From coastal beauties like Big Sur and San Diego to the redwoods and wine country, there’s no shortage of fabulous California destinations. However, there’s something to be said for venturing a little off the beaten path. One of California’s best lesser-known destinations has to be the Ojai Valley.
Located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, you’ll find beautiful Oaji (population: 7,500). Nestled in the Topatopa Mountains, this village’s art scene, scenic hiking trails, fabulous spas and stunning vistas attract a bohemian type of traveler that also enjoys life’s finer things. Add in their notable food and wine scene, and you have what I think may be one of the most romantic destinations in the USA.
Here’s how I’d spend a weekend in Ojai, California.
Where to stay:
For a luxurious stay, drop your bags at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. This stunning property features an award-winning, 31,000 square-foot day spa with two pools, workout room, art classes (think water color and wreath-making workshops), plus a full-service spa menu with indulgent body work packages.
If you’re not one to let the grass grow under your feet, there’s golf, as well as a concierge service that will create the Ojai perfect itinerary. Rock climbing, horseback riding, kayaking on Lake Casitas, food and wine tours… if you can’t find a single thing you enjoy doing on their listed activities, I’ll eat my hat.
Prefer something a little easier on the wallet? Check out the Ojai Rancho Inn.
In 2012, hoteliers Shelter Social Club overhauled this 1950s roadside motel into a darling series of rooms and cottages. There’s a pool and onsite restaurant, as well as access to bikes you can cruise into Ojai’s charming town center.
Where to eat:
It’s easy to spend a few days kicking around town. Start your day with breakfast at Knead Baking Co., featuring house-made bagels and pastries, quiches and delicious coffee drinks.
If you’re in town over a weekend, a visit to the Ojai Farmers Market is a must. Operating every Sunday from 9am-1pm, the market sells everything from pistachios and artisan olive oils to organic berries and beeswax candles. Plus, you know in a town that’s chockfull of people of the New Age variety, there’s great people watching to be had!
You’d be remiss to skip a lunch or dinner at Farmer and the Cook, a casual Mexican spot run by a husband (the farmer) and wife (the cook) team. Try a huarache, a thick, homemade corn tortilla topped with grilled potatoes, onions & peppers, cheese, salsa roja, ahi cilantro sauce & crema.
The Ojai Deer Lodge is another great options for food, drinks and live music. Established in 1932, this this former gas station and general store now serves as a culinary haven and music venue.
What to do:
Bibliophiles will want to allocate an hour (or three!) to browsing at Bart’s Books. Located at the corner of Matilija and Canada streets, Bart’s is the largest independently owned and operated outdoor bookstore in the U.S.A. The “store” got its start in 1964 when Ojai resident Richard Bartinsdale started displaying his massive book collection on shelves along the sidewalk. He left coffee cans atop the book case so people could buy books via the honor system. You can still buy select books this way at the shop, as well as peruse rare and out-of-print titles worth thousands. Ahhh, only in Ojai!
Aesthetically, Ojai has its own unique style. Think bohemian rugs, succulents, handmade pottery, and oh-so-California salt rocks and crystals. To bring some of that look back home, head to Summer Camp, a shop specializing in home décor and lifestyle goods.
They do custom framing, sell well-curated vintage items like rugs and art, plus handmade candles, tastefully tie-dyed pillowcases and clothing—all made in America.
No trip to Ojai is complete without taking in one of their epic sunsets. Dubbed “The Pink Moment,” the entire valley floods with rich, pink light every evening as the sun dips below the horizon. Though you can enjoy the light anywhere in the valley, the most icon view is atop Meditation Mount, a 32-acre garden and meditation center perched above town ($2 donation suggested). Please note the center closes just after sunset, so be prepared to take in the pink light and then hurry along. If you’re into meditation, they offer many a free, 30-minute guided meditation session Wednesday – Sunday mornings at 8:30am; plus moonlight meditations during every full moon. Ommmmmm.
What’s your pick for the most romantic destination in the USA? Share in the comments!
Ojai Rancho Inn photos by Nancy Neil
Summer Camp photos by Sarah Ellefson