Ojai, where the sky turns pink at sunset over the Topatopa Mountains, was once inhabited by the Chumash Indians.
Most famous for the Ojai Music Festival and the Ojai Valley Lavender Festival, Ojai is located in Ventura County, just a scenic 90-minute drive from Los Angeles. Its village-like center dotted with art galleries and New Age shops, nestles in the Ojai valley. Just north is the Los Padres National Forest, crisscrossed with meandering trails, and also nearby is Lake Casitas, another popular recreation area.
Ojai is home to magnificent olive and citrus groves, natural springs and scenic hiking trails. Though the town is small, it’s brimming with unique experiences, sights and tastes. If relaxation is your thing, Ojai is known for its world-class spas.
WHERE TO STAY
The Lavender Inn—A charming bed-and-breakfast, built in 1874, puts guest experiences first with eight uniquely decorated rooms to choose from and complimentary gourmet breakfast every morning. Enjoy breakfast on the veranda overlooking the flourishing garden filled with herbs and flowers. In the evenings, the Inn hosts tapas and wine hour, a nice way to unwind from a day of exploring Ojai. The Inn also offers cooking classes at the Ojai Culinary School, guided outdoor adventures, and a full-service spa. Inn Courage, now in its tenth year, is a surprising touch of compassion that provides a free, three-day retreat for under-served women in treatment for cancer.
210 E Matilija Street. (805) 646-6635. Lavenderinn.com.
The Oaks at Ojai—A health and fitness destination spa helps guests unwind, relax, and rejuvenate through a menu of wellness services. Built in the 1920s, the Spanish Mission Revival grounds offer 46 guest rooms that include lodges, cottages, courtyard suites and mini-spa suites. With a focus on nutrition, fitness and wellness, the all- inclusive spa includes nutritious meals, fitness classes, outdoor activities (hiking, kayaking, bike tours) and access to a pool, whirlpools, eucalyptus steam rooms and redwood saunas. Spa services such as facials and massages can be found on the à la carte menu for an extra fee. 122 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023. (800) 753-6257.
The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa—is the place to splurge, but well worth it. Built in 1923, the resort sits on a huge property housing its own golf course, pools, spa, a handful of restaurants and even a painter’s cottage where you can take art and apothecary classes. With AAA Five Diamond rating, the modern Spanish Colonial style rooms feature fireplaces, private balconies or patios that overlook the golf course and mountains. Perfect for an elegant wedding against the majestic mountain backdrop.
905 Country Club Road, Ojai, CA 93023, (805) 697-8780.
There are many fun eateries around town for every budget and palate.
The Ranch House—This rustic retreat of a restaurant was a favorite of actor Paul Newman and feels similar to the Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga. Outdoor dining under the stars and trees dressed in tiny bistro lights makes this a quiet romantic spot for a special celebration, or a great place for a family brunch or rehearsal dinner. 102 Besant Road. (805) 646-2360.
Agave Maria’s Restaurant & Cantina—If you want to wet your whistle with the best margaritas in town, saunter down to the Authentic Mexican cuisine, with a fun fiesta atmosphere and reasonable prices. Also, dog friendly on the patio! 106 S Montgomery St. (805) 646-6353.
The Farmer and the Cook Organic Market—A cafe-market-bakery-salad bar serving Mexican food using organic chiles, tomatoes and tomatillos grown at the farm, Rancho del Pueblo (the “Farmer,” Steve Sprinkel) that is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with 60 members who share in a season’s harvest of organically grown produce that is less than four hours out of the ground. The Cook’s farm-to-table fare starts with its Mexican Café menu, plus pizza, breakfast, and smoothies. 339 W. El Roblar Drive. (805) 640-9608; farmerandcook.com. Closes 8:30 p.m.
Olivella—Tucked inside the Ojai Valley Inn is an elegant Italian restaurant not to be missed with an extensive wine list and dishes sourced by local farms and creative menus that make this a special-occasion dinner one to remember. 905 Country Club Road. (805) 646-1111.
The Nest—A casual fun eatery on the main drag in town, a healthy spot with an eclectic menu of Buddha bowls, Cauliflower tacos, and gourmet pizzas. Not to be missed are the specialty cocktails with creative local ingredients. 401 East Ojai Avenue. (805)798-9035.
Ojai Vineyard & Tasting Room—This award-winning certified, organic winery was one of the first in the Central Coast. They have a tasting room right on the main drag in Ojai, so you won’t need a designated driver to visit. They’ll pour flights of their most popular wines (or a la carte tastes, if you want to mix and match) and tell you about the year, the grapes, and the process. Buy bottles to go or stay and drink at the bar. The tasting room also sells souvenir glasses and other wine paraphernalia such as aerators, fancy corkscrews, coasters and the like. 109 Montgomery Street.
Majestic Oak Vineyard & Wine Tasting—321 E. Ojai Avenue. (805) 640-1390; Majesticoakvineyard.com.
Boccali Vineyards— Boccali Vineyards & Winery is a family-owned and operated winery located in the Upper Ojai Valley. Their wines are 100% estate-made with fruit from their own vineyards located on the family ranch and produced and bottled on-site. Father and son partners and winemakers, DeWayne & Joe Boccali, are the dynamic duo behind these fine wines. Tastings are available at the original Boccali’s Pizza & Pasta. 3277 E. Ojai Avenue. (805) 669-8688; boccalivineyard.com.
Bart’s Books—A magical place where you’ll think you are the only one to have stumbled upon. The beautiful outdoor bookstore is packed to the gills with an extensive collection of used and new titles from Sci Fi to Self Help. The center of the shop is an old house with cookbooks in the kitchen, poetry in the living room, art books in the “gallery,” etc. The rest of the place is a maze of bookshelves with corrugated tin roofing and open-air seating areas for comfy browsing. It’s like being in a treehouse made of books—just don’t ask them what they do when it rains. Tip: While you’re there, pick up the “Hip Hiking Guide,” written by three generations of Ojai women, for information on the best trails. 302 W Matilija Street. (805) 646-3755; bartsbooksojai.com.
PACKING HOUSE TOURS
Friend’s Ranches—The packing house and citrus farm has been around for more than 100 years, growing oranges, tangerines, mandarins, blood oranges, tangelos, lemons, grapefruits, avocados and the fruit Ojai is best known for: the Pixie tangerine. Seedless, small and super sweet, the Pixie is their legendary local snack. Take the tour and pick up bags of other, equally tasty fruits, or quench your thirst with fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juice. There’s a stunning view from the orchard, a short walk across the road and down. 15150 Maricopa Hwy, friendsranches.com. (805) 646-2871; Open Tuesday and Friday mornings
Ojai Olive Oil—See and taste the benefits of Ojai’s unique Mediterranean climate at Ojai Olive Oil Co. The olive grove here was planted in 1880 in the era of the Missions, when there was a communal olive press in the valley and has been thriving ever since. The specific varietal produces a robust and peppery oil, which you can taste for yourself (along with flavored oils and vinegars) at the end of the tour of the farm and facilities. 1811 Ladera Road. (805) 646-5964; ojaioliveoil.com.
Los Padres National Forest boasts more than 1,200 miles of maintained trails and 875,000 acres of Congressionally designated wilderness. Some popular trails were damaged during the Thomas Fire. Check with the Ojai Land Conservancy first. (www.ovlc.org). Its ecosystems range from semi-desert in the interior to redwood forests on the coast. It is home to a wide range of flora and fauna and approximately 468 species of fish and wildlife, including 23 threatened and endangered species. Escape from L.A. for car camping, backpacking, hiking, biking, fishing, you name it. For experienced hikers, we recommend the Sespe Creek Trail to Willett Hot Springs. Hiking nine miles in to a rewarding hot spring, you might want to camp along the way before continuing for another six miles to Sespe Hot Springs. Bear Creek campground, about four miles in, is a popular resting point or a turnaround for day hikers. Adventure passes are needed at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead. Watch for rattlesnakes. What? No bears? Ojai Ranger District, 1190 E. Ojai Avenue; (805) 646-4348; fs.usda.gov.
Ojai Meadows Preserve—Protected meadows, a wetland, and beautiful hiking trails for the whole family, including dogs.1447-1601 Maricopa Highway. (805) 649-6852; ovlc.org/preserves/ojai-meadows-preserve.
Horseback Riding with Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company—Mount up for a one- or two-hour ride any day of the week through the Ventura River valley or up into the Enchanted Forest. Only 3.5 miles from downtown Ojai, Oso Ranch is open all year. 1290 Meyer Road. (805) 890-9340; ojaivalleytrailridingcompany.com.
Bike Riding—There are more than 891 bike trails in Ojai. Ojai Valley Trail is not too challenging and has lots of shade. Completing a one-way leg of the ride in under an hour means lots of time for meandering around Ojai (or Ventura, depending on your starting point) before heading back. The views from this ride are stunning with sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountains. There’s a rural feel once the trail breaks away from the railroad tracks and Route 33. Bring lots of water, some cash for lunch, and enjoy! Rails to Trails Conservancy
In the Field—Sophisticated boutique with modern & bohemian clothing, plus accessories & home goods. 730 E Ojai Ave, (805) 633-0021
Treasures of Ojai —Antique shop. 110 N Signal St, (805) 646-2852
Look for many different Boho-style shops along the main street and a vintage candy store for kids of all ages. 306 E. Matilija Street. (805) 640-0678.
UNIQUE & INTERESTING
Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts—Wood (aka “Beato”) was a famous ceramist in New York City at the turn of the century, known to some as the “Mama of Dada.” One day, she’d had enough and moved to a ranch in Ojai, where she lived until her death at the age of 105. See her work and take in local exhibitions, performances, regular classes, lectures, workshops with kid-friendly options, and a gallery store. Open to the public, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., 8585 Ojai-Santa Paula Rd. (in Upper Ojai), Ojai, CA 93023; (805) 646-3381; BeatriceWoodCenter@gmail.com; beatricewood.com.
Lake Casitas Recreation Area —For a family-friendly camping experience, with over 400 campsites, picnic areas, fishing, boating, biking, hiking and special activities like star parties. The only downside is no swimming —this is a reservoir. www.casitaswater.org.
The Ojai Valley Museum—Town history exhibits and contemporary local artwork, showcased in a former Catholic Church, stays open late every third Friday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., along with other local galleries and merchants. It’s a free event, often with entertainment, special activities and sales. Next event: Friday, August 17. 130 W. Ojai Avenue. (805) 640-1390; ojaivalleymuseum.org.
Also check out the marvelous views from the hilltop OJAI RETREAT on Besant Road, and from the old but still running headquarters of the Theosophical Society.
And…don’t forget the various places in Ojai devoted to the historic memory, writings and lecture-videos of famed philosopher-educator and spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnsmurti!–including a unique and creative private school founded by him, as well.