Ojai, California is a cute town just 90 miles from Los Angeles. Tucked away in a valley filled with orange groves is an oasis from stress, home to artists, health devotees and other urban escapees.
Surrounded by burnished peaks, its grasses green in spring and gold in summer and fall, the Ojai Valley was the setting for Shangri-La in the 1937 Hollywood movie The Lost Horizon. It is still a place where you can retreat from a fast-paced lifestyle to find serenity on oak-shaded paths.
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Ojai’s main drag, Ojai Avenue, is filled with unusual little shops and restaurants nestled in a block-long Spanish arched arcade. Start your day with breakfast, served all day at Vesta Home and Hearth. In good weather, choose a table in the courtyard. Bagels and croissants are $3.50 to $11.95 (with lox), and a scrumptious brioche French toast with berries is $6.95. Browse through this cozy home furnishings shop-cum-restaurant for gifts for friends or luxurious treasures for yourself.
If you’d like a bit of exercise and adventure after breakfast head to the paved Ojai Valley Trail. It begins on Fox Street, one block east of the Arcade, and runs for 9.5 miles through the valley with a parallel dirt path for horses. Rent a bicycle or merely go for a lovely walk.
The trail follows the Ventura River into the valley, passing broad open spaces and wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. The terrain is downhill from Ojai. There is a market near the midpoint of the trail, in Oak View, for sandwiches and apples. Pick up lunch and enjoy it at the end of the trail in Foster Park that offers riverside picnicking and a playground for children.
The return is, of course, uphill as you climb into quiet neighborhoods and to a shady pathway frequented by locals walking dogs and pushing baby carriages.
In the afternoon take your book-lover self over to Bart’s, nestled under a 400-year old live oak at the corner of Matilija and Canada streets. Possibly the world’s only outdoor bookstore, Bart’s makes an inspired selection of books available day and night. After they close their doors, payment is on the honor system – pick a couple of titles and slip the money under the door.
From Bart’s, walk west a half block to Rincon, then turn left and walk two blocks to West Ojai Avenue. On your right, you will see Janis’ Art Garden Gallery and Ojai Art Workshop. This gallery located in a gorgeous garden is filled with sculptures, fountains, urns, and other works by local artists and much of it is for sale. Browse, dream, or try your hand at creating a masterpiece – you can call Janis in advance to arrange for a one-hour drop-in art class for just $25.
Head back downtown by walking east on Ojai Avenue for about five blocks. Take time to look leisurely through the shops and galleries in the Arcade. Busy Babes has wonderful soaps from Italy and France and the Human Arts Gallery specializes in contemporary jewelry, plus art wearables, sculpture and whimsical recycled art.
Finally, it’s time to get off your feet – they’ve had a workout today! Stop into Movino Wine Bar & Gallery for a final art fix, a glass of wine and a bite to eat in fashionable surroundings. Tapas range from $8 to $12 for large plates, $5 to $8 for small, and individual thin-crust pizzas that are really good are $10.
Across Ojai Avenue, under a canopy of majestic oaks, Libbey Park beckons. As the day winds down, find a spot here to take in the sunset. Ojai is famous for its pink moment when the sun sets over the surrounding peaks and bathes the sky in every imaginable shade of…you guessed it…serene, reflective, and utterly amazing pink.
WHAT & WHERE:
Vesta Home and Hearth (242 E Ojai Ave, Ojai CA 93023, 805-646-2339)
Bicycles of Ojai (108 Canada St., Ojai CA 93023, 805-646-7736)
Western Trail Rides (1128 Meyer Rd., Ojai CA 93024, 805-640-8635)
Bart’s Books (302 W Matilija St, Ojai CA 93023, 805-646-3755)
Janis’ Art Garden Gallery & Ojai Art Workshop (410 W Ojai Ave, Ojai CA 805- 646-2555)
Busy Babes Beauty Supply & Salon (306 E Ojai Ave, Ojai CA, 805-646-2713)
Human Arts Gallery (246 E Ojai Ave, Ojai CA, 805-646-1525)
Movino Wine Bar & Gallery (308 E Ojai Ave, Ojai CA, 805-646-1555)
Fun Facts: One weekend a year, the world comes to Ojai to hear stories, to laugh and to mingle with magic. The Ojai Storytelling Festival takes place in late April in Libbey Park.
Ojai Storytelling Festival; villageoftales.org
Libbey Park is also the site of the venerable Ojai Music Festival, which takes place in June. The annual gathering of many of classical music’s greatest artists and composers is in its 63rd year. Ojai Music Festival; ojaifestival.org.