Shangri-La Is Closer than You Think
When you’re looking for a place to retreat for an afternoon or an entire weekend, Ojai is your answer. Less than an hour’s drive from the Conejo Valley, Ojai is a hidden jewel of a town, cradled by the Topatopa Mountains in a picturesque valley. First named Ojai, aka “Valley of the Moon,” by the Chumash Indians, Ojai’s natural beauty attracts artistic types of all sorts who find peace and solace in this mountain paradise. Natural hot springs, breathtaking hiking trails and year-round waterfalls make Ojai a Shangri-La of sorts, which explains why Frank Capra aptly chose the town as the idyllic setting in his famous 1937 movie, “Lost Horizon.”
Arriving in Ojai does evoke a feeling of euphoria, especially for visitors discovering the area’s incredible natural beauty for the first time. Even the architecture of the city center mimics the surreal and reverent beauty of the valley town with its artistic design inspired to enthrall and co-exist in harmony with the natural surroundings. Driving into town along E. Ojai Avenue brings into sight the 65-foot-tall Ojai Post Office bell tower, welcoming one and all with its hourly tolling 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and patriotic tunes at noon. Built in 1917, the Spanish tower was designated as Ventura County Historical Landmark No. 26 in 1975, along with a sycamore tree in Libbey Park down the street.
Donated to the city by Ohio glass magnate Edward Drummond Libbey, Libbey Park is home to the Libbey Bowl, an “almost enchanted venue” nestled among a grove of trees. Its 973 seats all offer a great view of the stage, and the lush lawn is a great place for a picnic while enjoying musical events and productions, including Rick Springfield on July 10.
That special Ojai feeling is evident in its varied eclectic shops, art galleries and specialty restaurants. Strolling through the Village Marketplace at the center of town offers an afternoon of delights to thrill wanderers of all ages.
The Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods Market is one such treasure for visitors and locals alike. Known as “a community gathering place,” this iconic downtown market offers healthy, wholesome food and sustainable, ethically produced goods to the Ojai community. Don’t miss their organic teas and spices located down the ramp behind the produce department. This market is an absolute haven for the health-conscious, who can easily spend hours browsing the array of health-boosting, life-affirming products. Find them at 211 E Matilija Street, or get a glimpse of their goods at RainbowBridgeOjai.com.
Starting in 1874 as the town hardware store, Rains of Ojai has evolved into a specialty department store offering men’s and women’s clothing, gifts and gourmet goods for the home, outdoors and pets. Located at 218 E. Ojai Avenue, Rains of Ojai offers something for everybody. A local favorite shopping destination, Rains of Ojai’s visitors can access their wares online at RainsOfOjai.com when they can’t make it to town.
Perhaps one of the sweetest things about Ojai is the Heavenly Honey produced here by Jeff and Barbara Haskins, whose family has been harvesting honey for the public since 1979. Their Orange Blossom honey is sourced from local bees and they also offer Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Clover, Sage and Wildflower varieties. Call 805.207.4847 to make an appointment to visit their tasting room, weekends 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or find them online at HeavenlyHoney.co.
After working up an appetite strolling and shopping in Ojai, visit Suzanne’s Cuisine, at 502 W. Ojai Avenue, a local secret for delicious and healthy organic fare and caring service. Launched by a mother-daughter duo in 1992, Suzanne’s Cuisine serves up meals with simple, natural flavors. Adhering to the idea that “Food is love made visible,” Suzanne’s Cuisine’s menu includes a variety of Italian and French-influenced dishes, and “the best Mussels Provençale,” according to CVL publisher Ben Malkin, who is still talking about the scrumptious meal! Called an “Ojai must-go” by Zagat’s, their garden setting and wine pairings add to the ambiance. Make a reservation for lunch (11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) or dinner (5:30 p.m.-close) at 805.640.1961, or view their mouthwatering menu at SuzannesCuisine.com.
When you want more time to soak up the Ojai scene, check out The Iguana Inns of Ojai. The Emerald Iguana, located six blocks from downtown Ojai at 108 Pauline Street, has been called Southern California’s most enchanting hideaway. Set in a garden oasis amidst a canopy of trees, the Emerald Iguana Inn provides a tranquil adults-only romantic retreat. Families with children will want to check into the Blue Iguana Inn, bordering the edge of town and called a “hip and stylish” place by Sunset Magazine. Check for availability at IguanaInnsOfOjai.com or call 805.646.5277.
With miles of trails, camping and parks in Ojai, exploring the great outdoors is best done on horseback! The Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company offers one- or two-hour rides through the Ventura River valley and into the Enchanted Forest. Just 3.5 miles from downtown Ojai, Oso Ranch is open year-round. Beginner to intermediate riders will enjoy a relaxing and leisurely paced ride along the River Valley Trail. Advanced riders can venture through canyons and forests with amazing views. Call 805.890.9340 or visit OjaiValleyTrailRidingCompany.com.
Must-see Ojai attractions include Ojai’s Certified Farmers’ Market, Sundays at 300 E. Matilija Street, and Meditation Mount, 10340 Reeves Road, the perfect lookout for catching the famous Ojai “pink moment” at sunset.
A trip to Ojai would not be complete without stopping at Bart’s Books, an open-air used bookstore a few blocks from the town center at 302 W. Matilija Street. This Ojai institution carries signed and first editions, rare art books and new releases at impressively low prices. Book Ends is another well-loved used bookstore offering rare finds a little farther off the beaten path at 110 S. Pueblo Avenue.
A visit to the Ojai Valley Museum provides insight into the area’s history and people who shaped the community with a full schedule of speakers and events, including Artist Talks, Town Talks and Walking Tours. Visit OjaiValleyMuseum.org.
Attending one of Ojai’s annual signature events, such as the Ojai Music Festival, the Lavender Festival, the Wine Festival and the Studio Artists Tour, is a real treat.
For those interested in making Ojai their home or vacation retreat, Nora Davis of The Davis Group is happy to help. A real estate agent with 25 years of experience, Nora grew up in Ojai and uses her knowledge and expertise to locate the perfect home. Contact her at 805.646.7288 or view properties at OjaiValleyEstates.com.
From an afternoon cruise to a weekend getaway, Ojai offers the perfect place to unwind, relax and enjoy life.