Finding Shangri-la in Ojai
In this enchanted valley, 14 miles from the Ventura Coast, you’ll find orchards and olive groves, bohemian bookstores and artsy boutiques, hiking and biking, and endless natural beauty.
No two rooms are the same at the Emerald Iguana Inn, a funky boutique hotel whose charming architectural style feels part Craftsman, part Art Nouveau, and part treehouse. Details like stone fireplaces, hand-carved Indonesian furniture, tiled fountains, and clawfoot tubs can be found throughout the eight ivy-covered cottages that are spacious, affordable, and a quick walk from downtown. For a sprawling resort experience, the luxe Ojai Valley Inn & Spa overlooks its golf course and the bucolic countryside, replete with views of the Topatopa Mountains turning pink at twilight. A Mediterranean-style spa, glistening pools, and gourmet eats add to the appeal. B&B fans should check into the Lavender Inn, set in a historic school house circa 1874 and home to seven bright and airy rooms, like a Provence cottage with French doors framing a private patio. Guests relax in the flower-filled gardens or on the sunlit porch, ideal for sipping lavender watermelon martinis, dreamed up by owner Kathy Hartley.
Head to Knead Baking Company for artisan breakfast sandwiches on freshly baked country rolls or buttery brioche buns with organic eggs, prosciutto, white cheddar, and arugula. Sticky buns, poppyseed crème fraiche cakes, and coconut cupcakes tempt the sweet tooth. For a snack, try Azu for garden-fresh salads or tapas like stuffed dates with chorizo, lamb sliders with tzatziki, or curried fried cauliflower. Brunch offerings include ginger salmon cakes and Brie omelets, enhanced by spicy Bloody Marys or craft cocktails with a nice citrus pucker from Ojai’s abundant orchards. At night, stroll along the main drag, then duck into Feast Bistro and enjoy chef Susan Coulter’s unpretentious fare, like mussels and steamers in garlic cream sauce, bistro salad with a warm poached egg over endive and bacon, local Watkins Cattle flat iron steak, or country-style chicken.
Ojai is a foodie paradise surrounded by orchards, citrus and avocado groves, olive tree enclaves, and unmanned farm stands with honor systems. Be sure to taste one of its signature fruits, the Pixie, Ojai’s beloved tangerine and a favorite of chef Alice Waters. The Ojai Culinary School at the Lavender Inn offers monthly cooking classes in its quaint country kitchen featuring local chefs and seasonal ingredients like Pixies or lavender (June 29), and summer-inspired themes like barbecue or gelato. At Regalo, gracious host Carolina Graham welcomes visitors to her stylish property and offers tastings of her Spanish and Italian olive oils and infused balsamics (try the strawberry). Just off the main drag, the Ojai Vineyard tasting room is a portal to the area’s best wine from Adam Tolmach (formerly of Au Bon Climat) who produces nicely balanced, dark berry and spicy Syrahs, lively Pinots with vibrant red fruit, and even a flirty rosé for summertime sipping, all from Central Coast grapes. Ojai also has myriad galleries and compelling shops, like Fig Curated Living for eye-catching birdhouses, succulents, and pottery, or Modern Folk Living for one-of-a-kind jewelry, pillows, and sustainable clothes. Don’t miss Bart’s Books, an outdoor, honor-system bookstore open 24/7.
A network of trails traverses the foothills and mountains, great for all levels of hiking. For those who seek cycling adventures, the Mob Shop has great rentals and tours like the Descent of Sulphur Mountain or a trip to the coast. Not in the mood to pedal? Hop in an open-air jeep with Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours for an afternoon exploration of orchards, backcountry vineyards, and mountain landscapes while learning the town’s history. Expect epic views at beautiful Meditation Mount, a lofty spiritual center whose manicured gardens and rock platform are the perfect perch for quiet reflection. From this vantage point, the mountains tower over the verdant valley below. Ready, set, relax.