By Greg Aragon
Sometimes I like to throw a proverbial dart at the map to find new places to discover. And when it’s an unexpectedly hot day, I usually aim for the beach. Such was the case last weekend, when a couple friends and I drove to the neighboring cities of Camarillo and Port Hueneme, in Ventura County, to explore an aircraft museum and spend some time near the ocean.
The getaway began when we headed north up the 101 Freeway from Pasadena for about an hour until we pulled off at the Las Posas exit in Camarillo. We then made our way to the Commemorative Air Force, Southern California Wing museum.
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is an all-volunteer organization, with members dedicated to preserving the history of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States. The museum boasts 12 WWII era aircraft. Three are in restoration, one is grounded and is currently a static display; the remaining eight aircraft are flyable.
What sets the CAF museum apart from other airplane museums is that all of their planes fly! In fact, the CAF says that each year more Americans see their aircraft, “touch their metal, smell their exhaust smoke, and listen to the roar of their piston engines than visit static displays of all other aviation museums combined. The CAF says its aircraft throughout the U.S. perform before nearly 10,000,000 spectators every year, celebrating the planes that flew to victory between 1939 and 1945.
A few of the planes on display at the WWII Aviation Museum include the Grumman F6F Hellcat, North American PBJ Mitchell, Fairchild Pt-19A Cornell, P-51D Mustang Man’O’War, and the Curtiss C-46F Commando.
A highlight is the Grumman F6F Hellcat. This is an American plane that launched from carriers and was the US Navy’s main fighter in the second half of WWII’s Pacific Theater. The F6F made its combat debut in September 1943 as a counter to the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. The aircraft is estimated to have destroyed more than 5,000 enemy aircraft during the war.
One of the largest aircraft at the museum is the Curtiss C-46FCommando. This post-WWII surplus transport aircraft, with a wingspan of 108 feet, was built in Buffalo, N.Y. and rolled off the assembly line in July 1945. The 32,000-pound plane flew with the military until the early ‘50s.
The WWII Aviation Museum is located at 455 Aviation Drive Camarillo, CA 93010. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and Sunday 12-4 p.m. Admission: adults $10; students $5; children $3; children under 6 and current military free. Airplane rides are available to the public, so call for details. For more information, visit: cafsocal.com.
After leaving the air museum, we drove about 9 miles from Camarillo to the tiny beach town of Port Hueneme to relax in the sand at Port Hueneme Beach Park. This 50-acre park offers numerous picnic tables and barbecue pits, winding walking paths and bike paths, public restrooms, volleyball courts, lifeguard stations and lots of sand and ocean to play in. The beach also boasts sand dunes and a historical wooden pier stretching 1,250 feet into the water. The pier is perfect for strolling and fishing.
After lounging in the sand and dunking in the cool Pacific Ocean, we had lunch at the Surfside Seafood restaurant which is located on the beach. Here we had fish and chips and cold beer, while listening to live music.
Down the street from Port Hueneme Beach Park is Bubbling Springs Park, a 21-acre community park with a creek running through it. The park is highlighted by a picturesque walking bridge spanning the creek, with hundreds of seagulls and ducks walking around the grassy banks and floating in the water.
Another interesting spot in town is the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum. Built in 1925, the building was originally the Bank of Hueneme and then it was the city’s first City Hall. Today, the museum – listed as Ventura County Landmark No. 32 – houses historical artifacts, photographs and information on the history of the Hueneme area. The building was designed by architect Myron Hunt, who also designed the Huntington Library in San Marino and the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.