If you live in Southern California, you know that summer brings crowds: visitors from all over the country and around the world. That means it’s hard to go anywhere without running into crowds and traffic, two main ingredients that make kids (and parents) cranky.

One place that seems to have held on to its laid-back California charm and has plenty of fun for kids is Ventura, particularly the three cities known as VenturaCountyWest (Camarillo, Oxnard, and Ventura). Located on Highway 101 north of Los Angeles, western Ventura County boasts uncrowded beaches (with free parking), ocean adventures, and plenty of kid-friendly summer activities that are easy to get to. Here are a few to check out.

Channel Islands National Park

Take a tour boat to Channel Islands National Park from Ventura or Channel Islands (Oxnard) ports. The islands are only 11 miles off the Ventura County coast. Along the way, you can see dolphins, seals, pelicans and other wildlife. Hikes, overnight stays, kayaking are all available once you reach shore. Tours are booked through Island Packers, http://www.islandpackers.com/.

Ventura Harbor Town

Ventura Harbor Village contains an arcade featuring an indoor antique carousel, an arcade, and a candy store with over 20 varieties of fudge (made fresh daily). Families can rent rowing and electric boats to cruise the harbor’s quiet canals. Back on shore, plan to eat at one of the casual harbor-side restaurants offering fresh seafood. http://www.venturaharborvillage.com.

Ventura County Fairgrounds Race Track

Cars, motorcycles and all manner of “Midget” racing vehicles hit the track almost every weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura. It’s all so much fun as you cheer on your favorite driver.

Seagull Wings Children’s Museum

This children’s museum in Oxnard looks unassuming from the outside, but once inside, eight and under will have so much to do and see that they won’t know where to begin. They can dress up as firefighters, doctors, or pretend they are astronauts landing on the moon in an Apollo spacecraft. There are snakes to hold, treasures to find in a geological dig, and plenty of Legos to build to your heart’s content. Kids can try climbing rock faces or let their imaginations run wild while in the driver’s seat of a real car.

soaring sports

You won’t find a big sign advertising Sky High Sports Camarillo from the freeway. It’s in an industrial park, it has to be, the place is huge. It is full of trampolines with super cushioned floors and walls. The kids can play trampoline dodge ball and other organized games or…just jump around. All under supervision. Sky High also has laser tag. The kids are sure to come out sweaty and tired, a perfect way to spend the afternoon.