How to describe Ojai?
During the late 1700s Ojai was settled by the Spanish and Mission societies, followed by Don Fernando Tico who established Rancho Ojai in 1837 with a Mexican land grant. In 1874, the valley’s first settlement was named Nordhoff in honor of an east coast journalist who had publicized this special area. Not until 1917 did this little town become known as “Ojai.”
Today, Ojai is an inspiring retreat with a surprising blend of the rugged outdoors, cosmopolitan style and small-town charm. Home to an eclectic mix of writers, artists and philosophers as well as agricultural growers, the town also hosts a nationally acclaimed tennis tournament (“The Ojai”), and a music festival of international renown.
The town, located in one of the last unspoiled areas in Southern California, is just 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles, and 45 minutes southeast of Santa Barbara. Making it accessible to millions of people.
But what do you do in Ojai?
Well a little or a lot. That depends on you. Either way Ojai promises to take you away from the ordinary. Which is exactly what I was looking for when I decided to spend a Weekend in Ojai recently. My out of the ordinary experience started with the place we chose to stay, The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. It’s an elegant hotel designed like a terra cotta tiled Spanish village. It’s kind of pricey ($300 to $1,200 per night and more!) but it’s not at all stuffy. In fact the place just oozes with casual California charm.
The inn’s original design from the 1920s came from noted California architect Wallace Neff. It’s been carefully preserved throughout several renovations and has maintained much of its original look and feel. Today, the expanded resort resembles a private estate with the residential feel and warmth of Old California, plus all the modern amenities. Including an 18 hole, par 70 golf course that is evidently quite an attraction. Not that I play golf.
There are also all of the pampering and spa activities you could ever want. Kuyam mud treatments, massage, yoga, whatever program you require to relax to the point of melting. Not that I went there to get a facial.
Nope I chose the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa because I wanted to do nothing at all. And there are plenty of gorgeous spots to do nothing sprinkled all over the 220 tree-shaded acres of this hotel. There are three swimming pools with loungers and poolside service which are about as untaxing as you can imagine. It’s also easy to lose track of time just wondering the grounds and admiring the architecture. One of my favorite places to veg out at this hotel is in the gardens. This hotel has vegetable gardens, orchards and an herb garden too. The flowers all over the property are so pretty they will inspire you to sit right down and smell the roses.
Of course all that nothing makes a man hungry too. I have been known to spend a whole lot of down time, chowing down. And this is indeed the place to do it it. Because California’s Central Coast is celebrated for the way its Mediterranean micro-climates coax the world’s best seasonal foods from its fertile orchards, ranches, farms and
ocean waters. And the team of chefs at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa are making the most of the year-round bonanza.
The chefs at the Inn are able to work closely with Ojai growers and winemakers. They can source products from the hotel grounds as well as from the local Farmers Market to ensure that the best organic ingredients are always available at all of its restaurants. Which are plentiful and varied. I know its a cliché, but when it comes to dining at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, there is something for everyone.
Breakfast is served daily at Maravilla, with a menu featuring regionally grown fruits, house-made granola, organic egg dishes and freshly squeezed juices. Custom blended coffee and a selection of teas and smoothies are available. Décor is based on Wallace Neff’s signature Spanish Colonial design with a centrally located fireplace. Guests may also dine outside, while taking in the views of the Ojai Valley. Dinner is also served at Maravilla every night, featuring prime steaks, chops, and the freshest seafood complemented by the Chef’s feature garden-grown and handmade ingredients.
A rich California harvest is served each day at the popular Oak. Casual indoor fireside or alfresco dining beneath the 200-year-old oak trees is available for lunch. The bounty of the local harvest includes selections of fresh fish and pasta of the day as well as traditional favorites like tortilla soup, crab cakes and USDA Prime New York steak and grilled seafood. All pair very well with our wide selection of award-winning wines from the Central Coast.
Jimmy’s, named for Jimmy Demaret, the Inn’s most famous golf touring pro, is the resort’s popular pub. The expanded bar menu features thin-crust brick oven pizzas, juicy burgers accompanied by hand-cut fries, chicken and beef tacos and an impressive selection of beers and classic cocktails.
Café Verde offers a lunch menu of garden-fresh dishes with Mediterranean touches. The Inn’s signature smoothies and fruit juices are popular refreshments, and dining choices include full lunch service or take-out breakfast and lunch items for dining poolside or in the spa’s courtyard. Healthy but festive offerings highlighting organic and locally grown produce are the mainstay of the menu.
Herb Garden Café
This beautifully-appointed restaurant formally launched in Summer 2010, along with two spa treatment rooms and a gorgeous new pool, inclusive of private cabanas and Jacuzzi surrounded by an outdoor fireplace. It was closed while I was there, but I did snoop around.
About Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Since 1923, vacationing guests have sought the tranquil pleasures of the historic Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a AAA Five Diamond property located on 220 tree-shaded acres 35 miles south of Santa Barbara. Affirmed by its many prestigious awards and fresh from a $90 million renovation, the legendary Inn is one of the nation’s unique hidden treasures. Reservations: (800) 422‑6254 or www.ojairesort.com