This Weekend Getaway From L.A. Looks (And Smells) Fantastic
BY JILL RUSSELL // PHOTOS BY JOE SCHMELZER
There’s a reason that Ojai tops every West Coaster’s road trip list. It’s about 1.5 hours from Los Angeles and 45 minutes from Santa Barbara by car (or Zipcar!) making it perfect for overnighters and weekend getaways. But accessibility is just the icing on the cake, you’ll realize, as soon as you arrive.
IN THE CITRUS GROOVE
The 10-mile-long, three-mile-wide Ojai Valley, surrounded by the Topatopa Mountains, feels sequestered from the rest of the world. Life is quieter and slower here, even as the town—long home to artists and spiritual retreaters—grows in popularity as a tourist destination. Beyond soaking up the impossibly gorgeous scenery and the scent of citrus groves filling the air, there’s plenty to do. Independently owned boutiques and eateries line the streets in Spanish-style houses (there’s a law that forbids chain stores), along with art galleries, day spas, and a must-visit farmers market.
Whether you’re planning to shop and eat your way through town, take in the magical landscape on hikes and bike rides, or all of the above, the calm vibes of Ojai and its residents will rub off on you. Once you come here, you’re probably never going to want to leave. Consider yourself warned.
At Knead Baking Company, a simple sandwich and cookie combo is picture perfect (and delicious).
FUEL UP AND FEAST
If you ask around, it won’t take you long to discover where to go to breakfast: Knead Baking Company (469 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023; 310.770.3282). An egg sandwich on homemade brioche is alone worth the trip, but pick up a sweet treat while you’re there, like the crowd-pleasing salty peanut and dark chocolate oatmeal cookies. We suggest settling in the cozy courtyard to fuel up before a hike—just note, it’s cash only.
Another option is Azu (457 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023; 805.640.7987), where you’ll enjoy small plates inspired by chef Laurel Moore’s travels throughout Spain. With more than 60 wines and an impressive list of craft cocktails, it’s also great for drinks at the bar. (Just remember to have your designated driver sit that part out.)
Chow down on healthy, local eats—like veggie-filled cabbage leaf “shells”—harvested from Farmer and the Cook’s nearby farm.
If there ever was an eatery that embodies the spirit of this region, Farmer and the Cook (339 W. El Roblar Dr., Ojai, CA 93023; 805.640.9608;)is it. Here, the Farmer is Steve Sprinkel and the Cook is his wife, Olivia Chase. The two grow their produce nearby at their 16-acre farm, Rancho Del Pueblo, and the bounty shows up in the form of raw tacos with cabbage leaf “shells,” jalapeno poppers filled with goat cheese and red pepper sauce, and other scrumptious organic eats.
Shop for your next read at Bart’s Books without leaving the sidewalk. (No word if the cat offers suggestions.)
Bart’s Books (302 West Matilija Street, Ojai, CA 93023; 805.646.3755)has been around since 1964, when owner Richard Bartinsdale had to build bookshelves on the sidewalk to make room for his ever-expanding personal library. He invited passersby to take a book and leave payment in coffee cans. Today you can still shop the bargain sidewalk shelves during off hours on the honor system (sliding cash through a slot in the door), but come by when it’s open to explore the entire space. At the center is an old, roofless house filled with books, and from there the shop spirals out seemingly endlessly. As if you need more reasons to visit, there’s a centuries-old oak tree at the center, plenty of umbrella-shaded open air reading nooks, and a friendly shop cat to boot.
Bring “Moonrise Kingdom” to life with Summer Camp’s classic and eclectic wares.
Next, browse old school camping supplies, local handmade bath products and accessories, and vintage posters and leather goods — just a few of the treasures you’ll find at Summer Camp (1020 W. Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023; 805.861.7109). Housed in an old mid-century gas station, the airy shop is run by couple Michael and and Rachel Graves, who have an eye for well-designed items that strike the right balance between nostalgic and modern. If you’re looking for a memorable, distinctive gift, this is the spot.
STOP AND SMELL THE TANGERINES
You can often smell this region’s most famous bounty before you can see it—you won’t be in Ojai long before your nose detects the sweet scent of the Pixie tangerine. Head to Friend’s Ranch (15150 Maricopa Hwy, Ojai, CA 93023; 805.646.2871) to get a closer look—and taste—of this delicious seedless fruit (plus up to 15 other varieties of tangerines). You can tour this 100-year-old citrus farm’s packing house, sample fresh-squeezed juice, and pick up some of the tastiest blood oranges, grapefruits, oranges, and lemons you’ll ever find. Don’t pass up the chance to stroll through the orchard itself to soak up the stunning views.
Orange you glad you visited the century-old orchard grounds and packing house at Friend’s Ranch?
More tangerine and avocado groves line the Shelf Road Trail, a mostly flat, short (about three miles roundtrip) hike. Set out on this easy trek around sunrise or dusk (when it’s cooler) to take in the entire Ojai Valley from up above. More adventurous types might want to devote a day to conquer the 8.5-mile hike at Santa Paula Canyon. Known locally as the “Punch Bowl trail” for the deep swimming holes lining the picturesque, narrow canyon, it’s located about 11 miles east of downtown. Start early to beat some of the heat, bring lots of water, and come swim-ready—you’ll want to take a dip once you’re out there.
SUNSETS AND SPIRITUAL SOJOURNS
About two miles southwest of downtown lies the Krotona School of Theosophy (46 Krotona Hill, Ojai, CA 93023; 805.646.1139), a retreat that’s been here since 1924. It’s a lovely place for quiet reflection, and it’s free to visit. The grounds span 100 tree-lined acres; stroll through the gardens, meadows, and woodlands and you’ll come across the stone Labyrinth, meant for “walking meditation” and modeled after ancient Cretan structures.
Escape from it all with fresh air, open sky, and endless hills at Meditation Mount.
As the day winds down, venture up to Meditation Mount (10340 Reeves Road, Ojai, CA 93023; 805.646.5508) to witness breathtaking vistas over the hills. To access it, drive east from town, all the way up to where Reeves Road ends. There’s no better place to reflect, unwind, and enjoy a peaceful picnic as the sun sets. It’s here that you’ll get a front row seat to witness Ojai’s famed “pink moment,” when the evaporating sunlight casts a salmon-hued, otherworldly glow across the sky and mountains. Perfection.
This city guide is part of our series: 180 Miles. We’re highlighting enticing and accessible day trips Zipsters can embark upon with the 180 free miles included with every Zipcar reservation. Good eats? Scenic views? Hidden gems? From Lake Geneva to Philly, and all the sights and sounds in between, we’ve got your itinerary. Who’s got shotgun?