A Hidden Gem off the Beaten Path
By Hudson Lindenberger
If you need to shake off the stresses of life and get back in touch with your inner self, journey to the hidden hamlet of Ojai. The town embraces its karmic center while welcoming you for a day of great food, wine, golf and hiking. Ojai delights with a small-town feel due to their banning of large box shopping centers, the decades-long fight to not let the road into town expand to four lanes, and the abundance of local businesses.
As you leave Highway 101 at Ventura and journey east into the mountains for the Ojai Valley, a peaceful calm settles over you. The town of 8,000 might be close to the traffic and headaches of the city of angels, but it exists in a different plane of existence. The region, long known as a spiritual center, also has a thriving ecology, health and art scene. The town and valley have been called the Shangri-La of Southern California due to the similarities between it and the mystical city in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon.
The center of town is dominated by the Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture that is common throughout the area. The long, covered Spanish arcade with its classic bell tower is a welcome respite from the midday sun as you browse the numerous storefronts and art galleries lining the walkway. Across from the main arcade is a large pergola leading to a shaded oasis, Libbey Park. The park is named after Edward Libbey an early civic leader of the town that led the rebuilding of much of the downtown after a devastating fire in 1917. He helped design, finance and rebuild much of the town and his spirit still permeates Ojai today.
The Primavera Gallery located at 214 East Ojai Avenue has been in existence for 29 years and offers some fine contemporary art. They emphasize fine art paintings and sculpture in the main gallery and a variety of mediums throughout the rest of the facility.
The Ojai Art Center, a cultural beacon since 1939 is located at 113 S. Montgomery Street and functions as a showcase for the community. They focus on seven disciplines (art, dance, film, literary, music, photography and theater) plus a rotating slate of offerings.
Stop into the Ojai Vineyard tasting room located at 109 S. Montgomery Street to sample some of their sublimely smooth Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, and Chardonnays. The tasting room is intimate with a staff well versed in viticulture knowledge – they will steer you in the direction your palate craves. A flight of wines cost $15 and they have a large selection of wines to choose from.
For a great brunch, stop into the low-key Ojai Café Emporium, a picturesque, vine-covered restaurant with a large deck located across the street from the Ojai Vineyard tasting room. They have their own bakery, serve locally sourced food and offer the ideal location to unwind.
A fanciful feast awaits you at Azu, the restaurant of Chef Laurel Moore located at 457 East Ojai Avenue. They specialize in Spanish tapas and Mediterranean comfort cuisine while also offering an extensive wine list. They offer you a perfect place to relax after a day exploring the town and surrounding valley.
The Ojai Valley has a sundry of offerings to consider during a day visit. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the region offering anything from a short day hike to a full day adventure. The two-mile Rose Valley Falls trail in nearby Los Padres National Forest is a lovely, mostly shaded hike that ends at the very picturesque falls. The five-mile Wills-Rice loop located at the Ventura River Preserve is a bit more challenging of a trek through the Wills and Rice valleys and will leave you feeling like you earned your dinner that night.
The appropriately named Meditation Mount is a peaceful, serene spot in the midst of the chaparral-covered hills where you can unwind from the daily rigors of life. Located approximately five miles outside of town at 340 Reeves Road, the Mount is a spiritual oasis. There are numerous stone platforms to stop and reflect upon the beauty of the area and the tranquility of the valley. There is a small path around the top and a Buddhist inspired temple.
If golf is more to your liking, the area has numerous courses with the crown jewel being the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. The resort is located at 905 Country Club Road and offers every amenity one could think of. The course has been rated one of the top 75 golf resorts in America by Golf Digest and was ranked as the number one golf resort in California by Conde’ Nast.
The Spa offers a full menu but is known for Kuyam, a Moroccan mud treatment composed of ancient sea clays; they are the only spa in America to offer it. If you are planning on spending the night see if you can book a room in the Wallace Neff rooms. These rooms are named after the original golf clubhouse architect and were built in 1934 – they evoke an era that has passed by.
The weather is Mediterranean, hot, dry summers with temperatures routinely exceeding 100 and mild winter days where the weather can drop below freezing at night. Like the rest of Southern California they receive most of their moisture during the period from October to March.
The next time you want to escape the rigors of every day life, get to Ojai. You will come away rejuvenated.