing sunlight in the towering, formerly dark lobby. 

Upon check-in there, I was informed that the $30 daily resort fee includes a two-hour per-day allowance of rentals from Henry’s Gear — bicycles, skateboards, hoverboards, surf gear, exercise equipment, video games, even record players — and given the restaurant rundown. Right now, that’s primarily Ox & Ocean, but there’s more on the way, including the Dive game room bar (open only on weekends till summer, with pinball, basketball arcade, darts, shuffleboard, and board games) and Sugar Beats, where an Airstream will soon be dropped to serve coffee, breakfast, and seafood shack fare in the resort’s gardenesque environs. 

“This is a big part of who we are as Curio,” said Ly of the epicurean experience. “The theme is fresh agriculture from Oxnard.” That’s boosted by the farming displays near the Ox & Ocean entrance and the name itself: “Zachari” is Greek for “sugar,” which is what the city’s founder Henry T. Oxnard originally wanted to name the area as a nod for its sugar beet industry. 

Ly showed me the firepit where guests can roast s’mores, three new cabana lounges by the pool, the basketball and tennis courts (pickleball soon!), the Peloton-stocked gym, and the sea breezed, grassy knoll where they host free yoga in the mornings. “We are one of the few truly beachfront properties in California,” he explained. “We wanted to create things that you couldn’t do anywhere else.”

Ricardo Cubias crafts a pisco sour at Zachari Dunes. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

After a surrey ride with my kids along the dunes and past families playing with dogs, RC cars, and rockets at the adjacent park, we refreshed with an avocado margarita, mocktails, and guacamole. Then we settled into our two-full-bath suite (they’re all like that!), enjoyed those sunset views, and dressed for dinner. 

I was happily surprised to learn that Ox & Ocean is helmed by Chef Damien Giliberti, who we know from his time at the former Kimpton Goodland Hotel’s Outpost in Goleta. He went from there to here, having his first child in July, buying a home in Santa Paula in September, and opening the restaurant in October. “This felt right in line with the social dining I was doing at the Goodland,” he explained.

We moved from an aji amarillo-fueled ahi crudo to both oxtail and king trumpet mushroom bao to beets crunchy with puffed amaranth and crispy potatoes slathered in house-cultured butter. After the red curry-coconut broth mussels, I couldn’t allow us to order the steak, halibut, or highly recommended pork chop, though I granted the O&O Burger, a melting heap that we quickly consumed. 

Drinks, as advised by food & beverage director Ricardo Cubias, included a fluted spritz, a smoked old fashioned, an espresso martini, and then, for the kids, a fire-roasted milkshake. I can’t exactly detail how we devoured the fried strawberry handcake, but I do recall a flaky sense of joy. 

Madeline and Mason overlook the Oxnard Shores. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Gluttony continued soon after sunrise — also distinct from Santa Barbara’s, though we have the edge there. After a long walk on the sand and back through the neighborhood, we endured lemon mascarpone pancakes, breakfast burritos, chilaquiles, and Giliberti’s spin on eggs benedict, with jalapeno-corn fritters, housemade pork belly, and chipotle hollandaise. We worked it off exploring the Channel Islands Harbor, finding a colony of sea lions attracting TV news attention at the top of Silver Strand. My wife and daughter braved the afternoon storm in our room while my son and I toured downtown Oxnard, ending with a stop for chicharron tacos plus a michelada and horchata from Tacos El Diablo

The evening’s agenda was a cocktail class with Cubias in Dive, where he prepared a mezcal paloma — refreshing with a smoky kick — and a pisco sour involving strawberry brandy by Ventura Spirits. Then we did some R&D on a beachy drink with vanilla vodka, falernum, lychee syrup, lemon juice, and ginger. A tad sweet, I suggested adding club soda, and offered the potential name “Fresa Impresa.”

Impressed would also be my takeaway from our two-night stay. Oxnard doesn’t get much respect from us northerly neighbors, but Zachari Dunes burst that bubble for me. Even our dog got to choose from the pet menu on the morning we left — Pellegrino in a bowl, as you do, with a hearty serving of eggs and rice. He never saw it coming. 

Zachari Dunes, 2101 Mandalay Beach Rd., Oxnard; (805) 984-2500; zacharidunes.com


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