John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to escape to Ojai when life became too much for them, at least that’s how the story goes…
If you mention the name Ojai to someone from LA, you’ll probably hear a sound of longing escape from their lips.
Lead image (c) Rick Gulden
This is not to imply, however, that Ojai exists for tourists– No. Ojai itself is a vibrant, funky town rich with its own local and authentic Californian vibe.
If you think the phrase “authentic Californian vibe” is an oxymoron, you have simply yet to experience Ojai.
Chains and franchises are outlawed in this town, so “shop local” is the reality here. The Ojai Valley has long been a refuge for reclusive artists.
The famous potter Beatrice Wood, a close friend of Marcel Duchamp, resided in Ojai, and her studio is still on view to the public at particular times for viewings.
Ojai has also been extolled as the Shangri-La of North America. In fact, the movie Lost Horizon by Frank Capra set his version of Shangri-La in the Ojai Valley. And when I say that everyone there knows each other, it is not an exaggeration. The population is under 8,000.
1. Play Farmer for a Day
Get lost in the fields and vineyards of Ojai for a day.
The town literally smells of Orange blossoms since the entire valley is surrounded by orange groves. Ojai pixie tangerines are a local specialty.
Also add to your itinerary a visit to the local olive oil company. Planted in 1880 and organically grown, Ojai olive oil has won many awards for its products. The farmers offer a free tour and tasting every Wednesday and Saturday.
Find Orange Groves all over the valley, especially bordering the Ojai Santa Paula Road, Ojai, CA.
Find the Ojai Olive Oil Company at 1811 Ladera Rd.
2. Pick Up a Piece of Provence at the Farmer’s Market
Lavender is another local crop. While you are in town, make sure to visit one of the local lavender farms. The lavender is sold in droves at the weekly farmer’s market.
Along with the lavender people, you can also catch the olive oil merchants at the farmer’s market. While you’re there, make sure to stop and listen to the Iron Mountain Boys Bluegrass Band.
Find the Farmer’s Market every Sunday from 9 am to 1 pm at 300 E Matilija St.
3. Eat & Drink Like a Hippie
Farmer and the Cook
The name is as straightforward as the food. Steve Sprinkel is the farmer, and his wife, Olivia Chase, is the cook.
Every Sunday through the summer, they light their outdoor wood-burning pizza oven and everyone sits at tables outside on the patio and watches as attractively disheveled young guys with long hair shovel the pizzas in and out of the kiln. The pizza starts at six and music at 6:30.
“The farmer and the cook pretty well embodies the spirit of Ojai … the farmer/owner himself, dining with dirt on his hands from the day’s labor… a bald man with a parrot on his shoulder… a coltish young waitress in purple-striped Pippi Longstocking socks and matching miniskirt serving two middle-aged women in muumuus.” —CN traveler
Farmer and Cook, 339 W El Roblar Dr, Ojai, CA
If you are looking for a place with good conversation this place is for you. A beer and wine bar located at Ojai Rancho Inn, the friendly bartender is playing his vinyls, there’s free pretzels and killer wine. An Ojai hidden treasure.
Chief’s Peak, also a hotel, located at 615 Ojai Valley Trail, Ojai
For something a bit more substantial than coffee, amble down the mainstreet to Knead Baking Co. where a family of two sisters and their mother bake bread and pastries daily from scratch. The smell alone, especially once combined with the airy, light-filled space is almost enough to temporarily cure any mental ailment.
Knead, 469 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA
4. The Wild, Wild West Bookstore
Stroll on over to Bart’s books after a leisurely breakfast on Knead’s outside terrace in the Ojai sun.
Spend the afternoon at the “largest independently owned and operated outdoor bookstore in the U.S.A..”
(c) Aude Lising
The sun spangled mini-courtyards arranged in a tangled maze will suck you in for hours just browsing the books, which range from obscure to contemporary. You can also pick up some old-fashioned hard peppermint stick candy right by the cash register.
(c) Susie Lee
302 W Matilija St, Ojai, CA
5. Tap into your Inner Mountain Man/ Woman
One simply cannot pass through Ojai without sampling the extensive network of hiking trails that weave up and around the valley.
The Three Best Local Hiking Trails:
And for something a bit shorter, try Horn Canyon Trail.
And if just being in Ojai hasn’t already made you “chill” enough, make sure to take a wander around the 32 acres of gardens up on Meditation Mount.
10340 Reeves Rd, Ojai, CA
6. Strike a (Yoga) Pose
If you really want to “go native,” try out a yoga class at the local studio, Lulu Bandha’s. Don’t worry– they don’t only cater to certified yogis. In fact, they have a class called “Stiff White Guys,” though you need not be white, a guy, or even particularly, stiff to attend. As owner of the studio, Kira Ryder explains, “‘Originally named as a way to get my husband into class, this practice works for almost anyone.’”
306 E Matilija St, Ojai, CA
7. Stay in a Time Capsule
The Capri Hotel
For a quirky vibe, head straight over to the Capri hotel. This roadside motel is something straight out of your quintessential vision of the American West.
But, instead of being slightly musty and dark with questionably carpeting, the capri offers airy, clean and simple rooms. The pool area is secluded and calm, plus you can take the little dirt path right from the hotel lobby and walk to downtown in under five minutes.
Also, the hotel manager, Christopher, is truly a hoot. Like a character plucked from a Roald Dahl book, he is equal parts sinister and benevolent with his long dark, slightly greasy black hair and all-black daily ensembles. If you ask him a question, he might not reply, but he will take great care of you anyway.
The Capri is the perfect mixture of kitschy and chic, and it truly looks like a hold-out from the 1960’s.
1180 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA
Your Own Authentic Hippie Yurt
If you feel like settling into your own digs, instead of staying at a hotel, rent your own authentic yurt, situated right in the heart of downtown Ojai. I bet this is where John and Yoko would have stayed if Airbnb existed in the ‘70’s…
One might call it “glamping” at its finest….
Find the Yurt here.
8. Visit the Hippie Biker Bar of Ojai
Just another example of Ojai’s small-town charm– you can also visit Christopher from the Capri Hotel at his other job at the Deer Lodge, where he works at the bar and occasionally plays live music with his band. This is probably the most happening joint in Ojai– which isn’t actually saying much, considering most things are closed well before 10 pm.
Deer Lodge offers the atmosphere of a real hunting lair with its big stone hearths and leather upholstery. It is nestled off the road just as you are heading up into the hills surrounding Ojai.
Ojai Deer Lodge, 2261 Maricopa Hwy, Ojai, CA
9. Hippie Retail Therapy
The Old Fashioned department store that hasn’t changed for half a century
Whether you feel like shopping or not, be sure to check out Rains, where you can buy anything from cowboy jeans to greeting cards to soap. It looks like the goods stocked there haven’t changed since the 1950s.
(c) Ken Lund
The Arcade Shopping Center, 218 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA
Fig, if you need to Upgrade your Garden Gnome
Fig is everything the modern hippie needs to adorn his or her home and garden stylishly, of course “with a focus on local, handmade, and fair trade goods.”
Fig, 327 East Ojai Avenue
Summer Camp, the Converted “Wes Anderson” Gas Station
Located by the road in our small town of Ojai, a peculiar old mid-century gas station awaits your discovery. Converted from a sorry-looking roadside relic to something rather dreamy…
Pull over at the old pumping station, but you won’t be filling up the tank here– more likely, you’ll be filling up your trunk with a hoard of charming handcrafted pieces to decorate your pad and curious vintage items you just couldn’t resist.
Summer Camp, 1020 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA
Modern Folk Living
A destination eco-boutique for inspired, hand selected products with you and the environment, in mind.
Modern Folk Living, 306 E Matilija St, Ojai, CA
10. Go to the Secret Chinese Massage Parlor
The true town secret–AA relaxation station— is the best deal you’ll ever get for a massage. None of the employees really speak english, though, so you’ll have to order your massage from a menu. It’s only 35.00 dollars for an hour of amazing massage. If all of this is sounding too good to be true, don’t worry– it isn’t. The room is open plan, very clean and plain. The door is normally left wide open, letting in some of that delightful Ojai sun.
P.S. It’s so secret, you can barely find any pictures…
AA Relaxing Station at the Arcade Shopping Center, 323 E Matilija St, Ojai, CA
Things You Will Only Hear in Ojai:
–”There’s nothing to do in Ojai, and not enough time to do it.”
–”I don’t like to count the hugs…It cheapens the spirit of what I’m doing. But I’ve hugged some people a couple hundred times.” (This came from ‘Al the Hug Guy’ who gives free hugs at the weekly farmer’s market– just another reason to stop by on Sunday!)
–An ad found on the grocery store bulletin, coming from a lady attempting to rent out a room in her house, reports that she is “transitioning into a lot of things right now: raw veganism; self-employment; Ojai; consequently following my dreams.”
–“Dude, don’t worry—if we’re booked, you can always stay in our yurt.” (From Chris Sewell, working at the Ojai Rancho Inn)