Long Weekends: All the Vibes

Do You Like Palm Springs? Go Soak Up All the Vibes in Ojai.

Head to this Southern California town for dramatic mountains, cacti-adorned patios, and 150-year-old olive trees hung with hammock chairs.

By Kelly Clarke September 11, 2018 Published in the October 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

In Ojai, vibes are a thing. They zing through this verdant Southern California valley long known to the woo-inclined as a “geomagnetic spiritual vortex.” The subject comes up in wine tasting rooms. You can even buy them, bottled, for $38 at the local hipster motel. (Vibes apparently smell like spicy Palo Santo and pure contentment.) 

We’re talking about a town that has around the same population as Portland’s Buckman neighborhood, and banned chain stores in 2007. Instead, it houses both the century-plus-old Krotona Library of theosophical texts and an 11-acre center devoted to the spiritual teachings of Krishnamurti. But even for the most worldly visitor, this tranquil hamlet less than two hours north of Los Angeles is a respite from the static of everyday life.

Land at LAX, then cruise north on Highway 1, tracing the craggy Pacific. Detour on Malibu’s winding side streets, ogling mansions and modern fortresses, and pit-stop at Point Dume, a cliffside nature preserve with a jaw-dropping vista: rocky promontories above, surfers bobbing like seals below. A sharp turn inland on Highway 33 at Ventura winds through terraced vineyards and steep canyons to deliver you to Ojai proper, where dramatic mountains loom in every direction, shading tan to ochre to otherworldly pink, depending on the season.

CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT: Sunny-day vibes at Caravan Outpost, Ojai’s palm-fringed Airstream rental oasis; Chief’s Peak, the parking-lot bar at the Ojai Rancho Inn, a fave of guests and locals alike; pit-stop on your way to Ojai at Ventura’s hip Fluid State Beer Garden; Caravan Outpost; Ojai has all the cacti.

Ojai is the dusty-sweet scent of citrus groves and the trill of Joni Mitchell on vinyl at every boutique; a living Instagram feed of solar-flared sun hats and cacti-adorned patios. But it’s also proud conceptual artists/retirees, massage therapists, and avocado farmers who’ll adopt you at the Sunday Farmers Market to crow about Ojai’s bests, from its teeny, sugar-sweet Pixie tangerines to super-deluxe Libbey Park public tennis courts and famed turn-of-the-century potter Beatrice Wood, known as the “Mama of Dada.” Insiders rave about the “pink moment,” the intense, rosy-hued sunrises and sunsets that beam forth most often in the fall and winter. (There’s a wine named after it; an ice cream flavor, too.)

Achieve peak Ojai vibes with a stay at the Ojai Rancho Inn (rooms from $249), a hip, updated motor lodge that revels in arty summer camp drag: wood-paneled rooms that sport jetted tubs and wall mandalas, and a rangy backyard of midlife delights (rock shows, bonfires, yoga) with hammocks strung between giant oaks steps away from the pool. Ojai residents have adopted the inn’s adorably wee parking-lot bar, Chief’s Peak, sharing cans of Golden State cider with guests at the poolside plank table long into the night.

A few blocks south sits a higher-brow crucible of chill, the Ojai Valley Inn (from $359), a trumpet-vine-adorned Spanish Colonial village of terra-cotta-roofed suites, and chichi restaurants flaunting a 360-degree view of the Topa Topa Mountains. You don’t have to stay there to access its biggest draw, the magnificent Ojai Valley Spa, a Shangri-la of pools, saunas, and treatment rooms.

Suitably pampered, get the Ojai look at Caravan Outpost, where floppy-fab vetiver-raffia hats sit next to art mags and $300 secondhand Redwings. Smitten customers don’t have to leave: the shop is part of the Outpost’s palm tree–fringed menagerie of gleaming Airstream campers for rent (from $189).

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tipple & Ramble’s backyard wine bar; luxe Ojai Valley Inn & Spa; crystals and keychains at Summer Camp boutique; blooming cacti at magical, reservation-only Taft Gardens, 15 minutes west of town

Your best accessory in Ojai is a bicycle. Nearly every hotel hosts two-wheelers, and many properties abut the paved Ojai Valley Trail. Ride west a few minutes to hit Topa Mountain Winery, an expansive lodge with a great Ojai-vineyard-born Syrah-grenache blend, and an even better view of its namesake mountains. 

A short ride east lands you right in the middle of Ojai’s postage stamp–size downtown, where the Spanish-style Ojai Arcade hosts a wide array of eateries and shops, plus regional art hub Porch Gallery and Carolina Gramm’s Olive Oil Tasting Room. You can tour the Ojai Olive Oil Farm, too; it hides past the citrus farms in the hills just east of town, surrounded by a grove of 150-year-old olive trees hung with hammock chairs.

The heart of this agricultural woo town may hide in the lesser-developed hood of Meiners Oaks, where ramshackle-chic market/community center The Farmer and the Cook hawks freshly squeezed juice from oranges plucked just miles away, flavor-packed vegetarian Mexican fare, and market bags screen-printed with “Organic or Else.”

For dinner, central West Ojai Avenue hosts a handful of nice restaurants, but townies gravitate toward Ojai Beverage Company, a giant liquor store that hides a friendly dive bar with 50 drafts and towering burgers that layer local Watkins Ranch beef with bacon, egg, and fried lobster. Somehow, it works.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Nearby San Buenaventura Beach’s picture-perfect seaside view; veggie tacos at local institution the Farmer and the Cook; Bart’s Books; poolside cocktails at Ojai Rancho Inn

Recover the next morning with elaborate house-roasted-coffee service and herbaceous crispy rice bowls at Beacon Coffee. Adjoining craft mecca Cattywampus is a feast for the eyes, with skeins of silky yarn, billowy caftans, and fragrant tins of Ojai Dirt Candy CBD balm. Across and up a block hides Bart’s Books—a magical roofless labyrinth of bookshelves and wrought-iron patio furniture.

Hiking trails and mountain biking paths vein the surrounding hills. (Head to Mob Shop for bike rentals and check Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s trail finder app for a gold mine of treks.) Or you could waste an afternoon exploring vintages on Tipple & Ramble wine bar’s patio, a fantasia of sherbet-hued pillows and loaded charcuterie and cheese plates. Then sink down into one of the La-Z-Boy recliners at AA Relaxing Station, where walk-ins line up for cheap foot rubs and massages.

Racing back to LA could give you the metaphysical bends, so soak up a few drops of salty sunshine at charming San Buenaventura Beach; then float along Ventura’s main drag, still buoyed by your weekend chill, exploring the city’s oddly wonderful parade of thrift shops. Car horns honk, passersby squawk, the city bustle threatens—but the Ojai vibes abide.

Travel Time: 2-hour direct flight to LAX + 1½- to 2-hour drive

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