OJAI, OH MY / by Kassandra Horn

Just 1.5 hours north of Los Angeles, there lies a quiet, quaint town filled with delicious food, relaxation, rolling hills and rich history. If you're looking for a weekend getaway from the traffic, smog and general city chaos, Ojai is your beautiful escape. And although I took nearly seven years to get here, trust me it was worth the wait. 

As a first-timer taking my mom (one of the most worldly travelers and gracious hosts I know), I researched and gathered recommendations from every friend who'd ever mentioned going. If you're an avid Ojai-goer and I didn't hit you up, please drop any recommends in the comments because I WILL BE BACK. 

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Before I get into all of the wonderful things about our trip, let me just say that the Thomas fire last year really took a toll on the natural habitat across Ventura County. Many Ojai residents were thrown into a state of fear and vulnerability, having to leave their homes behind not knowing if/when they would return. In fact, it's a miracle that this 4-square-mile town of 8,000 people evaded for the most part California's largest fire on record.  

You can feel the impact in conversations with the locals -- discussing the evacuations, reminiscing about origins and folklore of the region. But strength and resilience are also fiercely present. Ojai is getting its groove back and I can't wait to see what this community comes up with next. 

WHERE WE STAYED: OJAI RANCHO INN

Thanks to a friend's endorsement, we stayed at the most charming hipster hotel I have ever laid eyes on. Owned and operated by the Shelter Social Club, Ojai Rancho Inn maintains its 1950s roadside motel aesthetic on the main highway heading through Ojai. With its intentionally understated exterior, we almost drove right past it as we entered town. 

In addition to its tastefully chic rooms, each with a front porch and cozy matching chairs, the Inn puts on a post-sunset party at its adorable indoor/outdoor bar, Chief's Peak. Grab a seat, listen to classic vinyl records and chat with a mix of regulars and weekend warriors who discovered Chief's by word of mouth.

The hospitality here is unmatched, and the drinks follow suit - a mix of craft brews and homemade shrubs. It's poolside vibe with indoor/outdoor seating gives you all the options and zero hassle. Open from 4-10pm, it even calms down in time for any Rancho Inn guests having a low key night. Overall, Ojai is not where you go to get rowdy and stay out 'til 2pm. Everything about this town screams relaxation and I'm here for it. 

Say hi, mom :)

Say hi, mom :)

Five reasons I can't get enough Ojai Rancho Inn:  

  • HOSPITALITY - We were greeted with so much love and attention, gifted matches and Palo Santo as aromatherapy and clearing of negative energy.

  • ART - Native-inspired symbols painted on the sides of buildings, fences, match perfectly with the spirit of Ojai

  • TRAILS/WALKABILITY - We rarely drove all weekend. Just a few steps from the porch puts you onto walking/bike paths that take you into town and beyond for up to 15+ miles, the perfect exercise before diving into a coffee and pastry or a giant bowl of delicious pasta. The hotel also offers free bikes if you're wanting to get around faster.

  • POOL AREA - Surrounded by available (key word) lounge chairs, hammocks, corn hole and fire pit, this is very clearly an oasis for hotel guests only until late afternoon when the drinks start flowing. It's an ideal spot to grab a book, take a dip or a nap. Whatever floats your float?

  • PET FRIENDLY - We brought my little Ollie bear and he loved lounging on the bed near the window, or on the cool floors of our hotel room. Plenty of space for his supplies and crazy convenient for me to not get a sitter.

WHAT WE ATE: A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Topa Mountain Winery, (Vineyard, $$) - This beautiful vineyard is located next door to the Ojai Rancho Inn and boasts a lineup of hand-crafted wines from the Ojai Valley. We made fast friends with the bartender who gave us her history in Ojai and pointed out the hills of Chief Peak. Then walked the grounds, smelling roses and shaking hands with the owner as we took home our favorite bottles. A great start to the trip. 

The Nest (American restaurant, $$) - Packed full of fresh ingredients, this is one of the more health-conscious menus in town. I ordered the Ahi Bowl. If you know me, you know I can't resist most foods in bowl form. And my mom ordered the Calamari Tacos. We sat outside to catch the last few hours of sunlight and washed them down with the Ojai Pixie Ale. I should also point out this was very reasonably priced. Great for a casual lunch or dinner and gives you the energy needed to keep exploring. 

Knead Baking Company (Cafe, $) - Two words for you: Almond Croissant. We were told it was life-changing but I don't think anything prepared me for that first bite of rich (and dare I say moist) almond flavoring in the center of an impeccably flaky and buttery croissant. To add a little savory, we also ordered the quiche which came with a side salad. Some solid greenery always makes me feel slightly less guilty about the sugar intake. 

Farmer and the Cook (Mexican restaurant, $$) - The only spot we drove to came highly recommended by a good friend of mine. This isn't your traditional Mexican joint. For the most part, everything here is vegetarian and many dishes can be made vegan. Our colorful sopitas (3) came topped with beans, cheese, pico de gallo and avocado, served alongside Spanish brown rice and fermented latin cabbage salad. What's not to like?! Splitting the last one was TOUGH. I also got a beet juice but I won't rave about that because, well, it's beet juice. 

Tipple and Ramble (Wine bar, $$) - Instagram heaven and a massive dose of inspiration for my work in marketing and events. I took a million videos here as we walked through a garden of summery umbrella tables and a pint-sized, branded AirStream RV with colors to match. Somehow I'm coming up short on photos but I borrowed one from @tippleandramble below. Consider this a teaser because you're going to want to look it up. Although we passed on wine this time, I feel good about having another go-to spot for the next visit. 

WHAT WE DID: CONNECTING WITH COMMUNITY

Ecotopia (Experience, $) - A 9 mile drive from the Inn led us up into the hills of Ojai Valley where we discovered a dirt road, signs of a construction and very little direction on how we should spend our two hours at Ecotopia for $20. By definition, it's a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that "plays a vital role in establishing secure and vibrant sources of food, while also providing dazzling arrays of offerings that respect local traditions and ecology." Not sure what that means you can expect on a tour? Me neither. On arrival, we quickly discovered a small path that led to a handful of 'hot pools' filled with black sand... possibly some ash from the fires and floods. Definitely not your typical springs. But my mom is such a trooper and we fully embraced no clothing required to sink ourselves in the black sand for some natural exfoliation. Would I do it again? Probably not, but we laughed, soaked up the sun, and took in the nature around us before calling it a day. In the end, I feel good about helping to fund a rebuilding of this site, which pre-fires was supposedly a lush oasis and recommended destination for visitors to the area. 

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Farmer's Market (Food/Shopping, FREE) - We happened to be in town on a Sunday and stumbled on this one after grabbing breakfast, such a treat! Took home some hand-crafted soaps, and mediterranean dips, flatbread and olives for sunset picnic later that night. April is also home to the Ojai Pixie Festival, meaning everywhere you go there are fresh, juicy tangerines (think cuties but even more delicious). 

Bart's Books (Bookstore, FREE) - Never met an outdoor bookstore I didn't like! More like, I've never met an outdoor bookstore period. And this one stole my heart. The largest independently owned bookstore in the US, Bart's Books came to be in the 1960s when Richard Bartinsdale's book collection became so overwhelming that he constructed a series of book cases along the sidewalk for passersby to browse titles. Everything is for sale via the honor system (the beauty of someone sharing their passion with the world) and what remains of the original home is bursting with personality. Even the cookbooks/recipe section is perfectly placed in the kitchen, SWOON. Rows on rows on rows of books, you just have to trust me and check it out. If I could move in I would. 

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SAVING SOMETHING FOR THE NEXT TRIP

  • More pool time - As an Angeleno without a pool in my apartment complex, this is KEY. The weather was amazing and we found a few minutes to pause and read in our chairs but I would suggest carving out an entire afternoon. Especially if you stay where we did!

  • Book a spa treatment - Ojai is known for its spa culture and, while we ran out of time this trip, it's high on our list for take two. Something about doing this outside of the city and your regular day to day routine makes it feel even more indulgent and so important.

  • A different point of view - Unfortunately, Mediation Mount is still closed in the wake of the fires but it's supposed to have incredible sunset views of the entire town. For a first visit, walking all over town and stumbling on new finds was equally enjoyable but hopefully the Mount will be up and running again in the future.

Bottom line: Ojai holds a special place in my heart. This was a staycation success and I wouldn't do a thing differently. If you want to know more about where we stayed or any of these activities, OR if you have any recommendations of your own, please drop me a comment. Always love to hear from you. 

xo, 

Kass 

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Ojai Pixies!

Ojai Pixies!