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All activities, meals and accommodations on this trip were paid for by the hosts.

WINEormous at Mandalay BeachAs I prepare to head back to Oxnard to judge the Oxnard Salsa Festival, I wanted to share my memories of a recent visit there. I checked into the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort and was delighted to see the renovations they were in the midst of during last year’s visit had been completed. It’s a gorgeous property, sitting right on the beach. Oceanfront rooms not only offer a stunning view, but you can hear the waves crashing from your balcony and from your bed if you leave the sliding windows open. Each room at the hotel is a two room suite and you’re treated to a cooked to order breakfast every morning as well as an evening reception with adult beverages.

WINEormous at California Welcome CenterOur first stop was a visit to the California Welcome Center. The welcome center celebrates the area’s wineries with an Enomatic machine that for a price dispenses tastes of various Oxnard area wines. Miguel was visibly proud of the new center and of Oxnard and answered questions easily. There’s a wealth of information to be found here, and if you do pay Oxnard a visit, might I suggest you start here.

WINEormous at La Dolce VitaOur evening began with a progressive dinner, starting at La Dolce Vita, where owner and Executive Chef Michelle Kinney made sure we had full bellies and some good wine. I love steamed clams and Michelle’s were superb. I also tasted some of my neighbors’ fried calamari, Gorgonzola-stuffed pork loin  and pasta dishes. La Dolce Vita is in Oxnard’s charming Heritage Square. Michelle also offers farm-to-table winemaker dinners.

WINEormous at The Italian JobFor dessert we shot over to The Italian Job Café, a cozy place with delightful desserts. We enjoyed Tiramisu, gelato, panacotta and cannolis with flaming Sambuca while we reflected on a fun and tasty day.

Mark Schooling owns and operates Gondola Paradiso, a real honest-to-goodness Venetian style Gondola traversing the  Channel Islands harbor. The next morning Mark took three of us on a leisurely tour of the harbor and stopped `WINEormous with Gondola Paradisooutside Fresco II to pick up pizza and appetizers for us to munch while he paddled. The pizza was excellent and the ride was delightful. Mark is passionate about what he does and wants to make sure his customers have a great experience. We certainly did.

WINEormous with Cathy Moreno

Cathy Moreno

Dinner was again in two stops. We went to the kitchen, owned by Cathy Moreno, Michelle Kinney’s sister. Cathy loves beer and has 12 microbrews on tap. She loves talking about the frothy beverage and she’s very good at pairing food with it. She served bacon wrapped dates, won tons and mini hot dogs, all perfectly paired with the beers. Guy Fieri was in a few years ago for an episode of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives and you can still see where he signed the wall.

WINEormous at Mandalay BeachWe returned to Mandalay Beach for dinner at the Coastal Grill to enjoy the food of Executive Chef Tim Hulber. When we visited last year, Tim had just begun his stint there. With a year under his belt, he’s firing on all cylinders. We ate Baja spring rolls, chicken wings and chicken quesadillas and for an entrée I chose roasted chicken with cous cous and Blue Lake green beans. The chicken was succulent, moist and flavorful, as good as any I have ever had. After dinner he presented a carousel of mini delights, just enough for a few small bites to cap off an excellent meal.

Oxnard is an easy drive from anywhere in Southern California. With seemingly endless possibilities, it’s ideal for a couple of days of unwinding.

Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts.

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