By Anne Burkin
I’ve been eager to return to Ojai after spending a weekend at the gorgeous Ojai Valley Inn and Spa a few years ago. On that trip, however, we never left the hotel, so I was excited to go back and get the flavor of what this historical, laid-back “Shangri La” was all about.
For years I’ve been predicting that Ojai is to become The Hamptons for Angelenos. With its close proximity to L.A., beautiful setting, and wide variety of activities that are different from what we can find in the city, the quick jaunt helps us escape the daily hustle and bustle. In addition, Ojai offers a completely distinctive vibe – different from another quick jaunt, Palm Springs. Some say that Ojai has a more of a hipster atmosphere, as opposed to Palm Springs’ more glam and desert feeling.
In researching Ojai, I learned some interesting things:
- There are 15 private schools in Ojai. Arguably, the most prestigious of which is The Thacher School.
- Edward Libbey, largely credited for the shaping of modern Ojai, made his fortune in the glass business in Toledo, Ohio.
- Most Ojai residents are sure its name means “nest” in the Chumash language but experts disagree and say it means “moon.”
- Ojai hosts many festivals, including but not limited to wine, music, film, lavender, and playwrights’. The Playwrights Conference is an impressive feat, as Terrence McNally, Jon Robin Baitz, and Christopher Durang have all had works that were developed at this annual festival.
Where to Eat
The burgers at HiHo! Burger are reason enough to visit Ojai, I kid you not. With a limited menu of only the good stuff (burgers, fries, and pie “sometimes”), this place packs customers onto its patio and offers frozen margaritas and wine by the glass. We loved it.
Speaking of margaritas, try the Cadillac Margarita at Agave Maria’s where you can also get your fix for traditional Mexican favorites on a nice, outdoor patio. Head to Osteria Monte Grappa for their agnolotti della casa – it’s a delicious dish of ravioli stuffed with braised beef, mushrooms, and mozzarella topped with a brown butter/sage sauce. Also a must is the beef carpaccio and pappardelle with beef. Osteria is very family-friendly, so you can bring everyone, and you won’t be disappointed.
The super-charming wine bar, “Chief’s Peak”, is on site at the Ojai Rancho Inn and is an absolute must while visiting. It’s cozy and has a nicely curated wine and beer menu, even serving a pinot noir in a can (which my husband and I found amusing.)
At some point during your stay you’ll need a place for an unpretentious, diner-style breakfast, so look no further than Bonnie Lu’s for that. They feature the usual suspects: pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs, etc. The wait staff is extremely courteous and attentive and the breakfasts are fantastic, making this place a staple.
Finally, be sure to pick up a bag of honey chocolate pecan bars at Knead Baking Co. for a very rich, but delicate, sweet treat. They also have yummy baked goods so this would also be a good breakfast spot, too.
Where to Stay
I’ve stayed at and loved the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa before and can attest to its beauty and overall experience of staying at a nice country club. The setting is just gorgeous at this most famous of lodging options in the area – in fact, every amenitiy you’ll need is provided, making venturing out less and less tempting. The rooms are beautiful and the poolside food is delicious – you can sit by the main pool here with the kids and really unwind. They also have a world-class spa, golf, and a kids’ camp during the summer months, which is a huge hit for those of us who like to have a break from the young ones during the day.
This trip, however, we stayed at the delightful Ojai Rancho Inn which is an old-school motel turned hipster rustic venue by Shelter Social Club. Ask for the garden cottage room which is a stand-alone structure at the back of the property overlooking a big grassy lawn which makes you feel like you have a private backyard all to yourself. There’s a convenient door at the back of the property which opens to the Ojai Valley Trail so you have access to an easy 10-minute walk to town. They welcomed our dog, too, which was an added bonus.
Where to Shop
I am completely obsessed with deKor & Co after visiting and if you only have time to visit one shop while in town, this is definitely the one. I wasn’t expecting to want everything in the store, but there was so much to explore. The shop is a perfectly curated selection of mid-century furniture, lighting, rugs and a smart selection of jewelry and clothing; as an added bonus they carry FACE cosmetics which has the best nail polish colors I’ve seen since perusing the Chanel counter at Nordstrom a few weeks ago.
Stop by Modern Folk Living for an artfully hand-selected collection of eco-friendly clothing and gifts by Wanda Weller Sakai, previously director of design for Patagonia.
Part picnic shop and wine bar, don’t miss Tipple and Ramble’s collection of home goods like pillows, throws, and entertaining accessories; they have lovely pottery pieces and delicious charcuterie plates and local wines.
Where to Ride
A trip to Ojai would not be complete without a good trail ride, so get your ridin’ boots on and saddle up at Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company for their one or two-hour trail ride. This was the highlight of our entire trip, as the horses were sweet and gentle.
Best Playground Ever
For those of you with young children, Libbey Park has a fantastic play structure area that’s vast and entertaining. The park is actually located right in the center of town, so it’s convenient and a big help when the kids need to burn some energy or take a break from more grown-up activities.
Ultimately, Ojai is an ideal getaway for couples or the whole family. No matter what – get there soon.
Based in The Agency’s Brentwood office, Anne Burkin is Director of Residential Estates and has represented buyers and sellers throughout Los Angeles at every price point and prides herself on repeat clients and their referrals. “My business is centered on keeping my clients’ interests at heart. I put myself in their shoes and advise them accordingly.” Anne’s listings have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Variety, and ET’s The Insider.