Though Ojai is located a little more than 30 miles east from Santa Barbara and 80 miles north of Los Angeles, this Southern California town feels worlds away from the traffic, pollution and stress of city life. Artists and musicians retreat there for the serenity as well as for the town’s galleries and unique shops filled with handcrafted items from around the world. Foodies will find a wealth of health-conscious cuisine, wine tours, cooking classes and a month of happenings dedicated to the native Pixie tangerine. Both yogis and celebrities (Emily Blunt, Jason Segal) are drawn to Ojai’s many opportunities for healing and spiritual awakening, whether it comes in the form of classes, peaceful canyon retreats or spa experiences. And, while the area is also popular with athletes who stop for the picturesque golf courses, scenic horseback riding, and hiking and cycling trails, anyone can appreciate the stunning beauty of the region.
Everyone should experience at least one day at the luxurious Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a white adobe and stucco masterpiece set against the Topatopa Mountains. When you go, you’d be smart to milk as many of the amenities as you possibly can, starting with a wonderful breakfast. Enjoy it at The Oak, where new chef de cuisine Jaison Burke crafts fresh and flavorful creations such as the signature huevos rancheros and a decadent brioche French toast with caramelized almonds and bananas. And, since you’re on vacation, why not upgrade one of those fresh-squeezed juices to a Green + Spicy (kaffir lime vodka, cucumber juice, jalapeño, arugula syrup) or one of the other breakfast cocktails?
Though the 18-hole championship golf course and pristine tennis courts are a major draw, there is so much more to enjoy on the property. With Ojai’s temperate climate, you can relax around the four pools (three designated for adults and one open to families) for much of the year. Choose from a wealth of fitness and wellness classes, too, ranging from sunset strolls and nature hikes, to spinning, boot camp and aerobics sessions incorporating drums. And when it’s time to ease any aches the workout may have caused, rest easy knowing that Four-Star Spa Ojai is the only place in the country to offer Kuyam, a desert clay treatment that incorporates guided meditation used by the Chumash people native to the area.
Once in a complete state of relaxation, try taking an art class with the inn’s artist in residence, blending your own signature fragrance or scheduling a personal mandala session or an energy reading for yourself — or even one for your pet, seeing as how the property welcomes four-legged friends.
If you decide to break away from the hotel in the afternoon, make your way downtown for lunch at Osteria Monte Grappa, an Italian spot that features salads tossed with local ingredients, artisanal flatbreads, cheese and charcuterie boards, pizza and paninis. The nearby Feast Bistro is another good place for a break, serving well-made classics like grilled cheese in addition to more global fare such as chicken banh mi and a linguiça sausage sandwich.
A great midday destination is Meditation Mount, a scenic overlook established to encourage the practice of internalized thinking. Group yoga and meditation classes are hosted within the Tibetan-style building on the mount, as well as occasional talks and film screenings. Even if you’re not there for a specific event, find your own sacred space to simply sit and take in the view. If you time your visit with the sunset, you’ll experience Ojai’s storied Pink Moment, when the fading sun creates a magnificently rosy hue over Topatopa Bluff. It’s a sight that’s not to be missed on your trip.
Return to the idyllic inn for dinner reservations at Four-Star Maravilla, where you can dine à la carte or experience a seasonal and locally sourced tasting menu that includes dishes like Maine lobster, butternut squash, lobster chutney, fennel and orange white butter. End your night by melting away in the deep soaking tub (available in many suite styles), then warm by the fire in a Turkish cotton robe before sinking into one of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa‘s dreamy mattresses.
There’s no better place than sunny Southern California to rise and shine a little earlier than usual for an outdoor yoga session or to jog along one of Ojai’s many trails. You’re going to be glad you snuck in the exercise once you arrive at Knead Baking Company, where owner Bobbi Corbin and her family are crafting the best baked goods in town. Start your day with one of their heavenly pastries or a breakfast sandwich (organic eggs, Vermont white cheddar, baby spinach and prosciutto on buttery brioche).
After breakfast, stroll down Ojai Avenue to check out some of the town’s local businesses, which thrive thanks in part to an ordinance which prevents most chain stores from moving into the area. Made in Ojai is the perfect stop for unique gifts (hand-stitched teddy bears) and edible souvenirs (olive oil) — all crafted by residents or sourced from the land. OVA Arts is another gallery featuring locally created goods, from woodworking by David Blackburn to rock-stack sculptures by Reiki master Martha Moran. Should you have any jewelry lovers (Human Arts Gallery), homemakers (FiG Curated Living) or compulsive readers (Bart’s Books, the largest independent outdoor bookstore in the country) on your shopping list, you can find precious items for them in Ojai as well.
Experience the greener side of the city with lunch at Hip Vegan Cafe, where you can try freshly squeezed apple-cucumber juice and a bowl of greens, beans and grains. Farmer and the Cook is another café and juice bar with a small grocery and a CSA (community support agriculture) program. Daily offerings include raw, vegan or vegetarian Mexican-inspired options, like their delicious raw tacos (cabbage leaves filled with walnut and sun-dried tomato croquettes topped with cashew-cilantro “cream,” greens, pico de gallo, and carrots). On Friday and Saturday nights, they also fire up the pizza oven.
When you finish eating, you can either spend your afternoon indoors or out. Should you choose the former, try an art class at Ojai Mosaic Studio, where you will learn to recycle pieces of glass and ceramic into wearable, usable art. If textiles are more your thing, visit Bernadette DiPietro at Working Artist Gallery and Studio, where she shares her extensive knowledge of orizomegami (Japanese paper dying) with you.
If your vote is for outdoors fun, book the 1 p.m. Cloud Climbers Jeep Tour through the picturesque Ojai Valley. The group’s latest Backyard Artist and Wine Tour takes explorers to private artist studios and workshops in a signature seven-passenger, open-air Jeep, while also making stops to sample locally produced olive oils and wines.
For a bohemian change of pace, book a room at The Emerald Iguana Inn for your second night in Ojai. Located just a few blocks off the main strip, the inn is a garden oasis tucked into a tropical grove. You will be welcomed by a trickling mosaic iguana fountain, vivid tile detailing and carved stone columns forming fluid stairways and entries to each private suite and cottage. These units come with spacious living rooms and full kitchens, claw-foot tubs, wood-burning stoves and furniture handpicked from around the world.
Being one of the only east-to-west valleys in California, Ojai’s climate is similar to the dry, hot summers and mild winters found in the Mediterranean, making it ideal for growing olives and grapes. So, stow your bags in the room and make your way to one of Ojai’s 30 vineyards or dozen wineries. Ojai Alisal Vineyard is one of the newest, producing just 250 cases of artisanal wine a year available only to wine club members. Though closed to the public, the winery does tastings of its vintage labels at a weekend tasting room hosted by Azu, a trendy downtown restaurant specializing in California tapas served with creative cocktails. Be sure to try their signature OjaiCello, a housemade version of limoncello using citrus fruit grown on the family’s orchard.
While Azu’s menu is primarily influenced by shareable plates familiar to Spain, Suzanne’s Cuisine takes inspiration from France (bouillabaisse) and Italy (fusilli with basil-infused olive oil and bocconcini), and uses 90 percent organic produce from local farmers markets. Both restaurants feature lovely outdoor areas for enjoying a meal alfresco on your last night in Ojai.
After dinner, stop by the Deer Lodge for local beer and entertainment; some nights bring live music, while others spark DJ-fueled dance parties. For something a little more low-key, try a fireside nightcap to the tune of the warm vinyl played at Chief’s Peak, the new wine and beer bar at the hip, revamped Ojai Rancho Inn. It’s the perfect place to reflect on your trip to Ojai … and begin planning the next.