Ever heard of California’s ‘West Coast Shangri-La’? Us neither, until Zoe Macfarlane took an impromptu trip to the naturally beautiful, spiritually open town of Ojai in Southern California.
My spur-of-the-moment trip to the wellness town Ojai (was a good travel decision, like upgrading your seat to the exit row or rising early to be first in line at a popular attraction.
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of unassuming Ojai (pronounced oh-hi); it’s kind of this community’s jam. The Topatopa Mountains surround Ojai like a force field, but it’s not the town’s only protector. The 7,000-strong population in Ojai raise their shields too, crushing the commercial dreams of big brands, restaurant chains, and anything else that is decidedly unboutique-y in their wake. Together, this fortification works like the Protego Horribilis in Harry Potter; a spell that has created a one-of-a-kind inclusive-exclusive community that is a worthwhile stop on any Southern California itinerary.
As soon as you arrive in Ojai, you’ll notice that time is gooey. The town’s vibes and pace seem to make 24-hours stretch. It’s a visit that’s both full and leisurely. Here’s how you do it.
Given the town’s pace, it’s inevitable that a leisurely morning coffee is the norm in Ojai. A quick eavesdrop in each of the coffee shops I sample (for ‘research’) reveals familiarity and unity; perfect for getting a feel for the Ojai community vibe. Ojai Coffee Roasting Co was my top pick, for both flavour and service.
Once you’re caffeinated, hit the hills. You’re in for an epic scenic walk if you get your timing right; after the coffee hits, but before the midday sun bites.
Shelf Road Trail is an all-levels 1-1.5-hour hike that affords expansive views across Ojai and the nearby mountain ranges. Or at least, so I’m told. I didn’t read the trail signs properly, took the wrong fork, and ended up halfway up the butt-building Fox Canyon Trailhead instead. Doh.
Aside from coffee mornings, you know what else people with free time do? Read! With almost as many bookshops as cafes (and a library), Ojai peeps must be bookworms. Bart’s Books is the book nerds’ highlight as it’s a fabulous indoor-outdoor store with nearly a million books!
There are over 50 boutique stores and art galleries to help you part ways with your ‘emergency’ travel fund. From highbrow designer wares to the nouveau-hippy crystal stores, this is a ‘want’ not ‘need’ shopping experience.
With its ‘West Coast Shangri-La’ nickname, Ojai is a regular destination for a girly spa weekend. You don’t have to be female, nor on a weekend trip to take advantage of a range of treatments. If you’re game, pick a more esoteric treatment from the Spiritual Wellness menu at Spa Ojai. Chaka alignment, anyone?
As Ojai sets itself apart from vanilla-mall communities, it should come as no surprise that there is a focus on quality everything in town. Especially food of the farm-to-table variety. I loved the outdoor seating, nourishing menu (and fish tacos) at The Nest so much that I dined there twice.
Might as Well
Before calling it a night, stargazing is in order. For the most enjoyable way to experience the least light pollution, book an evening session at Ecotopia and watch for shooting stars from the relaxing hot springs.
I stayed at the centrally-located, friendly Chantico Inn, a 22-room property that offers Spanish-style rooms with vintage-y vibes. Book a room with a Jacuzzi bath if you want to continue adding to that relaxing Ojai vibe, though it’s not necessary with the cute swimming pool and outdoor hot tub.
Ojai is 25-minutes from Ventura, 45-minutes from Santa Barbara, or an hour and a half from LAX, the closest international airport. Rent a car as public transport will unravel any sensation of relaxation you may have received during your Ojai stay.
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