By Michelle Sathe
For a quick getaway, Ojai has a lot to offer.
It’s just an hour from Santa Clarita, yet once you’re driving along the rolling hills of highway 150, it feels a world away. Ringed by the Los Padres National Forest, your eyes will feast upon the endless rolling hills with huge, ancient trees and expansive citrus groves dotting the landscape.
Further down the road, mission-style buildings start popping up, a foreshadowing of the main style of architecture found in the heart of town, where art galleries, restaurants, and shops beckon. As you cruise onto Ojai Avenue, the town’s main drag, mile high palm trees line the streets for a unique Southern California flair.
The Hummingbird Inn, located at the beginning of Ojai Avenue, looks non-descript on the outside, but has beautifully updated interiors. The clean, open rooms have white walls, hardwood floors and cool-toned glass tile countertops. There’s a mini-fridge and small microwave, as well as premium, spa-scented toiletries. Several of the rooms are pet friendly, welcoming dogs along with their human guests.
Upgrade to the patio room for a large, lovely tiled outdoor space with high fencing, the perfect place to hang out and enjoy a cup of complimentary coffee. Feel like a swim? Grab a plush towel at the front desk and jump into the pool. Sunseekers can lounge in an enclosed deck on comfortable chaises.
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, food options in Ojai are almost overwhelming for such a small town. There are wine bars and Mexican restaurants, chain sandwich shops and funky, independent joints all competing for your attention.
One standout is Azu Restaurant & Bar, a wide-open space with industrial, artsy touches and tattooed young servers. It’s got a hipster vibe and a menu with an international array of delights such as the AZU Paella ($29), a braised lamb pita sandwich ($20) or plate ($30), and a Syrian chicken salad ($16) to name a few.
If there are two or more people in your party that are willing to share, the small plate options are a fun and tasty way to go. Honey baked brie topped with candied walnuts ($13) is gooey, cheesy, crunchy heaven when spread on toasted slices of stellar baguette. The rosemary garlic fries ($7) feature thin matchstick potatoes fried to delicious crispiness and showered with herby, garlicky goodness. Gambas al ajillo (sautéed shrimp with garlic, butter, chili flakes and white wine – $12) feature six plump, perfectly cooked shrimp, with lots of that tantalizing sauce left over to dip fries or bread into (don’t judge, it’s amazing).
To cut through the richness, order a salad – the AZU chop salad ($13) is fresh, bright, and abundant with chickpeas, ripe avocado, roasted beets and yam, tomato, cucumber, and romaine tossed in a homemade tahini dressing.
Work off those calories by strolling down the street and stopping galleries that showcase everything from modern metal statues to African painting and textiles to photography of the local landscape.
You could opt to take a more ambitious walk through one of the many parks and miles of paseos that weave throughout town. Or you could be naughty and grab a cone or sundae at Ojai Ice Cream, a fun, old-fashioned place with a few dozen flavors, lots of candy, and friendly service.
About a quarter mile off of Ojai Avenue is Bart’s Books, a must-see destination for any book lover. It has a massive selection of used tomes surrounding a lovely, open air patio that begs you to sit and linger with your purchases. Juices and waters are available to quench your thirst as you take advantage of the spectacular people-watching opportunities. A cool, rather stern looking resident cat provides additional entertainment.
Just a few miles down the road is the Meiners Oaks area, which has a main street of its own with small funky shops and intriguing restaurants such as the Farmer and the Cook, an organic market & bohemian café. It specializes in vegetarian Mexican fare and salads. At night, it seems the whole neighborhood is hanging out on the Farmer and the Cook’s huge patio – adults, kids, couples – all enjoying live music under a twinkling canopy of lights.
For more information on Ojai, visit ojaivisitors.com.