where to eat, sweat and stay in ojai
posted: July 16, 2014
Inhabited centuries ago by the Chumash Indians, the bucolic, sunny Southern California town of Ojai, just 130 km (80 miles) southwest of L.A., is best known for three things: world-class resorts and detox spas, a thriving arts scene, and the outdoors. Nicknamed Shangri-La for its storybook-like setting (1930s classic film Lost Horizon was shot here), the low-key, Mediterranean-inspired city is dotted with sand-hued Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings, orange groves, trolley cars, and a slew of hiking and biking trails. From art galleries to weekly Sunday farmers markets, horseback riding, and sacred sites fit for reflection, meditation, and yoga, there’s definitely a lot of ground to cover.
Marked by a mosaic-tiled fountain in the shape of a large, lounging lizard, the Emerald Iguana Inn is situated just minutes from downtown Ojai. The woodsy property framed by Sycamore and Pepper trees features one- and two-bedroom cottages (think river rock stone walls, Craftsman-style pendant lights, and wood-burning stove fireplaces), a swimming pool, and in-room spa treatments. To balance charkas and soothe sore muscles post-hiking, book the Double Iguana ($190; 2hrs), or opt for the Foot Delight ($95; 1hr) with a rose petal foot soak followed by a cucumber mask. Nearby, the Ojai Valley Inn+Spa is a local favourite with a storied past. Built in 1923 by glass tycoon Edward D. Libbey, the 305-room resort is a luxury playground with four swimming pools, an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis courts, and a 31,000-square-foot Moroccan-inspired spa. Fitness offerings include guided morning walks, trail runs, geocaching, daily bike rentals, yoga, spinning, stretching, boot camp, and TRX classes. Take a painting class, create a personal mandala, or blend your own perfume in a custom, aroma-blending course.
From family-owned gas stations-turned-rustic eateries to specialty bakeries, Ojai has plenty of dining options pre-or-post workout. For breakfast, head to Knead Baking Company for hearty organic egg sandwiches, apricot scones, and house made granola. At part café-part-grocery store Farmer and Cook, select from fresh-squeezed juices to smoothies such as the Figgy Stardust piled high with figs, dates, orange juice, lemon, cashews, and coconut oil. Opened in 1932, Ojai’s Deer Lodge is a city staple. Fashioned with wood-burning fireplaces, leather club chairs, and retro finds such as old tobacco cans and taxidermy, the lodge-like restaurant serves up starters from mac n’ cheese with smoked gouda and spicy roadhouse chili with tri-tip, four types of cheese, and molasses, to gluten-free options including the veggie wrap with locally-sourced avocado and dried cranberries in a sundried tomato tortilla, and the Super Fresh salad with kale, avocado, corn, and green pepper. For a treat after a long day on the trails or in the yoga studio, book a seat on the outdoor patio lined with stone fountains at Suzanne’s Cuisine. At the mother-daughter-owned farmhouse-inspired restaurant, order the grilled vegetable salad with zucchini, eggplant, and warm goat cheese, or the jumbo shrimp with garlic chili butter. You’ve earned it.
Check-in to The Oaks at Ojai for a fitness spa day package ($130 per day; includes three meals, snacks, and use of the spa and facilities) and choose from 16 daily classes from aqua cardio to pilates chair, muscle conditioning, relaxing yoga, and cardio circuit training. Conceived by owner, author, and fitness guru Sheila Cluff, (she still teaches daily classes), the landmark property is equipped with 46 guestrooms, a swimming pool, and spa with a eucalyptus steam room, whirlpool, and sauna. For hiking and mountain biking, head to Meditation Mount, a 32-acre site with an educational center situated on sacred ground, or the moderate, 5 km (3-mile) long Cozy Dell Trail that winds through the Los Padres National Forest.
This quiet, small town is all about healthy outdoor living and relaxation, not nightlife, but there are a crop of watering holes fit for a nightcap and a lively local vibe. At The Village Jester, check out live bands and take a pub quiz over a pint. For meticulously crafted cocktails, snag a seat at Maravilla Bar at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. Try The Herb Garden (aptly named for the property’s on-site garden) with blue Magellan Gin, St. Germain elderflower, fresh blueberries, and lavender, or the sauza and blackberry-infused Topa Topa margarita, a tribute to the nearby mountain range.
Jennie Nunn is a professional writer and traveller who has lived in SF for 11 years. She is a former full-time editor at magazines including Sunset, 7×7, and California Home+Design.