Because it is located in Southern California, Ventura County does not get a lot of attention. To be honest, it is not easy to stand out when you are squished between romantic Santa Barbara and glamorous Los Angeles.
However, that doesn’t mean the county should only be used as a pit stop when going north or south (or when you need a good shopping dose). In Ventura, I have discovered green fields, tall mountains, fun beach towns, good food and interesting towns.
And since I mentioned the word town, we cannot continue talking about Ventura without mentioning Ojai.
Now, Ojai is small. It is surrounded by mountains and located about 15 miles inland from the Pacific Coast. Yes, it is part of a relatively unknown county. But the fact is that Ojai is a star. Maybe, after all, there are some places that destined to stand out no matter what.
This small town of 7,000 has been featured in most of the more prestigious travel, wellness and lifestyle magazines. It has been selected many times as one of the best towns in California and the entire United States.
First, Ojai is famous for its Mediterranean climate. Second, it is well known for its culture focused on ecology, health, organic agriculture, fitness, spirituality, music and art. Third, people go to town to witness the “Pink Moment” (sunsets have a pink hue in here because of the way the mountains are lined up).
In other words, Ojai is unique; it is the best version it can be of itself.
Ojain means moon (in Chumash) and it is one of the few cities in California with an Indian name. The area started to be settled during the Mexican land grant times. The town was laid out in 1874 and named Nordhoff. It was renamed Ojai when anti-German sentiment exploded during World War I.
The town we see today is the product of a man named Edward Libbey. After falling in love with the valley, he helped to build a downtown in a Spanish Colonial Revival style.
That is how the town’s symbols, the arcade and the post office’s bell tower, came to life. The two constructions still stand and can be visited.
Libbey also built a pergola opposite the arcade but it was destroyed in 1971. It was rebuilt in the early 2000s in order to conserve the original design.
The arcade is nowadays occupied by all sorts of businesses: eateries, boutiques and gift shops. These stores offer goods that are very distinct of what you would find in big cities. I encourage you to take a good look at the offers of local artists and artisans.
There are more shops in front of the arcade, behind the arcade and in the street behind the arcade. Everything looks like the pages of a fairytale.
The city has commemorated Libbey’s legacy by naming a park after him (located across the arcade). The park has walking trails, playgrounds and sport facilities.
Another interesting building in Ojai is occupied by the Valley Museum. The place was originally the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. Libbey considered the church the ‘crowning achievement’ of his Ojai beautification project. It was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
It is free to walk around the museum’s gardens and admire the statues exhibited outside. I don’t think it is worth to pay $5 to enter the museum. The Visitor’s Center is located next to the museum.
Ojai is also famous because of its spa retreats and wellness resorts. For example, The Oaks at Ojai and the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa rank high in the list of best spas in the nation.
Decorative tiles abound around the city.
The area is used as a hiking and biking base since it is located next to Los Padres National Forest. The Visitor’s Center has maps with directions to the favorite hiking trailheads. Nevertheless, I don’t think those maps are detailed enough (in terms of driving distances to trailheads, hike length and elevation gains). The forest ranger station located a few miles north of downtown should have better information.
There is a 15 mile (one way) bike path connecting Ventura (the county seat) to Ojai. The ride is scenic and passes under oak and sycamore trees. Some people start to pedal from Ventura while others do it from Foster Park located on Hwy 33.
For scenic drives, there is the option to follow Hwy 33 across the mountains (will end up near Bakersfield). This twisted road is full of scenic stops, recreation opportunities and side trips. Take into consideration that this is a long day trip from Ojai.
For those who do not have a lot of time (or don’t want a challenging drive), Hwy 150 from Ojai to Santa Paula is a short but satisfying drive. Before driving to Santa Paula, you can stop to get a slice of pizza at Boccali’s, observe the valley from the Meditation Mount or hike Horn Canyon.
There is a Vista Point where you can stop for views of the valley on Hwy 150 before passing by The Ojai Foundation. The road is full of vineyards, ranches, flower fields and ornate buildings. Keep your eyes open.
And don’t forget to watch sunset from one of the high points to see the “Pink Moment.”
Have you been to Ojai?