By Greg Aragon
California is full of hidden gems. One of my favorites is the seaside town of Oxnard, where lonely beaches give way to island vistas, while small town charm mixes with gourmet restaurants, fascinating museums and one of Southern California’s most beautiful resort hotels.
The hotel is the luxurious Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort (www.mandalaybeach.embassysuites.com), where a friend and I began a recent Oxnard escape. Located on the sand and about 150 yards from the ocean, the Spanish Mission-styled resort boasts 248 suites, along with amenities such as a giant pool and two Jacuzzis, fitness room, tennis courts, on-site restaurant with bar, business center, and bicycle rentals. And all of it is surrounded by tropical waterfalls and caves, serene ponds, lush vegetation and of course, the blue Pacific Ocean.
A few miles from the hotel is another luxurious Oxnard palace – but this one is for antique cars and not people. Created as a tribute to the art deco and machine age, the Mullin Automotive Museum (www.mullinautomotivemuseum.com), houses some of the most impressive autos I have ever seen.
The two-story museum is home to more than 50 of the finest historic French cars ever made, from the legendary Bugatti to the Voisin, with some Delages, Delahayes, Hispano Suizas, and Talbot-Lagos sprinkled around the 46,821 sq-ft showroom. It also displays considerable decorative art from the 1920’s and 1930’s.
One of the most interesting – and expensive – cars in the gallery is the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. Spinning on a stage in the middle of the giant warehouse, this majestic machine was the first of only four ever built. This car represented a milestone in the auto engineering and design. Besides its avant-garde curves, it was one of the fastest cars on the road, with a top speed of 135 mph.
Another mechanical masterpiece is the gorgeous 1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe. Also the first in its production line, this powerful luxury car came with a six-cylinder aluminum engine and was noted for its estimated 124 mph top speed. But it is the curves and style that make this vehicle stand out as a classic piece of French Art. I understand why Peter W. Mullin calls the cars in his collection “rolling sculptures” and says the French automobiles of the 1920’s and 1930’s “represent the pinnacle of 20th Century art and design.”
To help visitors get a better feel for the collection of French cars, the museum shows a fascinating movie about ingenuity in the golden age of the auto in its small theater area.
After touring the museum we headed back to Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel for dinner at the property’s signature Coastal Grill bar. Here, against a dramatic beachfront setting, we began with avocado toast, with avocado relish, radish and cilantro, followed by an arugula salad with quinoa, sweet potato and dates.
With waves crashing on the sand a couple hundred yards away, we then devoured fresh fish tacos with avocado and slaw, and a big, succulent bistro flank steak with mashed potatoes. We washed it down with a bottle of merlot. After dinner we soaked in the Jacuzzi and walked along the resort’s secluded beach.
In the morning we partook in the resort’s complimentary buffet breakfast, featuring a made-to-order omelet bar and a buffet bar with sausage, bacon, eggs, potatoes, fruits, breads, coffee and juices.
We then drove to Heritage Square (www.heritagesquareoxnard.com), the historic heart of Oxnard. Featuring 15 beautifully restored structures, the site showcases the city’s early pioneering families, whose farms and hard work helped create the town. The homes have been re-purposed for business use, but still ooze with old-fashioned appeal.
One of the tastiest buildings at Heritage Square is a gourmet restaurant called La Dolce Vita, (www.ladolcevitadimare.com), which specializes in Authentic Italian and Mediterranean fusion cuisine. After working up an appetite, we had lunch here. I had a delicious chicken Marsala, with mushroom Marsala cream sauce and Italian vegetables. My friend had the roasted salmon, served atop jasmine rice with tobiko caviar.
Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort is located at 2101 Mandalay Beach Road. For more information, call (805) 984-2500 or visit: www.mandalaybeach.embassysuites.com. For more information on visiting Oxnard, visit: www.visitoxnard.com.