This article was first published in LA Travel Magazine print, summer edition 2022.
Returning to Ojai is always a good idea. There’s something about this small California town – around an hour and a half from LA – that’s hard to find anywhere else in California. No wonder this haven attracts artists, musicians, nature lovers, health enthusiasts, and spiritual seekers. Inspiration is everywhere, especially in the scenery. Deep in Ventura County, 14 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, rumor has it you may feel “high” here because everything is “living” in this idyllic nest.
Revitalize your spirit in California’s spiritual vortex set in the valley of the Topa Topa Mountains where the village-like center is alive with art galleries, restaurants, and boutique shops.
5 ways to savor a weekend in Ojai
Hike Shelf Road above town and through the pixies
Just a few minutes outside the town’s center, park on N. Signal Street to begin this rocky dirt path which winds up above town and through Ojai pixies – small tangerines only found in Ojai that beckon to be picked. Smell the fragrant orange blossoms, admire the avocado trees, and engorged citrus spilling over on the trail. This hike is a beautiful way to experience Ojai and gain perspective of the area as you meander above the town and the lush green Ojai valley. Bring water and wear sunscreen as the hike doesn’t offer much shade.
Several benches allow you to pause on the trail to soak in the views and fresh air. While this trail was once charred by the ring of fire in 2017, signs of nature’s rebirth quickly surrounded the path. Instead of turning around (about 45 minutes or 1.8 miles one way) and coming back the same way, walk down the paved street (Gridley Road) at the end to pass more beautiful pixie groves, idyllic scenery, horses, and dreamy ranches. Take a right onto Grand Avenue which will lead you back to Signal Rd and your car.
Sample Ojai Olive Oil on the ranch
The Ojai Olive Oil farm boasts 150-year old olive trees, including French, Italian, and Spanish varieties with some trees over 200 years old. Ojai Olive Oil is the oldest and largest producer of extra virgin olive oil in the Ojai valley. Today 2,500 trees plus neighboring olive groves are handpicked to make the exceptional extra virgin olive oil. Stop in to not only to learn more about the growing, harvest, and production, but to sample numerous infused olive oil varieties such as basil, garlic, Ojai Pixie, lemon, rosemary, and Tuscan herbs. You can also find their oil at the Ojai Farmer’s Market on Sundays from 9 – 1 PM.
It’s impossible not to leave without taking home a few Ojai Olive Oil gifts, known for the olive’s polyphenols and brain health ingredients. They also sell a variety of balsamic vinegars – plain or infused with elements like fruits, herbs, and Espresso.
Sip wine at Tipple and Ramble
Head down this quiet neighborhood road to what appears to be a house; this adorable Instagram-worthy wine and cheese patio is decked out in colorful cheery retro furniture, blankets, coolers, and a vintage Airstream trailer. Linger on all afternoon with a bottle of wine or spritzers made with local pixie tangerines because it might just feel like you stepped into your best friend’s whimsical backyard. Order cheeses, charcuterie, and empanadas to accompany your imbibing.
This neighborhood spot also has an eclectic shop specializing in indoor/outdoor décor, entertaining wares, and small batch specialty food items.
Dine at The Dutchess
For a meal you won’t ever forget, dine at this unexpected Ojai newcomer from the Rustic Canyon family. Chef Saw Naing (Tallula’s, Bouchon, French Laundry, Ysabel), once in a heavy metal band in Myanmar (formerly Burma) as a teen, left Yangon (once Rangoon) in 2007. Now he’s orchestrating the exact spices and flavors of his childhood making sophisticated dishes with Ojai’s abundant farm ingredients. During the pandemic the owners started a farm in Ojai and instead of bringing the produce back to LA, they are keeping it local – right here at The Dutchess.
Located inside the historic former Ojai Bakery, The Dutchess features a variety of rooms to dine indoors as well as along the front sidewalk and a large rear patio donned with traditional Burmese paper umbrellas hung from the ceiling made from a friend of the chef’s mom. In the warm cozy room next to the bar, plants peep from the ceiling as the former bakery oven with the words, “The Dutchess” inscribed, is now a fireplace.
The Dutchess calls upon Burmese-Indian menu items with California flair. The tea leaf salad and the biriyani rice dish with yogurt marinated Sonoma lamb shoulder covered in flaky pastry and herbs feel like a slice of Myanmar which I was lucky to visit in 2015. The naan reminds me of some of the best in England while the chickpea fritters and assemblage of skewers (chicken meatballs, hearts, wings, or beef satay) should be shared before engorging on a main course of Tikka Masala, Coconut Chickpea Curry, Tandoori Chicken, or fresh fish caught that morning charred and accompanied with a tamarind glaze.
Pastry Chef Kelsey Brito is also exciting taste buds in this charming town, with a strong Indian influenced dessert menu. Split creations such as Rose Geranium Kulfi with pistachio nuts (like a creamy lighter ice cream stick), Coconut Crème Brulee, Passion Fruit Lassie Pie, and Chocolate Caramel Meringue Tart. Round out your indulgent meal with Christian’s Coquito, a dessert cocktail made with rum, Magic Hour Queen of the South, coconut, cashew, and nutmeg.
Relax at The Capri Hotel Ojai
While you could drive home, spend a night or two at this retro motel decked in the best mid-century modern design. Part of the Shelter Social Club family, the 1963 roadside retreat was lovingly reimagined in 2020. A warm pool, jacuzzi, and firepit are perfect for chilly nights under the stars while stunning mature plant foliage surrounds the pool and grounds. Rooms are simple in Boho Zen colors with curved wood panel details, custom wood beds, and vintage tiled bathrooms. Those with balconies offer a space to linger a morning away with the hotel’s complimentary coffee complete with 3 different milk options.
Hop on a complimentary bike and whiz through the nearby town and orchards or never leave this lush property while dreaming of the next time you can return to this southern California utopia.