One of the pleasures of living in a big city like Los Angeles is leaving it from time to time. And one can easily escape to a myriad of destinations — the landscape can range from beach to desert to mountain in under 100 miles — for picturesque weekend getaways.
OJAI, California – While the posh head to Montecito and the hipsters drive to Palm Springs, those in search of something a bit off the beaten path embark on the 90-minute drive north to Ojai. Sure, celebrities have discovered it as an ideal spot for a second home (Reese Witherspoon is often seen buying produce at the farmers' market), but much of this area still feels undiscovered.
Positioned at the base of several vast mountain ranges, Ojai is home to moments of extreme beauty. There trails to hike, roads to bike, sunsets to watch (keep your eyes peeled for the elusive "pink moment," when the setting sun casts a bright color on the mountains). There are moments of more subtle magic too. Like driving through the citrus groves. Or stumbling upon a roadside fruit stand. We can go on.
WHAT TO DO
Hike: Park at the base of Cozy Dell, an out-and-back dirt trail that takes about two hours. When you've reached the top (hopefully you've spied some wildflowers along the way), spend a few minutes taking in the stunning views.
Relax: On the east edge of town you'll find Meditation Mount, a sacred spot on 32 acres of serene land. Wander through the gardens, step into one of five retreat buildings, take in the panoramic valley views, post up on a bench with a good book, and channel your inner Zen.
Spa: The Spa Village at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa has everything you need to emerge refreshed — pool, healthy eatery, gym, artist cottage. (Bet you didn't know you needed that.) Once you've explored the premises, head inside to the spa. The usual suspects are all in place (sauna, jacuzzi, steam room), but somehow look much prettier with the SoCal light shining in. A 100-minute massage (ask for Dawn) followed by a pedicure is nothing short of bliss.
Wine Tasting: Being so close to the Santa Barbara wine country, there are seemingly endless wine-tasting opportunities. Get lost in the vast selection of both local and non-local varietals at the Ojai Beverage Company. If you find the options overwhelming, take a seat in the tasting room for a few flights before making your purchase.
Farmers' Market: If your trip falls on a Sunday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., swing by the Ojai Certified Farmers' Market, where a live bluegrass band provides background music for a dizzying selection of citrus, baked goods, homemade soaps, local olive oil, and small-batch honey.
Shop: Most of the shopping in Ojai centers around the arcade in the center of town. Don't miss Bart's Books, the world's largest outdoor bookstore, for a selection of cool used titles in a charming setting (make sure to visit the "kitchen" for a stellar selection of out-of-print cookbooks). No trip to Ojai is complete without a visit to the natural food store Rainbow Bridge. Pick up a fresh juice and browse through the local and natural beauty products.
WHERE TO EAT
Morning Fuel: If you're in the mood for an old-fashioned breakfast and bottomless cups of coffee, stop by Bonnie Lu's Country Cafe. The friendly staff serves up traditional diner fare (like fluffy buttermilk pancakes and Bubba's country Benedict) in a quaint setting straight out of the 1950s. For something a bit lighter, visit Farmer and The Cook for tasty vegan baked goods and Mexican-inspired vegetarian brunch on the weekends. After you've polished off an order of huevos rancheros take a stroll through the marketplace, and order a homemade chai tea for the road.
Lunch: A favorite spot among locals is Bocalli's, a roadside pizza stand on the east edge of town. Sit outside and immediately order a bottle of the Boccali Vineyards rosé syrah — aptly called Pink Moment. After feasting on antipasti and a combo pizza, live it up and order the strawberry shortcake. If you squint just right, this place could pass for Tuscany.
Dinner: If the weather is cool, reserve the table closest to the fireplace at Azu, where you'll find a menu filled with Mediterranean-inspired small plates and homey comfort food. Order a selection of tapas (don't miss the bacon-wrapped chorizo-stuffed dates) and seafood paella for the table. In the warmer months, there's nothing better than casual Italian food on the patio at Osteria Monte Grappa.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want to go all out (after the shortcake, why not?), splurge on deluxe accomodations at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. If you want rustic romance, reserve the the cozy Love Shack, a freestanding cottage overlooking a stream.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly: Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA), the closest airport, is about 30 miles from Ojai. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is better served but farther away.
Drive from LA: Take the I-405 N to the US-101 N. Merge onto CA-33 N toward Ojai. Continue onto West Ojai Ave. The drive is approximately an hour-and-a-half.
See the locations for this trip. (Googlemap)