WHERE TO STAY, WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO EAT IN OJAI
By Trina Hendry
As much as I love exploring my beautiful Los Angeles, it's a treat to escape the city every now and then. Lucky for me, there are sooooooo many incredible places to visit in Southern California that are within a two-hour drive, making Los Angeles the perfect launch pad for quick weekends away. Ojai (pronounced oh-hi) just happens to be one of those places. It is pure magic and it's one of my faves!
A 90-minute drive northwest of L.A., Ojai is located in Ventura County in the Ojai Valley amongst the Topatopa Mountains. It is known as a spiritual place with a boho vibe—chalk full of wellness retreats, recreational activities, music, art, and the Sunday farmers' market serving as major draws to the area. It is also a not-so-well-kept secret hideout for celebs. I recently, albeit momentarily, locked eyes with Channing Tatum at the farmers' market. Swoon!
The quaint village center is dotted with fashion and home decor boutiques, art galleries, wine tasting rooms, cafes and eateries, and the most adorable outdoor bookstore, which I will tell you about in a bit.
Whether you're there for a day or a weekend, you will drive off into the sunset feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. Here are my recos on where to stay and eat, as well as what to do and see.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget: Ojai Rancho Inn
Developed by the hip-and-happening hospitality group, Shelter Social Club, Ojai Rancho Inn is THE place to stay for hipsters and aesthetically minded Angelenos. Please don't be discouraged by its roadside motel appearance. Once you get inside, you'll be swept away by the impeccable attention to detail, the hotel's intentional juxtaposition of modern and rustic design and its old-school charm. The rooms are cabin-ish, with logs as bed frames, real wood paneling adorning the walls and front porches donning vintage camp chairs, while, the crisp, white sheets and modern light fixtures give it that modern, upscale twist. A pool, free bike rentals, the Chief's Peak watering hole, and pet-friendly accommodations are some of the awesome amenities offered here. Be sure to book well in advance, especially for weekend dates, as this is the hottest reservation is town!
Splurge: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is the ultimate retreat for those looking to be pampered in a serene setting. Here, everyone is treated like a VIP from the moment they arrive, as bellmen whisk you away to your room in golf carts. Built in 1923, this historic resort offers an abundance of active and peaceful pleasures, including multiple pools, seven unique dining outlets, an award-winning spa, a championship 18-hole golf course and endless recreational activities for the mind, body and soul, including happy hour, and aromatherapy and art classes. If an overnight stay isn't an option, consider popping by for Sunday brunch or a spa treatment. You won't regret it. Oh, and it's pet friendly too.
Nest: Su Nido Inn
Su Nido actually means "your nest" in Spanish, and this hotel is trying to create just that...a soothing nest tucked away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Made up mostly of bird-named suites with kitchenettes, living rooms with fireplaces, and Molton Brown bath amenities, this inn is only five minutes from downtown Ojai, making it a lovely and convenient place to rest your head for the weekend.
B+B: Lavender Inn
Built in 1874, the Lavender Inn is a cozy, multi-bedroom bed and breakfast just a short walk from downtown. More than just a bed, the property boasts a beautiful garden, a spa, a culinary school, homemade breakfasts, and a number of activities not typically found in the average B&B. Yoga classes. Check. Cooking classes. Check! Wine-and-cheese happy hour. Check, check!
Boho: Blue Iguana Inn
Blue Iguana Inn's mission-style architecture and old-world ambiance are reminiscent of California's days yonder, which we love, while its amenities—like complimentary continental breakfast, a pool and pet-friendly rooms—are decidedly are up to today's standards. It is a little bit further out of town and a short drive to the shopping district is necessary. Fret not, there is plenty of two-hour parking on the main strip, and plenty of no-limit parking on the side streets.
WHERE TO EAT
This, my friends, is breakfast heaven...get there early, get in line and order their Egg + Cheese Sandwich. Made with house-made bread of the day, Vermont white cheddar, fried egg, and either bacon or arugula, depending on if you're a meat eater or a veggie, this breakfast bite put them on the map and it so worth waiting for. Breakfast and lunch are served until 2pm. Take some baked goods to go and bring lots of cash, as they roll old-school here.
A restaurant and craft brewery in one, Azu serves Mediterrean cuisine with a California twist. Executive Chef and Owner Laurel Moore prepares her dishes with the pure, natural goodness of local farm-driven produce and the flavors of Spain, the Mediterranean and North Africa. Their bar menu features craft cocktails made with juices squeezed from Ojai's citrus orchards, including the Pixie Tangerine, as well as a vast selection of Ojai Valley Brewery beers on tap, and over 20 local and international wines by the glass including wines from The Ojai Alisal Vineyard. Grab a sit on the back patio and enjoy!
Meat eaters and veggies alike hit up this popular casual eatery for bowls, soups, salads, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, and other inventive veggie delights. You won't even miss the meat, we promise!
One of our absolute favorite spots, the Farmer & the Cook is part Mexican cafe, part pizza joint, part breakfast spot and part juice bar. Oh, and it is also an organic market. Sound eclectic? That's because it is, and that's why it is so charming. The food is incredible too. Some of our top picks include the Swiss Chard Enchilada, the Raw Tacos, the BBQ Pineapple and Mushroom Pizza and the Breakfast Burrito.
Whatever you do while in Ojai, make time for Tipple & Ramble. This darling little boutique/wine tasting room/garden is the perfect place to "picnic, patio, shop" as the sign out front says. And, it just happens to be my absolute fave spot in all of Ojai. Grab a glass of rose and a charcuterie, cheese or hummus platter and venture out back to the garden, where you can bask in the sun, drink local wines, play board games, and take a million Instagram pics of the adorable Airstream wine bar. PERFECTION!!! Seriously, you will never want to leave. My friends literally had to drag me away.
Formerly a gas station and general store, Ojai Deer Lodge is now a place where locals and visitors converge for Happy Hour and comfort food made with local ingredients. Their beer list is pretty stellar too, with 20 brews on tap, many of which are local. Go for the food, but stick around for the live music which plays on select dates throughout the week.
WHERE TO SHOP
Whether you are a bookworm or not, Bart's Books is a must-do. Opened in 1964, it attracts people from all over the world with its unique collection of books and open-air garden vibe. You see, the store is actually outdoors! In fact, it is the largest independently owned and operated outdoor bookstore in America. Shelves of books line the exterior walls, while an oasis of plants, wrought-iron patio furniture and books of all genres fill the "inside." It is so, so darling!
Fig Ojai is curated living at its finest. It features a carefully curated selection of unique gifts for home and garden, with a focus on local, handmade, and fair trade goods. Here you will find a little bit of everything—handcrafted garden decor, plants and planters, beautiful textiles, ceramics and glassware, bags, locally made jewelry, candles, natural bath and body goods, baby items, cards and paper products, stylish home decor...well, you get the idea. While located on the main street, the garden entry way is easy to miss. Look for the blue and green doorway between Ojai Pizza and Ojai Clothing.
Summer Camp is a home, lifestyle and custom framing shop located just a mile or so outside of the main shopping district on the highway heading out of town. In addition to offering reclaimed wood and handmade frames and custom mirrors, the former-gas-station-turned-hipster-boutique carries a variety of vintage collectibles, home decor items and personal accessories that have been carefully curated by the owners who strive to support local artists and American-made products as much as possible.
WHAT TO DO
If you're a foodie, you must check out Ojai Olive Oil Company. Open to the public for tastings and free tours—no reservations necessary—on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the farm is located on the Asquith family ranch in the east end of the valley. To get there, you will drive along Pixie Tangerine grove-lined roads, so roll down the windows and take in the sweet scent of this native citrus. You'll want to take some olive oil to go; they bottle it directly from the barrel within a few days of production making it some of the freshest and purest olive oil you will ever taste.
Open rain or shine from 9am to 1pm, the Ojai Farmers Market is THE place to be on a Sunday morning. Stroll from stall to stall where you will find a glorious mix of local goods, including fruits and veggies, floral bouquets, dried fruits, olive oil, popcorn, raw chocolate, honey, nuts, beeswax candles, and hand-crafted soaps. If you're feeling lonely, you can even get a hug from the man with the "Free Hugs" sign... just sayin'.
Find your zen, and watch the most spectacular sunset, at Meditation Mount, a meditation center that has been in operation since 1971. Known for having some of the most scenic views, it is also known as one of the best and only places in the world to catch the "Pink Moment," a phenomenon that happens at dusk as the sun goes down and the Ojai Valley is awash in muted tones of pink, lavender and peach. Magical!
If hiking is of interest, the Los Padres National Forest offers something for everyone. As you walk amongst the redwoods and desert vegetation, keep an eye out for the endangered California condor, and other wildlife native to the area. Take a short hike to Rose Valley Falls, a 300-foot waterfall in the middle of the park.
For a hike a little closer to town, venture along the Ojai Valley Trail, a nine-mile trail that offers sweeping views of the mountains, and is perfect for cyclists, horseback riders, hikers, and runners.
Ojai is home to a number of wineries, including The Ojai Vineyard, Casa Barranca Organic Winery and Majestic Oak Vineyard. You won't have to venture too far, as all three of these wineries have tasting rooms along or near Ojai Avenue in the town center. You can also sit at the tasting bar at Tipple & Ramble to enjoy a nice selection of local wines.
Ojai Valley is a sacred place. Matilija Canyon’s Ecotopia natural hot springs are said to have healing powers and offer an opportunity to connect with nature and the energy that makes Ojai so special. You must schedule a time to visit and take note: bathing suits are optional. While you’re here, explore the community-supported sustainable gardens too.
Is is not unusual to see local residents pull up to a cafe on horseback. While you won't be able to do that, you can unbridle your inner cowgirl (or boy) by booking a trail ride at the Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company. They offer day rides for all ages and levels, as well as sunset rides for couples. Yeehaw!
WHEN TO GO
While there is never a bad time to visit Ojai, the town has some signature events that are worth making the trek for.
Have you ever tried a Pixie Tangerine? We're guessing you haven't. Unique to Ojai, there are more than 25,000 Pixie trees producing this sweet, seedless citrus. You can literally smell its sweetness in the air! During the month of April, when the fruit is prime for picking, the entire town celebrates, with local businesses offering everything from Pixie-themed meals and cocktails, to infused products and special hotel packages.
In June, the town celebrates the sweet and savory aroma of lavender, which grows abundantly in this region due to the Mediterranea climate. The festival takes place in Libbey Park, where more than 100 vendors sell lavender plants, culinary delights, jewelry, lavender-infused lemonade, and more.
If music festivals are your jam, this is one not to miss. Taking place over four days in June, the Ojai Music Festival has been showcasing classic and up-and-coming artists since 1947. So much more than a concert series, a new music director is selected each to put their stamp on the festival, creating a unique music experience every time.
June is clearly a busy month in Ojai, as the wine festival also takes place then at that time. Named by Sunset Magazine as one of the top five “Food and Wine Havens in the West," this classy yet casual event has become a favorite amongst wineries in the region and throughout California. This is the perfect opportunity to discover your new favorite California wines.
that's california living!