Michael McFadden/Ojai Visitors Bureau
August 16, 2016

This quaint town of 8,000 people, just a 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles, has long been a laid-back refuge for artists, health gurus, and bohemians—a sunny getaway with avocado groves and yoga retreats, organic gardens, and ceramic studios. Along with earthy residents, the town has also attracted its share of celebrities looking to get away from the limelight. Those who have purchased homes or land here include Emily Blunt and John KrasinskiChanning Tatum and Reese Witherspoon (Robert Pattinson famously hid out at pal Witherspoon’s Ojai pad post break up with Kristen Stewart).

Although it has gradually become more gentrified, with a recent slew of shops and galleries catering to upscale hipsters, Ojai still retains its hometown vibe—along with all the backyard teepees and performance art, there’s still Ojai Ice Cream, with its homemade fudge (since 1979) and an old fashioned Fourth of July parade. Once home to the Chumash Indians, the place has a magical, somewhat spiritual feel and locals wax romantically about the “Pink Moment”: A time at sundown when the valley is bathed in a rosy glow.

I recently took a girls road trip there to see what all the fuss is about, and here's what I learned along the way:

Where to Stay

This 200 acre property, first opened in 1923, is known for its verdant golf course, tennis courts and first class Moroccan style spa. But it’s also just a nice place to kick back poolside, take some classes and use as a base while exploring the valley—on bike or foot.

We kicked off our girls’ weekend here with gimlets and appetizers at Jimmy’s Pub, at an outdoor table overlooking the golf course. We then took a sunset stroll around the grounds, enjoying the smells of lavender and rosemary along the way, before settling in for a delicious al fresco dinner at The Oak—named for its view of a giant oak tree.

The next morning we had lattes and yogurt with fresh berries at Libbey’s, the Inn’s new coffee house/bakery complete with a gourmet gift shop offering up fancy cheese boards, olive oils and cook books. The adjacent boutique was jam packed with cute crocheted bikinis, floaty dresses, fun gifts and lots of jewelry perfect for layering. We gradually ended up at a cabana at the adults-only Indigo pool—which came with a lunch of fresh veggies, fruit and a bucket of cold beverages, and we spent a good part of the day there reading and dipping into the water.

In the afternoon we had excellent deep tissue massages at the luxurious spa. The treatments were great but I don’t recommend making a spa appointment at 4 pm on a Saturday—the waiting area which is normally a tranquil respite, looked more like an airport lounge at that time. 

What we didn’t do, but wish we had time for: take a painting class at their artist cottage, or one of their mixology courses, partake in their “Picnic and Pedal” program using their complimentary Linus bikes,or eat at their fanciest restaurant, Olivella and Vine, a romantic spot with an Italian influence.

905 Country Club Rd.; 855-697-8780; ojairesort.com

 Courtesy Ojai Valley Inn and Spa

Opened in 2013, this retro chic inn with its red walls and white wood porches offers homemade brews at its Chief’s Peak bar, a classic motel style pool and rustic rooms (picture potted cacti, dream catchers and Navajo rugs, merged with 50s furniture and old record players.)

But the inn’s true Ojai stamp is that it hosts workshops on such topics as macramé, water color painting, bee box making and fabric dyeing. They also put on vintage clothing markets and a family friendly music event called Folk Steady, the first Sunday of every month. (And yes, there’s even a teepee and old fashioned trailer on the property.)

615 Ojai Valley Trail; 805-646-1434; ojairanchoinn.com

 Nancy Nell/ Ojai Rancho Inn

This is the place to stay if you want to feel like you’re visiting your eccentric, but cool uncle’s farm. Chickens and goats wander the grounds where cozy individual cottages are situated among fields of lavender and olive groves. Calvin Zara bought the property in 2010 and refurbished its five dwellings, filling them with books, antiques, comfy couches, artisanal rugs and unique objets d’art. Activities include jam, cheese, wine and soap making, olive pressing and more. Zara encourages guests to let him know what their preferences are ahead of time so he can help create a personalized, unique experience.

4424 Thacher Rd.; 248-420-4108; thacherhouse.com

 Courtesy Thacher House

New to the scene, just opening this past July, this enclave of 11 tricked out Airstream trailers is a hipster take on glamping. Located at the end of the Ojai bike path and set in a circle around a botanical garden, the outpost boasts fire pits, yoga classes, bikes, farm to table dinners and movie nights. Their quirky lobby shop offers handmade jewelry, tee shirts, vintage military clothing, phone chargers and more. 

317 Bryant St.; 805-836-4891; caravanoutpost.com

 Matt Alberta/ Caravan Outpost

Where to Shop

This lifestyle store lives in a cool 1920s Spanish Style building and epitomizes Ojai hippie chic. The brainchild of husband and wife team Channon and Bianca Roe (he’s an actor/interior designer, she’s an actress/model), has everything you would need to outfit your groovy yurt, air stream or cottage and get in touch with your inner earth goddess. Artfully displayed on wooden tables and shelves are kitchen wares—like gorgeous ceramics by Karen Scott, coffee makers and utensils—and an array of apothecary items from Aesop and more. There are cook books and journals, leather purses and ottomans, Morroccan rugs, linens and towels, jewelry, toys and plenty of cool clothing for men, women and kids (some with a western vibe—think fringed jackets, beaded tops and tons ofdenim). Bonus: There’s even a teepee for the kids to play in while you shop, and Guy Webster photographs of Jane Fonda, Jacqueline Bissett and others decorate the walls alongside the surfboards and antlers.

730 E. Ojai Ave; 310-403-4292; inthefieldojai.com

 Matt Alberta/In The Field

Ojai isn’t exactly a mecca for fashion but this boutique offers up plenty of casual chic options. There are rows of button down shirts in an array of prints and colors, cute peasant  tops, soft Michal Stars tees, sweaters and plenty of jeans to pair them all with. There are also feminine dresses, and plenty of cute scarves, jewelry and bags to top off the looks.

335 East Ojai Avenue Ojai; 805-646-8564; juliaroseandcompany.com

 Courtesy Julia Rose and Co

Vintage boy scout meets modern hipster at this funky shop housed in an old gas station. Husband and wife owners Rachel and Michael Graves comb flea markets and thrift shops for unique pieces—think old canoes camp stoves, binoculars, flowered frocks and retro cameras. But they also carry new American or locally hand crafted pottery, candles, soap, jewelry, and camping theme greeting cards. Some of my faves include the macrame wall hangings, crystal adorned key-chains, wooden kitchen utensils, baby knit wear and potted cacti. Graves explained that the shop combines the couple's love for mid-century design, hand crafted goods and the outdoors.

1020 W. Ojai Ave.; 805-861-7109; shopsummercamp.com

 Stacey Millett Shay/Willhouse Photography

The entrance to this magical store is a long hallway filled with colorful metal patio chairs, pots and pots of plants, funky garden statues, hand made pottery, bird feeders and macrame wall hangings. It’s like falling down a rabbit hole into a colorful garden of plants and gifts. A room in the back even offers up artsy greeting cards, glass objects, scented candles, jewelry, children’s clothing, linens and more, and like many other area shops, the focus here is on local and handmade goods.

327 East Ojai Ave.; 805-646-6561; figojai.com

 Glynis Costin

Where to Eat

This homey joint has been attracting locals and tourists alike since opening 16 years ago. Originally built in 1910, there’s still an old fashioned vibe to the place—especially in the front room, with its giant sturdy wooden bar and artwork by local artists. But head to the back patio and you feel like you’re in a cozy private garden.

Described by its mother daughter owners as a Spanish tapas joint with a California twist, the menu uses lots of local, organic ingredients. Try the seafood paella and the chile relleno, the figs wrapped in bacon, the honey baked brie and the arugula and dried fig salad—you won't be disappointed. There’s live music on weekends, a great wine selection and a plethora of craft cocktails, including the tequilla based Pixie Blossom and the vodka based Pink Moment Martini (named after the town’s famous sunset glow).

457 E. Ojai Ave.; 805-640-7987; azuojai.com

 Courtesy Azu

This modest, family-run bakery is the place to grab a delicious breakfast and a fresh cup of joe in a cozy outdoor setting. Their famous breakfast sandwich of organic fried egg with Vermont white cheddar comes on fresh baked bread of your choice, and with optional add-ons such as arugula, tomato, cream cheese and more. Their baked goods include cakes, tarts, cookies, pastries and a variety of artisanal breads. Pop in for a special dinner night hosted throughout the summer, but just remember: they're closed Wednesdays in August!

469 E. Ojai Ave.; 310-770-3282; kneadbakingcompany.com

 Courtesy The Knead Baking Co.

Some consider this 24-year-old gem the best restaurant in Ojai. It consistently gets rave Zagat Guide reviews and like many local spots, it’s family run—in this case by a mother daughter team. A mix of Italian and French cuisine with other occasional influences, the offerings are flavorful. You can savor crab and corn cakes, eggplant tarts, all kinds of pasta, lamb chops and chicken, and most everything is prepared with local organic ingredients. A bonus? The atmosphere is lovely; you can dine on a flower filled patio as you contemplate which of the many wine or cocktail selections to partake of.

502 W Ojai Ave.; 805-640-1961; suzannescuisine.com

 

 Courtesy Suzanne’s

What to Do

I could spend hours in this quirky outdoor book shop, which houses thousands of titles ranging from collectible children’s books, to paper back mysteries, to high-end coffee table tomes on art and architecture. There really is something for everyone at this marvel, said to be the largest independently owned and operated outdoor book store in the U.S. As the story goes, back in 1964, Ojai resident Richard Bartinsdale's personal book collection got so massive that he made some book cases and set them up along the sidewalk, filling them with books for others to enjoy. He placed coffee cans on top of the books and asked people to leave “donations” if they took one. Today the store boasts books ranging in price from a quarter or two to rare editions worth thousands of dollars. They also host book signings and poetry readings, and are considered a beloved landmark.

302 W. Matilija Street; 805-646-3755; bartsbooksojai.com

 Courtesy Bart’s Books

This family run farm of olive groves is a bit off the beaten path, but a fun way to spend an afternoon for gourmets. They welcome visitors for tours and to taste their award winning olive oil, which they press here—some infused with lemon, garlic, basil or rosemary. There are also balsamic vinegars, soaps, face creams and other goodies, making it a great place to score gifts. Plan ahead to get a tour on your itinerary; they're open for tours and tastings Wednesday and Saturday, and closed on Sundays.

1811 Ladera Ridge Rd.; 805-646-5964; ojaioliveoil.com

 Courtesy Ojai Olive Oil Company

Ojai is known for its excellent biking, horse trails and hikes—many with spectacular views. There are 24 hiking paths that criss-cross the valley at a variety of levels, some ending in hot springs or waterfalls. Three of the most popular areas are the Ojai Meadows Preserve, Ventura River Preserve and Shelf Road.

The Ojai Meadows preserve is an easy, flat trail set in a natural wetlands area and excellent for bird watching. The Ventura River Preserve is a fave for horseback riders and birdwatchers and there’s even a swimming hole. Shelf Road, popular with dog walkers, offers magnificent views of the entire valley. Remember to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water!

 Michael McFadden/Ojai Visitors Bureau