The Ojai Valley is still one of the most off-the-radar spots in Southern California with Santa Barbara and Montecito getting most of the limelight thanks to Prince Harry and Meghan, not to mention Oprah.
Yet just fifteen miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, and only a 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles is the ultimate Shangri-La, a place where there are still orange and avocado groves, and quaint winding roads that vanish into a seemingly endless sky.
Ojai is about rejuvenation.
The name Ojai is derived from the Mexican-era Rancho Ojai, which in turn took its name from the Ventureño Chumash Indian word ‘Awha’y, meaning “Moon.” It is still known as the Valley of the Moon, but you’ll also hear it called “Shangri-La”, a name that stuck after the area was used for the 1937 movie, Lost Horizon.
Ojai has always been cool and laid back, SoCal’s answer to NorCal’s Mendocino.
When a celebrity ambles through town (which they do – Gwyneth, Jenn Aniston), they aren’t fussed over and that’s what makes it great. People retreat to Ojai for its healthy air, spa treatments, long hikes, and organic meals.
It’s a place that’s not about who you are, but what you’re here to do.
The downtown, developed in 1916, has the classic Spanish Colonial look that quickly came to represent the charm of “old California,” with mission-style arcades, a town square, and a campanile bell tower. Lots of benches to sit and talk, or just amble through boutiques, art galleries, and take in the plentiful organic dining options.
You can’t miss Bart’s Books (302 W Matilija St, https://bartsbooksojai.com/) because it’s an open-air, self-serve bookstore that’s open pretty much all the time; in fact, the sign outside reads “when closed, please throw coins in slot in the door.” We picked up a well-worn copy of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, a fitting purchase for such a bohemian enclave as Ojai.
The Farmer and the Chef (339 W El Roblar Drive, https://www.farmer-and-the-cook.com/) is credited with really cementing Ojai’s reputation for organic living, and along with a healthy menu of healthy salads and quasi-Mexican fare you’ll find some of the best smoothies ever. I love the Scarrot Cake while Brian gets the Betterfinger.
We stay at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (905 Country Club Road, https://www.ojaivalleyinn.com/), arguably the most luxe and elegant retreat in the Valley. The air is scented with lemon, rosemary, and lavender which grows just about everywhere on the property.
A gorgeous pool and spectacular gardens make this the perfect place to escape and never leave the grounds, which many do, especially if you play golf. We don’t.
We’d rather explore, so we head into town to visit some of our favourites.
Next stop is In the Field (730 E Ojai Avenue, https://inthefieldojai.com/), a smartly curated and eclectic retail shop with just the right mix of vintage apparel, jewelry, and home décor, plus old standbys like Aesop products and Bodha incense. Founded in 2014 by Channon and Bianca Roe, the store is as much a community gathering place as a shop, and the couple often host impromptu events with food, drink, and plenty of the local beau monde.
Another local favourite is Bungalow by Fig (109 N Montgomery Street, https://www.figojai.com/), which specialises in local, handmade, and fair trade goods. Years ago, we picked up the most beautiful candle tapers and we came back for more. But Fig is also a lovely place to pick up marvelous gifts like hand-loomed blankets or a pair of buttery soft suede slippers from Morocco.
For dinner, it’s the Farmhouse at the Ojai Inn (905 Country Club Road, https://www.ojaivalleyinn.com/), is a kind of constant pop-up shop of up-and-coming chefs. Each chef presents special seasonal menus and even private classes. The setting alone is magical: an open, barn-style structure with outdoor fireplace, and surrounded by ancient olive trees. Check their calendar for 2021’s guest chefs.
The next morning, we are up at dawn and drive up the mountain to Meditation Mount 10340 Reeves Road,https://meditationmount.org/), a truly beautiful place to do some yoga and recharge your chakras.
You won’t be alone: many locals come here to greet the day, remaining in complete silence, as they perform their own spiritual rituals. With the sun beginning its rise and dew shimmering on the wild grasses, it is the perfect place to bid goodbye to the Valley of the Moon and simply say, Namaste.