There must be something in the water. I wasn’t expecting much from Ojai. It’s part farm town and part artist colony. I was thinking Ojai would feel like one giant nap. But like I said, there must be something in the water, because Ojai turned out to be alive with creative energy, an epicurean adventure, and an outdoor paradise that I can’t wait to visit again and again.
Getting To Ojai
For air travel, your options are Santa Barbara Airport (SBA), Burbank (BUR), and Los Angeles International (LAX). If you are flying or don’t have wheels of your own, I’d recommend renting a car.
From Los Angeles you’re looking at a 90 minute drive, from Burbank the drive is a little over an hour. If you come from the Santa Barbara area you have a quick 45-minute ride. Either way you’re in for a treat. No matter which direction you come from, getting to Ojai is a pretty drive. You’ll also be pleased with the abundance of free parking!
Where to Stay
Ojai is a cornucopia of quaint bed and breakfasts, and funky boutique hotels. I had the opportunity to stay at the Emerald Iguana, and thought my GPS had backfired when I drove into a residential area. Turns out the Emerald Iguana is a hidden gem tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of Ojai.
The Emerald Iguana
Lush and tropical with, of course, a giant green-mosaic iguana fountain, the Emerald Iguana feels like a cozy Mexican-Riviera resort was plopped into California. The bungalow style rooms are filled with local art and delightful shabby-chic furnishings. My room in particular had a big Wrought iron bed next to a claw-foot bathtub, and gas powered fireplace.
I loved getting up in the mornings and flipping on the fireplace that was steps away from the bathtub. The warm fireplace & tub combo was the only thing that could lure me out of the comfy bed. I slept wonderfully my entire stay.
Other Places to Stay
Other places to stay include, the Blue Iguana located just a few miles outside of town. The lovely Lavender Inn, which I hear features an amazing breakfast in the mornings as well as a wine and cheese reception in the evenings.
If you’re interested in kick starting a health trend, The Oaks at Ojai offers healthy meals and fitness classes all in a relaxing spa atmosphere. And if a luxurious spa retreat is on your agenda, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is a five-diamond award winning resort, complete with its own golf course and restaurant.
Eating is an art form in Ojai
There are two overall themes that impressed me about this community. One, how dramatically the arts influence daily life and two, how that love of art and inspiration spills over into the local cuisine.
The local restaurants take good food seriously and it shows. What comes out of the kitchen is nothing less than plated art, edible masterpieces that compliment the cultured surroundings.
I was lucky enough to partake of Ojai’s second city wide Progressive Dinner. It was such a special way to sample several acclaimed restaurants all in one evening. From appetizers at Azu and salad at La Fonte (Tel.: 805-646-5435), to the main course at Feast Bistro and dessert at Barrel 33, I was blown away by each restaurant’s unique style and distinctive menu.
The Ranch House
I’d recommend visitors to Ojai do not miss out on dining at the Ranch House. It’s like eating in a secret garden, surrounded by twinkling white lights and gently bubbling fountains.
The ambiance is only the beginning of a special evening. Some items like the Scallops have been featured on the Food Network, while other items like the New Orleans Delight dessert has been in such demand that its been on the menu for over forty years.
Another stop I’d recommend for travelers in Ojai would be lunch at Boccali’s. A superb Italian restaurant disguised as an unassuming roadside stand. Boccali’s is as tasty as it is fresh. Proprietor DeWyane Boccali harvests seasonal produce fresh from his farm and delivers directly to the kitchen.
Do not miss the tomato, basil and garlic pizza or the strawberry shortcake. The strawberry shortcake isn’t on the menu, everyone in town just knows to ask for it – so don’t forget. It’s one of the best desserts in town.
See the City like a Local – Take a Bike Tour!
I had not been on a bike in about 20 years. But that fact didn’t stop me from signing up for a bike tour of the city, compliments of The Mob Shop. Owner Kelly Pasco is the most patient man in the world and a miracle worker, because it only took him about 15 minutes to teach me how to ride a bike again.
And what bike it was! The Mob Shop has a fleet of beautiful electric bicycles for tours and rent. Just press a button and the little electric motor kicks in to help make peddling uphill super easy.
While on your tour, cruise over to the Pepper Tree Retreat. The former home of world-renown philosopher Krishnamurti, these were once the stomping grounds of the Beatles. Rock ledged John Lennon stayed here on so many occasions there is a room dedicated in his name. Rates are reasonable and it’s truly one of the most quiet, peaceful places I’ve had the privilege to visit. I can see why people come here from all over the world seeking enlightenment.
Speaking of enlightenment, Ojai was made for it! A geographical phenomenon Ojai is located in a special east-west valley, unlike most other valleys on Earth that run north south. It’s this unique situation that creates what locals call the “pink moment” just before sunset the sky glows a soft, beautiful, pink color. Ojai is one of the only places on our planet you’ll get to see this.
Check out Meditation Mount early in the morning or close to sunset for some of the most breathtaking views of Ojai and the Topa Topa Mountain Range. The grounds are open daily until sunset. There is even a 20 minute hiking trail on the grounds, that I didn’t have time to take, but I’m told is a comfortable and beautiful hike.
If silent meditation isn’t your form of inspiration, check out a Cooking Class at Lavender Inn. Commune with fellow foodies and learn a few top-notch recipes from world-class chefs.
I had the opportunity to take a class from Chef Peter Edwards, who looks like a brunette Jude Law. In addition to being dreamy, he is also the Executive Chef at the Watermark in Ventura, California. Several months ago, I ate at the Watermark and loved it (see my Ventura article for details), so I was excited to take a cooking class with Chef Peter. He taught the class three wonderful recipes, all used at the Watermark, including my favorite Watermark dessert!
Ojai attracts so many talented individuals you never know who is going to turn up and teach a cooking class at Lavender Inn so check with them frequently for future classes and details.
The Art of Shopping
Ojai radiates artistic talent. From sculpture, painting, and photography to textiles and jewelry, Ojai has it all. Head over to the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts to sample the works of some of Ojai’s finest artists.
Beatrice Wood herself was a famous potter and quite a character in her lifetime. She once said all she needed to stay young was chocolate and young-men. She lived to 105 and there’s a hilarious photograph at the Center to prove she meant what she said.
Spend an afternoon shopping at the Arcade on Ojai Avenue for some of the best art in California. Pick up an Ojai Village Walking Guide at most any retail or restaurant establishment for a comprehensive guide and map to all the best shopping.
Stop by Human Arts for a terrific collection of both local and national artists. Make sure to pick up a soap rock while you’re there. It’s the coolest soap you’ll ever see and Human Arts is the only place I’ve seen it outside of Los Angeles!
Other can’t miss shopping destinations include; Nomad, a brilliant collection of African art and crafts such as authentic sculptures and jewelry, Primavera Gallery offers fine art as well as woodwork and hand blown glass pieces. Made in Ojai exclusively sells local products and you can’t miss the chance to purchase their local olive oils.
After a long day of shopping, if your sugar levels are low, swing by Kingston’s Candy Company. They have a delightful assortment of nostalgic candy and sodas.
The Real Shangri-La
There truly is something special about this city. Something I wish I could exactly articulate into words, but it’s more of a feeling, a quiet energy that is relaxing and energizing all at the same time. This traveler can’t wait to return to Ojai and I hope to see you there.