We’re standing in the backyard of my friend Andrea’s new house in Ojai and she’s pointing to the tree covered slopping hillside behind her house and talking about filling the trees with twinkling bliss lights. From our viewpoint, looking out in the other direction over the Ojai Valley, from the massive bed of stars above us to the lights of the tiny downtown below it almost seems that Ojai itself is encased in bliss lights.
This is my first trip to the town of 8,000 residents and, after three days, I know for certain that it won’t be last. The magical pull of Ojai has been attracting writers, artists, and other creative for years. It seems everyone you meet in town is either a yoga teacher, a writer, a photographer, or a musician. The charming mission-style city center is lined with local artist-fueled galleries, eclectic boutiques, and too-die-for organic restaurants.
If you’re conjuring images of Austin right now, you’re on track. It’s more than apparent when walking down Main that the hipster has arrived and things are a ‘changing. But this is Ojai – change, along with most other things, moves at a slower pace. Once you get off the main drag and meander down the most beautiful tree-lined streets you can envision, you begin to get under the surface and see a more real Ojai. With pockets of long-time neighborhoods, corner Mexican restaurants, hippie enclaves, horse farms, miles of orchards, and barrel loads of happy families in every park, you begin thinking that the world is a peaceful place where people of different backgrounds and cultures live side-by-side in harmony.
The feeling may be fleeting, but I’m thankful there are places in the world like Ojai to inspire us to think about what can be.
If you’re lucky enough like me to have a friend in Ojai, then dial them up and say you’re coming. If not, check out the dozens of Airbnb in the area including a backyard yurt right downtown. There’s also Ojai Rancho Inn. The vibe can be summed up in three words, that don’t appear together often, “rustic hipster chic.” The furniture is made by local craftsman using materials sourced nearby; there are turntables with an eclectic selection of vinyl; and community bikes for riding around town.
SEE & DO
The lovely hilltop location of this community-oriented mediation center is enough to make even a can’t-sit-still girl like me think about mediating. The gardens are breathtaking and the walking paths offer dramatic views of the valley and surrounding mountains. For a moment I thought I was gazing over a hillside in Tuscany or Umbria. There are daily morning mediations as well as workshops and classes throughout the week. There’s even an offering called “walking mediation” – now that may be more my speed.
Horn Canyon Trail
From the Thacker School parking lot, you’ll find the trailhead to this lovely and mildly challenging hike. It’s 2.8 miles up to the Pines campground, then a fun downhill back especially for trail running. There are great vistas along the way, but not a “pay-off” topper so just enjoy the going. Do take sunscreen and plenty of water, the sun can be brutal. I’m about to “mom” you: eat something before you go. We didn’t and ran out of gas near the top.
Fig Curated Living
This place exudes happiness and fun. The hopscotch feature on the entry floor puts you in a playful mood for exploring the artfully filled space stocked full of local goods, crafts, and surprises. I fell in love with the hanging ceramic lines stuffed with succulents to resemble a chain of octopus.
Beloved by generations of art and music lovers in this region, the historic amphitheater has recently undergone a complete renovation and shines brighter than ever. Check the schedule and catch a show while in town to feel part of the local fabric.
Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room
A great place to sit in the courtyard and sample wines from the region. You could spend a whole afternoon here sipping and sampling.
In the mid-60’s, the owner Richard began selling books outside on the honor system. It worked and he expanded. Today, Bart’s stakes the claim of largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the U.S. And, the books outside are still on the honor system when the shop is closed. The folks there talked to me in depth about the type of read I liked and then helped me search out the perfect book for my mood…actually a few perfect books. Mad love this place.
Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods Store
I could spend hours in this market pursing the aisles filled with healthy foods and products from the area and beyond. It’s a great place to pick up olive oil, including locally produced bottles from Ojai Olive Oil Company, cheeses, and pastries for a picnic in the park nearby. Tip: get the Ojai Orange Honey – it’s life changing, promise.
In the Field
Straight up front you should know that my experience is totally skewed since my one and only time in this shop was for their opening party. With a DJ spinning tunes, complimentary prickly pear margaritas, and beautiful party people wall-to-wall, let’s just say it seemed like the coolest spot ever. Unfortunately every day probably won’t be like this – but with ultra-hip proprietors Bianca and Channon, who knows? Maybe it will be. Either way, the store features finely crafted clothing, shoes, jewelry, and housewares. I fell in love with a pair of moccasins. It’s a head-over-heels kind of store.
Non-vegan and non-vegetarians love this place as much as the vegs do. I sampled Ray’s Ruben with grilled onions, chilies, and cucumbers and a tempeh veggie burger, plus the soup of the day: pumpkin ginger, and everything was divine.
Farmer and the Cook
We had a great supper at this funky little place that included an inventive salad of beet, persimmon, watermelon radish, dehydrated quinoa with yogurt dill sauce. The salad, paired with Kenny’s Pizza and a pitcher of sangria…well, let’s just say we’re still talking about it and headed back for brunch now.
Bohemia Coffee House
It’s a great little spot for a cup of chai and pastry – and also for using WiFi if you’re having trouble getting it in other areas (sometimes that happens in Ojai.)