Just an hour away from the City of Angels lies an oasis so not like Los Angeles that, as an Angelino, it only makes sense to head there often for some peace, and to breathe the fresh air deep into your lungs. Ojai, just 12 miles inland from Ventura, reminds me of a small town from the 1970s, one still so charming that I couldn’t wait to spend a night in this calming vortex to unwind and “fill up” before heading back to my hectic LA life.
The first time I experienced Ojai we ate off the land, staying at a gorgeous home with acres of fresh fruit and vegetables. I’ll never forget smoldering in the summer heat in my bikini as I wandered through rows and rows of crops eating what I could straight from the vines. I picked endless yellow pop-in-your-mouth tomatoes, mint of all varieties, lettuce, basil, and oranges. This time, I was making a solo trek to regroup, hike into nature and find some tranquility.
If you, too, find yourself lucky enough to escape to Ojai, you may wish to enjoy the following:
1. Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market
Since I arrived on a Sunday morning, I was just in time for the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market, where I found the most gorgeous, colorful, succulent arrangement in a blue vintage ceramic pot for a mere $20, wildflower honey from the local Ojai Valley Bee Farm, and a soy candle promising to burn for 50 hours.
This small Sunday market (open around 9 am-1 pm) offers pretty much every organic or sustainable product you could conjure up—like raw chocolate, handmade soap, olive and walnut oil, jams, candles, local produce. Rumor has it Reese Witherspoon lives in the area and has been spotted at the market too.
Tip: To enjoy a vegan lunch or power juice, try Rainbow Bridge nearby.
2. Knead Baking Company
I was craving a hearty breakfast, so a prosciutto, egg and cheese on homemade bread was the perfect solution as I enjoyed the outdoor patio and fueled for a hike. Knead (open Wednesday-Sunday, 8 am-4 pm) specializes in cakes, pastry, desserts, breads, breakfast, lunch, and picnic fare.
3. Shelf Road hike
This hike is a beautiful way to experience Ojai. You find yourself passing orange and avocado groves and gazing in awe at the lush green Ojai valley. From the end of N Signal St, where you can park your car, this easy dirt path winds up and down for about two miles. There are several benches perfectly situated for you to take in the views and enjoy one of those thousands of tangerines beckoning to be picked.
Instead of turning back and coming the same way I went (toward where I parked), I walked down the paved street (Gridley) passed more beautiful tangerine groves, idyllic scenery, horses, and dream ranches. At the end of the paved road, you take a right and walk a mile or so straight, then back right up to N Signal St. I was so happy to come down Gridley because I realized I would not have really experienced its beauty if I’d been in a car. Also, if you want to hike more along the Shelf Road, I saw several additional hiking trails that veered off the main path. I felt safe hiking alone.
4. Meditation Mount for sunset
At the east end of town you spiral up to this lush mount, a sacred site set on 32 acres of land. The property has five separate buildings surrounded by extensive gardens. At 1040 Reeves Rd, there is plenty of parking. The premier structure is the auditorium, which features a mostly glass façade overlooking the Ojai Valley, and it was here that I observed a meditation class. This area is known for its pink sunsets or “pink moments” because instead of looking west at the setting sun, you look east to see its reflection on the bluffs of the Topatopa Mountains, which for a few short moments each evening are pink-washed.
I arrived a great deal before the sunset to enjoy the peace and quiet of the land, but as the sunset approached the mount, my Zen area quickly became filled with families and couples who also must’ve heard about this sacred spot. The temperatures dropped quickly, but it remained a perfect place to close your eyes, give thanks for life, breathe, meditate with a mala or other meditation aid, and soak in the majestic hues, all as the pink shadows washed the earth and mountains around us, then blazed hot pink stripes across the sky.
5. Ojai Rancho Inn
For $130, I spent a night at Ojai Rancho Inn and couldn’t have been more thrilled with its massive wooden bed, wood walls (that creak and pop) and a jacuzzi in the room, which was a perfect way to soothe my aching legs. Brought to you by the Shelter Social Club, this place screams “throwback California” with its backyard games, pool and laid-back vibe. I saw one couple wake up on the property in their hip yellow Airstream trailer. There’s even a small bar that beckons you with its sign offering “Vinyl and Beer.” The inside bar vibe was so cool with its candle glow and fireplace ledge covered with gems.
Free bikes can also be used to buzz around town or ride down the local dirt trail. If you can handle not-fancy bathroom amenities, and the possibility that you might hear your neighbors having hot sex, this place will do! However, if you want to spend a lot more money, the many-acre Ojai Valley Inn is right next door. Guests often visit the Ojai Valley Inn just to experience its luxurious spa. I walked around the 220-acre property one morning observing the mountain-hugging views and the waspy white folks.
6. Suzanne’s Cuisine
I was meeting my mom’s first cousin who found me on the ancestral site 23andme.com, and we chose this spot as we’d heard it was one of the best restaurants in town. For the price, I thought the food was okay, but it may just have been the pasta dish I tried. The restaurant was filled with older people around my parents’ age. To the back of a restaurant is a picturesque fountain. Other spots I will try next time are The Ranch House, Azu for tapas, and Osteria Monte Grappa.
7. Deer Lodge
I loved this cool spot. I want to come back here to eat next time. As I sipped my dark coffee beer, the vibe reminded me of home—small-town Connecticut. A killer band played as the room of free spirits of all ages danced. If I’d closed my eyes, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes may have walked in at any moment. The decor reminded me of some rustic lodge in Aspen, and I really dug the warm, dark candle glow vibe and local feeling of this place, something hard to find in LA. The next day when I drove by there were huge groups of bikers outside enjoying what looked like sizzling game meat on the grill.
8. Rose Valley Falls hike
I drove 15 miles north from Ojai on 33, spiraling up and down and all around, passing one of the first American post offices, then twisting and turning through Los Padres National Park, an area with dense forest and majestic views. You make a right at the Rose Valley turnoff and continue three miles to a campground area, which says you need some sort of pass—so I parked outside the campground area.
The whole drive there is mind-boggling, with untouched land that goes on and on for miles. Once you park, the easy one-mile hike has you skipping over numerous little rivers and takes you to the base of the two-tier, 300-foot-high Rose Valley Falls. The water cascades down a sheer sandstone cliff and trickles in ribbons through the moss-covered cliff. I tried to climb the side rocks to the base of the upper falls with not so much luck. I had to throw my water bottle to the side to use both hands, so I didn’t kill myself falling down the steep cliff.
Tip: Be aware that if you climb, the rocks can fall and knock you out. I wouldn’t climb alone.
After reaching a certain point and being scared of heights, I froze after looking down and decided to slide my way back to reality and not risk venturing to the second waterfall. This waterfall reminded me of Escondido Falls in Malibu.
9. Ojai Cafe Emporium
This was a perfect spot to gain some energy before heading back into nature. Ojai Cafe Emporium’s massive homemade scones from the bakery, and egg dishes served in the sun on the patio, are worth the wait. While there, I overheard about six punky twenty-something-year-olds in search of the famous mud baths that I’d read about online. They discussed ways of entry and how to find this much-talked-about-legend.
I, too, wanted to discover these natural springs, but it sounds like they’ve been fenced off or possibly even filled with concrete. Apparently, “spring seekers” are even getting tickets for searching out this once-sought-after local thermal springs. The Wheeler Hot Springs are apparently what put Ojai on the map.
10. Bart’s Books
Peruse this outdoor bookstore for a rare or captivating book. I enjoyed viewing the old books, travel section and vintage children’s classics.
If you have more time…
If I’d had more time, I’d have visited the Ojai Olive Oil Company, which offers tours, full moon yoga and the turtle conservancy called the Behler Chelonian Center. I tried to contact them via email to volunteer since their phone number didn’t work. No luck. I’d also like to find the store called Summer Camp, which was once a gas station.
This haven for artists, musicians and health enthusiasts is how I envision California was 30 years ago. Whatever you find yourself doing in Ojai, relaxing here is really the best possible retreat, a place to take some time to drink in the serenity of it all.
For more Escape LA, from Melissa Curtin: Red Rock Canyon and Trona Pinnacles
All photos credited to Melissa Curtin.