Ojai, you get me.
I’m a bit hesitant to write about this place. Mainly because I don’t want a thing about it to change and it seems, if you put something into words and photos, you not only simplify it, but you set a precedent from which it may waiver. At any rate, my passion for sharing the things I love with others has outweighed my desire to preserve Ojai in its current, perfect state.
A few weekends ago I was in desperate need of a reset. I set google maps to Porch Gallery and zipped up Highway 33 North arriving in the packed-bag-proclaimed relaxation capital of Southern California. For the athletes out there, there’s a bike path that parallels the 33 for 15 miles with gorgeous mountain views that will take you from Ventura to Ojai!
Best View – Matilija Dam
Constructed in 1946 to meet the rising need for drinking water in Ventura County, the Matillija Dam has been the topic of a lot of controversy in Ventura County recently (think ecosystems existing naturally vs. increasing need for human drinking water). A graffiti protestor painted a pair now-famous scissors down the middle of the structure signifying the local community’s overwhelming desire to demolish the dam. Stoecker Ecological and Felt Soul Media even produced a movie about the landmark which is now available on Netflix. Get your floaties ready soon, though, because rumor… and the Matillija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project website… have it that this thing is coming down soon.
If you’re hankering for some good, old fashioned vegetarian cuisine, swing by The Farmer and the Cook on a Sunday evening for smoky woodfire pizza and live music on the patio. Even the typically carnivorous can embrace this quaint organic market with its cozy mis-matched seating, adorable place settings, and casual atmosphere.
After you’ve got your fill of live pizza and crunchy tunes (see what I did there?) please head over to Boccali’s for their famous strawberry shortcake (**available only seasonly – found this out the hard way**). I am self-proclaimed chocolate addict, yet, Boccali’s shortcake is the dessert I want after my last meal. No kidding. This tower of fresh, sweet, homegrown strawberries, light whipped cream atop a decadent cake base will leave you scraping the plate (maybe with your fingers).
Best Sip – Old Creek Ranch Winery’s 2011 Barbera
I take all of my Ventura County visitors here and carried a weighty amount of bottles back home with me as Christmas gifts this year! The winding drive to this picturesque ranch in the valley makes for the perfect first stop on your way into Ojai. You’ll be welcomed with smiles from the current owner-manager couple, the Whitman’s, who are as knowledgeable as they are friendly. If you’re lucky, the winemaker, Michael Meagher, will also greet you with a tasting of his equally enjoyable Vino V wine collection. On your way out, be sure to visit with the wine dogs, but be careful while you rub their bellies because they will absolutely come in for a kiss on your wine-soaked lips (it’s not their first rodeo).
Best Activity – Visit Bart’s Books outdoor bookstore
Bart’s Books is easily the chillest bookstore in California and potentially the last on-your-honor-store anywhere. Shelves of recycled books line the exterior and, if you want to purchase one when they’re closed, a sign on the front door simply asks you to drop your cash through the mail slot. If you stop by during operating (daylight) hours, you can’t miss their well-fed guard cat snoozing by the register. Bart’s staff will hook you up with personal recommendations, free wifi, and the perfect daytime reading nook to cure you from your boring, box-bookstore blues.
Best Place to Stay – Ojai Rancho Inn
These surprisingly chic, 1950’s style digs in the heart of Ojai boast an outdoor pool, unique event space, and the new Chief’s Peak Bar (complete with a totally hot bartender). Over the summer, I attended “Rock Steady”, a concert at the inn composed of all local artists representing genres from indie folk to reggae. Ventura’s own Scratch food truck provided locally sourced sandwiches and a generous, shirtless hippie passed out watermelon slices for dessert. As I relaxed on the grass sipping a can of wine (no kidding), taking in Bob Marley covers, I totally envisioned a barefoot wedding ceremony under the sprawling oak (?) tree. Ojai Rancho Inn was the ideal setting for a summer jam session and could easily host a small, romantic wedding.
Inside the rooms, rocking chairs, hand crafted headboards, and fun wood paneling will have you feeling like you’re back at grandpa’s… if your grandpa is a craftsman-turned-interior-designer with a flair for cottage contemporary.
The cherry on top at the inn is the bikes they rent to travelers with “I ❤ Ojai Rancho Inn” license plates. Forgive my abbreviation, but .. adorbs. Check out a detailed tour of the inn and an interview with the owners here: Chris + Kenny’s Ojai Rancho Inn.
Don’t forget: a float (for The Dam) and a designated driver after your tastings at the winery!