Photo: Terry Granger/Shutterstock

Ojai: Ultimate Weekend Escape From LA

Insider Guides
by Leila Najafi Apr 29, 2017

When you need an escape from the city life, Ojai is the perfect quaint destination. Just over 80 miles north of Los Angeles, Ojai is more than just a wine stop and spa-saturated getaway. Ojai’s charm lies in the small town feel — a tight-knit community of local farmers, producers, small business owners and residents –  combined with lush landscapes and sweeping mountain views which provide a plethora of ways to relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Here are our top picks for getting the most out of this underrated town.

Get your caffeine fix at Beacon Coffee

This modern artisanal coffee shop which opened its doors in September 2016 lives up to all the buzz in town. The husband and wife duo, John and Jennifer, are no strangers to the coffee bean — John was one of the first employees to help launch the Allegro coffee line at Whole Foods in Boston which is where he learned all about coffee bean sourcing and brewing (which you too can learn in one of their workshops). What initially started as a roasting plant in Ventura has quickly blossomed into a full-blown cafe, with the Ojai location being their second outpost. Their passion for fresh, quality ingredients is seen in everything from the almond milk made in-house, to the ganache for their mocha, and the scrumptious seasonal pastries made with local produce and citrus (pro-tip: try the stuffed puff pastries when they’re available). The light, airy space with high wood beamed ceilings and rustic tables is the ideal setting to crank out some work or enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up.

Wine down at Topa Mountain Winery

This two-acre winery set against the Topatopa Mountains offers live music, games, and some of Ojai’s finest grapes. The tasting room which opened May 2016 offers a range of varietals including Barbera, Tempranillo, and Syrah that you can sip on outside in their spacious seating area while listening to one of their many local band or acoustic performances under the string lights. Included in the tasting is six of their wines which changes on a monthly basis and if you happen to be there on a Saturday you can fill your glass and your belly with the local food truck that parks on-site.

Feast on fried chicken at Ojai Deer Lodge

This old gas station turned cozy rustic lodge and music venue has been around since 1932. The taxidermy on the walls would lead you to believe that there would be a meat-heavy menu fit for a man cave. There’s that too, but the seasonal menu puts the spotlight on Ojai’s produce and has a pretty impressive (and hearty) selection of vegetarian options like the quinoa burger, mac and cheese, or white truffle parmesan fried brussel sprouts. But if you are in the mood for some good ol’ comfort food, try their famous fried chicken breast that comes out piping hot and glazed from the buttermilk brine. Wash it all down with one of their local wine pairings like the Qupé syrah and enjoy their live entertainment performances ranging from open-mic nights, to DJs and local bands.

Stay at a bed and breakfast

The Lavender Inn and Spa, in the heart of Ojai, gives you a taste of the town yet provides a tranquil getaway in a charming cottage (which used to be a school) surrounded by lush greenery. Guests can enjoy a daily tapas hour from 5-6 pm highlighting small bites from local producers or you can up your culinary game by taking one of their cooking “classes” (more of a demo) ranging from Winter Soups to a Taste of Greece taught by local and visiting chefs. Either way, you’ll leave this place a little more zen than when you arrived.

Bike ride along the Ojai Valley Trail

Rent a bike from The Mob Shop or BYO and then pedal along this 9.5 mile trail which extends from Fox Street in Ojai to Foster Park in Ventura. Some portions of the untapped path are a bit industrial so you may want to skip them. but others are scenic and tranquil. It’s also a fairly easy ride and great way to stop-and-go as you explore the city.

Shop local at the Farmers Market

Ojai has plenty of bountiful produce grown locally and available at the weekly Sunday certified farmers’ market and while you can find all the standard produce that you’ll see at any farmers’ market, you’re going to want to stock up on what they’re best known for — the avocados and citrus fruits (especially the Pixie tangerines). We see a homemade guacamole in your near future.

Spend the night in a retro airstream

You would never really know about Caravan Outpost because it’s a hidden oasis tucked away on a side street, but once you stumble upon this campsite heaven, you’ll never want to leave. Just picture, 11 sparkling silver airstreams parked on a gravel-filled site nestled around a communal fire pit underneath a set of string lights — it’s like summer camp for adults. The silver bullets are equipped with all the glamping essentials including a shower, bathroom, TV, records for the genuine record player and a few of the airstreams are even decked out with a kitchenette if you’re feeling like cooking up a storm. The Bohemian-style general store, which is also where you check-in, looks like it could be plucked right off of Abbot Kinney. And be prepared to Shazam every song off their Spotify playlist — basically, you’re going to want to move in after you spend a night here.

Hit the trails

Whether you’re looking for an easy or strenuous hike, there is no shortage of either in Ojai. The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s mission is to preserve the natural spaces and habitats in Ojai including Valley View Preserve which has a number of trails including Fox Canyon Trail or try Luci’s Trail for a short but rather steep booty-burning hike. For a more leisurely stroll, walk the Ojai Meadows Preserve and take a whiff of the Eucalyptus trees surrounding you.

Sample award-winning olive oil straight from the farm

If you’re ever curious about the difference between French, Italian and Spanish olive oil, Ojai Olive Oil company is the place to visit. The owners take pride in their award-winning EVOO (that’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil for you newbies) that you can taste during certain hours in their tasting room while you learn about how they harvest over 100 olive trees. You can also find organic infused oils like basil or garlic and balsamic vinegars that would make the perfect dressing the next time you attempt to toss a salad together.

Taste local organic wine at Casa Barranca

Organic wine? Yes, this is SoCal, are you surprised? Located in the historic downtown Arcade area, the small, family-owned tasting room pours organic (i.e. little to no added sulfites) wine and welcomes food (pack a picnic) and your pups! Taste a flight for $15 which currently includes one white and four reds — the fee will be waived with a two bottle purchase.

Get lost at Bart’s Books

What makes this bookstore so unique? It’s the largest independently owned, outdoor bookstore in the country. Bookworms flock to this place and peruse the aisles in hopes that a rare find or art book will grab their attention — or maybe their 50- cent specials based on an honor system will. It’s a book lover’s paradise and a must-stop when you’re in Ojai.

Learn how to rock climb

Climb the Ojai mountains with your guide, Alex Bury, who will show you the ropes (literally) and give you the basic tools needed to hit the rocks. All equipment is provided so all you need to bring is your fearless self.

Revel at Revel

Fermentation is the name of the game at Revel. Grab a seat at the kombucha bar and order one of their Jun kombuchas on tap (fermented tonic made with honey and green tea) or try one of their family-owned kimchee recipes (vegan options available) hailing from South Korea. They also serve acai bowls so you can binge on just about anything served here and your digestive system will thank you later.

Meditate on Meditation Mount

This public meditation destination is located just five miles outside of downtown Ojai and is the perfect city escape when you’re looking to get lost in nature. Overlook the panoramic views of the majestic mountains as you walk the grounds and then pass through the Peace Portal made with 1,200-year-old growth Douglas fir wood reclaimed from the Ventura-Ojai rail line. The nonprofit center is technically free (with a suggested donation) so you’re relaxed even before you enter.

Get crafty at Cattywampus Crafts

This hipster, Bohemian-esque shop (next to Beacon Coffee) is a cool craft store that will inspire you to knit your next beanie or pair of gloves (for all those uh, bone-chilling LA nights). Sign-up for one of their many workshops like macrame or sweater making (if you’re advanced) and make yourself a winter scarf to show off to everybody.

Throwback a beer at this new tap room

The front room and patio of Azu Restaurant and Bar (a farm-to-table, Mediterranean-inspired tapas eatery) is home to the all new Ojai Valley Brewery Tap Room. With a focus on craft beers, especially, dry lagers, and light ales, and the usage of local ingredients to enhance the flavors, Ojai Valley Brewery is dedicated to creating a sustainable brew. Nosh on bites and small plates like their chorizo stuffed dates, poutine, and tacos and pair them with any of their signature beers or beer cocktails.

Leila fell in love with Ojai the last time she went and may or may not have pretended to be on tour with a rock band the last time she stayed at Caravan Outpost. See the photo evidence for yourself on Instagram or Twitter.

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