You’ve got 24 hours in Ojai and you’ve gotta make it count. What do you do? Ojai seems to be one of the most under-the-radar California hotspots. At only about 80 miles from L.A., it feels more like 800 miles away. I’m a firm believer that sometimes you just need to ditch the big city and decompress…even if only for 24 hours.
What to do
Bart’s Books came about as Richard Bartinsdale’s collection of books grew so massive, he constructed a series of shelves along the sidewalk to share his passion with the community, leaving only a tin can out in lieu of a cash register. Since then, he’s cycled through more than a million books. Today, Bart’s Books is recognized as the largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the USA.
Kick back with a book in one of the many nooks and crannies.
Hippie nic-nacs galore! This repurposed gas station was turned into a one stop shop for framing and vintage home and lifestyle goods.
Whether you come for the view or seek solace on the lawn, this non-profit organization has been dedicated to empowering & enlightening individuals with creative meditation, community based events & inspirational programs since it’s opening in 1971.
My limited time in town only permitted me to explore the property at midday but many love to come for the well-known pink sunsets of Ojai as well. As you enter the Peace Portal (made from 1,200 year old reclaimed Douglas fir), it is intended for you to feel a sense of energetic transformation and a sense of new possibilities.
You’re free to roam about. Stroll the gardens, do yoga on the lawn, pop by the koi pond or visit the meditation room.
You can catch a glimpse of all the orchards in the valley below, too. The best parts about Meditation Mount are the pure serenity, fresh air and expansive views.
It’s apparent that the community of Ojai really knows how to take things slow and enjoy the company of a good book. Bookends (on the opposite end of town from Bart’s Books), takes a different approach to your common bookstore. On the property sits this 1960’s Airstream trailer and old, renovated church, both filled with…you guessed it, books. Find one you like and kick back under the shade of the trees while you sip a fresh brewed coffee from next door.
Catch a Sunset
There are a couple spots to catch a great sunset in Ojai. Aside from Meditation Mount there are hiking trails that can set you up for a photo-worthy golden hour.
Where to Eat
The Farmer and the Cook
After the drive in, you may have a hankering for a snack. Chances are that your hotel check in may not be until 3 or 4pm so why not use that as a great excuse to pop in for your first treat at The Farmer and the Cook.
Choose from a delicious array of menu items (like this açai bowl), salad bar or on-site market filled with local goods.
Azu Mediterranean Restaurant
Mediterranean food is some of my favorite in the world so I had to try Azu. They have a regular dining area and a cozy, dimly lit bar where Richie and I shacked up for dinner. It was too hard to decide on one thing so we ordered a handful of tapas. See our favorites below.
Let me just stress that Ojai is still a small city. When you’re coming from a place like Los Angeles, you’re used to restaurants catering to a late night crowd, but many places in Ojai close on the early side so always make sure you check ahead of time so you don’t miss out on the places you want to try.
Chorizo stuffed bacon wrapped dates. And yes, they were as good as they sound.
Mixed seafood paella with chorizo (tapas size)
Knead Baking Company
Known for their in-house, freshly baked goods and artisan crafted breakfast & lunch specials, Knead bakery sits tucked away just off east Ojai Avenue. This family owned and operated joint features their own specialty “Knead Bread” on the weekends, made only from unbleached, organic flour, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt + fresh herbs. (sigh) Can you smell it?
Ojai Tortilla House
This was by far my favorite meal of the whole trip. Surprisingly it was not only the most delicious and authentic, but also the most inexpensive. What a pleasant surprise indeed. As many establishments seem to be in Ojai, this restaurant is also family owned and operated, mom is even seen making fresh rosemary tortillas behind the counter.
It may look like any other street taco, but these pollo tacos were definitely anything but average. The slaw was on point, the fresh salsa was kickin’ and the flavor was finger-licking good! The hint of rosemary in the soft, warm tortillas was definitely a nice touch, too. I opted for the spiciest salsa and boy did I get it. Luckily I had this tall refreshing watermelon agua fresca to wash it all down.
Don’t expect anything fancy here, this is simply a burrito bar with good vibes and great food. *Standing room only
Where to Stay
Built in 1963, this mid-century modern hotel has recently undergone some renovations, adding some hip vibes to this retro establishment.
Walking distance to restaurants and shops.
In-room cassette tape & record players (and a selection of movie tapes/records to choose from) add a unique touch.
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
For those seeking a little more luxury, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is where you want to be. It too has recently undergone some upgrades but has managed to maintain an authentic feeling stemming from it’s origins in 1923.
With a golf course, bikes, pools, a cafe, yoga classes and more, I would say you’re in danger of never leaving the premises but as any five diamond resort may do, they offer complimentary trolley service into town for their guests.
Photography by Richie Chance
Ojai | California
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