Greetings From Ojai, California

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Walking through Ojai, a mission-style town 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, you quickly understand why “the Village,” as locals call it, has long been a magnet for those seeking escape, restoration and natural beauty. You’re snuggled by magic and surrounded by mountains, hills and protected forests. “There’s something about Ojai that makes me feel centered and restored,” says yoga teacher and new resident Andrea Brook.

Famously a Mecca for new-agers, these days hippy life has given way to craft cocktails and DJs spinning tunes on gallery night. The vibe is still laid-back and peaceful, but tinged with a hipster sensibility. Most you meet here—you will make friends just by walking down the street—are artists, yoga instructors, film executives or chefs. And everyone shares their talents in the array of well-curated boutiques, galleries and organic restaurants clustered around the tiny downtown.

During a two-day stint in Ojai, which has a population of less than 8,000, you can fill your cup with outdoor pursuits, creative exploration and peaceful reflection. This combination embodies the spirit of the valley.

Friday

Afternoon
To set the tone for the weekend, stroll down East Ojai Avenue past boutiques and galleries and make your way to Libbey Park. As you begin to breathe the valley air, you’ll realize things here move at a slower pace. The small green space in the town center serves as a community gathering spot with seating areas surrounded by native plantings leading to the newly restored Libbey Bowl. If you’re lucky, you may catch a free performance in the historic amphitheater or one of the park’s many free art festivals.

For more traditional happy-hour happenings, make a beeline for Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room. It’s tempting to sit in the tree-covered courtyard, but to dig deeper and learn about the wines, pick a spot inside the sleek tasting room. A flight of five wines is about $15 and the fee is waived when you purchase multiple bottles. Careful though, after a few drinks and much conversation with the vino-obsessed staff, many have walked away with dreams of buying a Central Coast vineyard.

Night
To truly feel the pulse of Ojai, have at least one meal at Farmer & The Cook. It’s the most aptly named business in Ojai. Olivia is the farmer and her partner, Steve, is the cook. Together they have created a rustic yet charming market, bakery and vegetarian restaurant. Find a seat on the patio near the pizza oven, order a pitcher of the house-made sangria and settle in. All of the pizzas are tempting, but you can’t go wrong with Kenny’s Special, a wafer-thin crust topped with roasted garlic, shiitakes, kalamatas, spinach, grilled onion, mozzarella and parmesan.

Saturday

Morning
Head to Bohemia Coffee for morning fuel and order one of their famous jalapeno bagels. A foray into Rainbow Bridge Natural Food Store is also a good move. Make your way to the back counter for delicious breakfast sandwiches, coffee and snacks for the day.

A great way to see more of the valley is to hit the town’s bike path. Stretching 15 miles from Ojai to Ventura, the mostly paved path follows an old railroad bed, with sections bordering a bridal path. It’s a cyclist’s dream.

If tasting Ojai’s natural delights better fits your Saturday mood, take a tour of the Ojai Olive Oil Ranch. A no-reservation policy on Saturdays makes it easy to pop in anytime for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how this golden elixir is produced. Don’t leave before trying the rosemary infused samples.

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Fig Curated Living Photo by Jess Simpson

Afternoon
Wait until you’re really hungry, nearly famished, then dive into the delicious creations (and giant portions) at Ojai’s most talked spot, HIP. Full disclosure, it’s another vegetarian restaurant. Vegan, actually. But meat-eaters love this place and congregate for dishes like Ray’s Ruben with grilled onions, chilies and cucumbers, and homemade carrot-and-ginger soup.

After lunch, visit the many local artists featured in galleries throughout town. Begin in one of Ojai’s most creative shops, Fig Curated Living. A hopscotch feature on the entry floor puts you in a playful mood to explore the cool space stocked with pottery, plants and crafts curated by the owner, Victoria Johansen.

If shopping to support a mission makes you feel good, then you’ll feel like a saint after spending money at Love Heals. This family-owned handcrafted local jewelry shop works with villages in several impoverished countries to plant trees in honor of each piece sold. Each necklace tells a story, and it’s wonderful to find the one that tells your own.

Balance out the modern aesthetic with a visit to a classic Ojai establishment: Bart’s Books. In the 1960s, owner Richard Bartinsdale began selling books outside on the honor system. Today his business is the largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the U.S. When the shop’s closed, you can still peruse selections outside and it’s still a system of honor.

Night
Only in Ojai does Saturday night on the town begin at a mediation center. Ojai’s famous Meditation Mount is a favorite for locals and visitors who come to the hilltop gardens at sunset. If taking in the sunset at a gallop is more your speed, check out the Ojai Valley Trail Riding Compan’’s sunset ride through the valley.

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Bart’s Books Photo by Jess Simpson

For dinner, let the grazing continue at Azu, a cozy spot for sharing small plates with great selection of local wine and beer. After all the veggie meals, meat-lovers will be primed for the dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon and fried. Don’t worry veggie lovers, for you there’s crazy-good curried and fried cauliflower. Both the seafood and the vegetarian paella are noteworthy as well.

Sunday

Morning
After a few days in Ojai, you’ll find yourself feeling more grounded and calm and in a Sunday state of mind. Start your day early at the Farmers Market, where you’ll see all of the friends you’ve made around town the previous two days. There’s plenty of beautiful local fruits and pastries to choose from for packing an afternoon picnic.

To really appreciate the breadth and beauty of Ojai, a visit to the nearby hills is a must. With the trailhead just 10 minutes from town, Horn Canyon Trail is a great way to get exercise while taking in the views of the valley. It’s a 1.5-mile climb straight up (which makes for a quick descent) past oaks, sycamores and alders to reach the Pines Campground. Or take a slightly longer drive for a shorter hike to Rose Valley Falls on the edge of Los Padres National Forest. Whichever you chose, the sun always becomes more intense that you imagined. Be sure to have a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.

Before leaving Ojai, visit the Day Spa of Ojai for a “Stressbuster” massage before making your exit. You’ll need it as you re-enter the real world.

To Stay
Many of the lodgings in Ojai reflect the town’s eclectic and independent character. Your choices range from a cozy yurt smack in the center of town rented through Airbnb, to the rustic-chic of Ojai Rancho Inn replete with turntables in every room and free bikes, to the swanky Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

Jess is a freelance writer and blogger with a passion for all things travel, art and the outdoors.

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