One day in Ojai
It’s hard not to fall in love with Los Angeles… or at least the idea of the coastal city. The year-round sunny climate, postcard-famous beaches and the glitz and glamor of Hollywood make the City of Angels a tourist magnet. But in reality, with almost 50-million visitors a year, L.A. may be the furthest thing from a relaxing getaway. You can count on spending most of your time sitting in rush hour traffic or waiting in lines as you head from one tourist trap to the next. So why not take a day off from the chaos of Lala land for something much more peaceful and quiet?
Just a short 90-minute drive from the city’s chaos sits Ojai, a quaint little bohemian town situated between unspoiled mountain ranges with a population just under 8,000. Though small in numbers, the surrounding nature serves as an outdoor playground, while the historic town provides culture, history, and a thriving dining and art scene. In short, you’ll never run out of things to do. As a matter of fact, you’ll have to pick and choose how you want to spend your day. It can be as easy and effortless as strolling down Ojai Avenue and absorbing the city’s rustic charm for a change of scenery. Or it can be as adventurous as a 9-mile hike in the neighboring Los Padres National Forest. The options are seemingly endless. Here, I've narrowed down a few of my favorite activities and places in Ojai, in case you ever do decide to trade in the designer shops of Rodeo for the natural wonders of the valley.
Knead Baking Co.
What started off as a modest vendor at Ojai’s farmer’s market 10 years ago, has now turned into a beloved family-run artisan bakery that’s best known for their scones, bagels, bread and classic breakfast items. Founder Bobbi Corbin uses ingredients from local farmers and nearby citrus groves in her baking, drawing diners from all over the country who swear the baked goods at Knead are one of a kind. Stop here for coffee and snack, and grab a seat outside under the tree. Stay here a while, and you’ll begin to fall in love with Ojai’s small-town charm — regulars walking in and out, greeting the Knead team like family. Just don’t forget to bring cash because this bakery doesn’t accept cards — again, just part of that small-town charm!
Farmer and The Cook
For something more hearty, head over to Farmer and the Cook, an organic grocery store that also doubles as a Mexican café. Founders Steve Sprinkel, the farmer, and Olivia Chase, the cook (get it?), opened their restaurant’s doors in early 2000s as a mission to introduce field-to-table food. Pop in for Swiss chard enchiladas, pre-made sandwiches, or the bountiful salad bar that features produce from the owners’ nearby farm. The daily specials, which include pizza, corn tamale and huevos rancheros, also keep the menu exciting.
An Ojai landmark that’s not to be missed, Bart’s Books is an independent bookstore that came to fruition in 1964 when owner Richard Bartinsdale ran out of room for his growing book collection. Today, the few shelves that Bartinsdale set up on the sidewalk more than 50 years ago have transformed into a full-fledged bookstore that carries everything, from poetry and fiction, to signed first-editions. The magic of Bart’s Books is the quirkiness of the place. The outdoors is a labyrinth made of bookshelves, with couches and shaded nooks for reading. Meanwhile, the old house in the center of the shop feels like a local museum, with cookbooks displayed in the kitchen and art books in the gallery. The bookstore closes at sunset; however, you can always grab one of the 35-cent books that line the outside walls and pay using the honor system box.
Tipple & Ramble
Described as “part picnic shop, part wine bar,” Tipple & Ramble is the perfect place to hang out during the day and night. Stop here in the afternoon to stock up on local cheeses, home goods and little knick knacks that encompasses the understated Ojai vibes: canvas totes, Mexican wool throws, table top decor and kitchenware. Come back at night with a picnic bag — or order the charcuterie board — and enjoy the outdoor patio with a glass of rosé from Tipple & Ramble’s wine bar.
Think of Summer Camp as a glorified souvenirs shop that also specializes in custom framing. The lifestyle store, which is located in an old gas station on the west end of Ojai Avenue, carries a variety of vintage collectibles, home decor items, as well as Ojai postcards, banners and T-shirts. Owners Rachel and Michael Graves make it their mission to support the community by carrying local, American-made products, giving you a good argument to justify splurging at the store. It’ll be hard to leave Summer Camp empty-handed.
In the Field
Lifestyle shop In The Field brings bigger labels like Ulla Johnson, Ace & Jig and Aesop to Ojai, while still very much maintaining the understated, earthy tones of the artistic town. Opened in 2014 by husband-and-wife team Channon and Bianca Roe, In The Field has become a one-stop shopping destination for both clothing and vintage housewares. The 2,000-square-foot is divided into two wings: The men’s section where you can expect to find vintage T-shirts, small leather goods and even surfboards; and the women’s, kids’ and home section on the other side.
Olive Oil Tasting
Ojai Olive Oil is a standing testament that the Mediterranean climate in Southern California makes the coastal region the perfect place to grow olives. The olive groves at the Asquith family ranch date back to the mid-1800s, and stem from the Spanish missionaries’ efforts to start an olive oil industry during that time period. Since then, Ojai Olive Oil has planted more varieties of olives on their land, including Italian, French and Spanish olives, all of which produce a unique flavor of its own. Visit on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays for a walking tour of of the ranch. You’ll be able to learn more about the history of Ojai Olive Oil, as well as the process of making EVOO from beginning to end. If you happen to be in Ojai on a different day, don’t fret; the tasting room and shop is open every day of the week.
Perched on top of a mountain on the east end of Ojai lies Meditation Mount, a 32-acre public sanctuary devoted to ‘creative meditation’ and spiritual wellness. Pack a picnic, take a yoga class (check schedule on website), or simply roam around the property and soak in the view of the Topatopa Mountains. There’s a short path in the garden that leads to a small lookout, perfect for catching the city’s famous “pink moment,” when the reflection from the setting sun bounces off the surrounding mountains, producing a brilliant shade of faded pink for a short moment. Just be sure to respect the silence.
Los Padres National Forest
Los Padres National Forest is what you make of it. Covering 1.75 million acres of Southern and Central California, there are a myriad of activities for you to pick and choose from — picnicking, horseback riding, camping, mountain biking, you name it. Hiking trails also vary from easy hour-long paths to more rugged day trips. Some of the popular trails near Ojai include the Rose Valley Falls hike, an easy 1.1 mile walk that features a towering waterfall at the end. But for a more strenuous workout, check out Matilija Falls. Though much longer at 9.6 miles, the swimming holes, wildlife, canyon and gorge, make the journey worthwhile.
The historic Ojai Valley Inn and Spa is a destination of itself. Set on 220-oak studded acres, the resort’s panoramic mountain views and colonial Spanish architecture make the property look like a scene straight out of Pinterest or a Disney movie. Find a way to fit the resort into your schedule, even if it’s just a quick pitstop to enjoy the scenery and capture a few Instagram-worthy photos. If you do have time though, call ahead and book yourself a massage at the award-winning on-site spa. You can also purchase a day pass to access some of the hotel’s top-notch facilities, such as the jacuzzi, steam room and one of the resort’s many swimming pools.