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Capturing the Spirit of Ojai

Story and photos by Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

Serenity gate at Meditation Mountain

The Chumash Indians once made this valley their home. Now it is home to countless artists, musicians and health enthusiasts.  The city that eventually emerged in this California valley became known as Ojai (a Chumash word meaning “the Nest” or “Valley of the Moon”), a community that continues to embrace the rich fabric of spiritualism that originated with the local Native Americans. We fell in love with the beauty of this serene valley, which is surrounded by scenic hills and populated by citrus and olive groves. The Village of Ojai lures the visitor with its charm, range of outdoor adventures, enclave of artists and its dedication to health and wellness.

We started our visit to the Ojai Valley with the “All Around Ojai” jeep tour from Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours. Cloud Climbers is a family-owned and operated company with locations in Ojai, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and Solvang. Their jeep tours offer visitors an open-air 4-wheel drive experience with door-to-door service provided.

An Ojai artisan’s creations

On our tour we visited an artist studio, rode through fruit farms and orchards, experienced the serenity at Meditation Mount, tasted olive oils from Regalo Olive Oil and wine from Old Creek Ranch Winery, and drove around the Lake Casitas Recreation Area (popular for fishing, kayaking, boat rentals and camping). Our guide, Greg, an artist specializing in multidimensional art, was quite knowledgeable about Ojai history and gave us a fabulous overview of the area. Greg also helped us connect with our spiritual side when he played a soothing cadence on the recorder during our visit to Meditation Mount.

Readers enjoying a quiet moment at Bart’s Books

Ojai is a foot-friendly town and can be explored by bike or trolley as well. We opted to rent bikes after our morning jeep tour and started out by biking several miles of the Ojai Valley Trail, a converted rail line that extends 12 miles to the Ventura Coast.  In town we wandered in and out of some of the galleries and boutiques. We spent some time wandering around Bart’s Books – an open air used bookstore set in the frame of a traditional (though roofless) house. Over 100,000 books are displayed on outdoor patios. We also enjoyed a respite at Casa Barranca, a certified organic winery and tasting room, where each of us opted for one of their wine flights. Another unique spot in town is the Ojai Olive Oil Tasting Room. Free tours and tastings are offered several days a week.

Regalo Olive Oil

Twenty-four hiking paths crisscross the Ojai Valley and the Los Padres National Forest neighbors Ojai, offering some great opportunities to unwind and get some exercise. To avoid crowds we opted to hike the Shelf Road Trail, which begins at the outskirts of town. This 3.4 mile out-and-back trail is good for all skill levels and offered dramatic views of the valley.  At sunset we went back to Meditation Mount to experience the “pink moment” as the sunset cast a vibrant pink color on the bluffs surrounding Ojai.  We found out that Ojai is one of the few places in the world to experience this phenomenon. It is no wonder that the Ojai Valley was photographed to represent Shangri-La in the 1939 movie, The Lost Horizon, (unfortunately, it was edited out because the movie was too long).

Sampling wine at Casa Barranca
Sampling wine at Casa Barranca

Visitors have flocked to Ojai for its Mediterranean climate, and the city has become a mecca for spiritual healing. Wellness enthusiasts relish the relaxation and detoxification opportunities found at the many Ojai spas. Oaks at Ojai (a destination spa), Day Spa of Ojai and Spa Ojai all offer retreats for the mind and body.  For golfers, Ojai boasts a pair of courses, both of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding area. The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa is recognized as one of the top 25 golf resorts in North America and Soule Park is a beautiful public course.

Golfing at Ojai Valley Inn
Golfing at Ojai Valley Inn

A perfect place for families to stay is the Casa Ojai Inn, a moderately priced lodging property in Ojai with eco-friendly rooms.  The Inn has been family-owned for over 30 years. It has a salt water pool and Jacuzzi, offers discounts for spa services at the Ojai Day Spa, provides complimentary passes to the Bryant St. Gym, and hosts a complimentary continental breakfast. The Casa Ojai Inn is pet-friendly and bikes are available for rental. Its sister property, Su Nido Inn (“your nest” in Spanish), offers one and two-bedroom suites in their Mission Revival style property. A fireplace adorns every living room and private, covered patios beckon guests to enjoy a quiet moment.  The courtyard also offers a great place to relax with a glass of wine, topping off a beautiful day in Ojai.

A perfect respite at Meditation Mountain
A perfect respite at Meditation Mountain

Ojai is located 90 minutes from Los Angeles and 45 minutes from Santa Barbara.  Plan a retreat to this beautiful oasis by contacting the Ojai Visitors Bureau. Just remember – you may never want to return home.

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