Published September/October 2013

Say ‘Hi’ to Ojai

Embrace the seasonal bounty and artistic beauty of this harmonious California town

BYSusan Lanier-Graham
There exists a place where local is a way of life, where Mother Nature showcases her vast capabilities across many mediums, and where life slows down — if only just a little.
 
Aptly nicknamed Southern California’s Shangri-La, the peaceful valley of Ojai (pronounced oh-hi) offers a magical escape from the pace of the city and the rush-hour maze so commonly associated with this part of the West Coast.
 
The Village
Less than 85 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and about an hour east of the Santa Barbara Airport, Ojai is not only an enclave for artists, wine lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and spa-goers, but also a perfect destination for anyone seeking a tranquil oasis with distinctive flair.
 
It seems time almost forgot this charming town of 8,100, where you’ll find its downtown — known as The Village — without a single chain store, but plenty of boutiques and art galleries to choose from. The shops along Ojai Avenue showcase a wide variety of unique items made by local artisans, including clothing, fine art, pottery, and jewelry. Don’t miss out on a visit to iconic Bart’s Books, the largest open-air bookstore in the U.S., with thousands of new and used volumes to peruse.
 
Wine and Dine
The area is known for its Mediterranean climate — summer days below 90 degrees and nights in the low 70s — which means delightful local produce and wines at your fingertips. As part of California’s central coast wine region, Ojai offers an impressive assortment of local wines and tasting options. Sample the offerings of Ojai Vineyard and Casa Barranca Winery in their respective downtown tasting rooms, or make the short trek out to nearby Boccali Vineyards & Winery or Old Creek Ranch Winery in Ventura.
 
When it comes to food, Ojai’s farm-to-table culture defines the area’s dining scene. From the local markets to seasonal menu offerings, Ojai farmers and restaurateurs are proud to share their local bounty. At Suzanne’s Cuisine, a Mediterranean-inspired, mother-daughter restaurant, you’ll experience innovative approaches to seasonal fare. For those who appreciate souvenirs you can savor, take a tour of Ojai Olive Oil and sample products created from local olive trees.
 
Mother Nature’s abundance doesn’t end there. Be sure to witness one of Ojai’s “pink moments,” as they are known to locals, while in town. Created nearly each evening by the setting sun, admire the brilliant shades of pink that sweep across the sky just before dusk — and just long enough for a glimpse and a gasp.
SUSAN LANIER-GRAHAM is a freelance writer based in Arizona, who wanders the world looking for “wow” moments.
For More Information
Call your local AAA Travel professional at 1-888-870-9392 or visit AAA.com.

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If You Go
Hitch a ride: Make your way across town on the Ojai Trolley. General fare is $1; seniors ride for 50 cents; kids are free. Looking for a more adventurous ride? Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours offers narrated sightseeing excursions.
 
Local flavor: Shop the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as items such as honey, jams, candles, soap, nuts, and flowers. The market is located behind The Arcade shopping center at 300 E. Matilija St.
 
Spa day: Relaxation seekers will find more than 10 spas throughout Ojai. Schedule a mud treatment, scrub, or massage (depending on your style) to complete your Shangri-La experience.
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