Hit the Road: The laid back Ojai

Hit the Road: The laid back Ojai
Cloud Climber Jeep Tours takes visitors around local mountain roads and to wineries and viewpoints where the entire Ojai Valley can be seen. Guides know where all the best backcountry roads and off-road areas, too. Courtesy Photo

Here’s what I like about Ojai: It’s laid back, mostly walkable, sits in a lovely valley surrounded by cinema-quality mountains, and exudes an everything’s-right-with-the-world vibe. Ojai is the reward for working hard and for surviving the drive through Los Angeles.

Of course, problems don’t disappear just because you drive three-and-a-half hours up the coast, but time spent in Ojai, 25 minutes east of Ventura on Highway 33, can be a little hiatus from what’s troubling you. Spend a few days here and you’ll be armed to take on life’s challenges with a bit more gusto.

California’s state flower, the golden poppy, lines the entrance to Old Creek Ranch where its 850 acres supports cattle and fruit trees, as well as a winery. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

California’s state flower, the golden poppy, lines the entrance to Old Creek Ranch where its 850 acres supports cattle and fruit trees, as well as a winery. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

There is some debate about the translation of the name Ojai, but I prefer Valley of the Moon, which has its origins within the early Chumash Indian culture. It denotes beauty and serenity, and that’s exactly what you’ll find.

April Tucker of the Ojai Culinary School whips up coconut custard that will feature segments of Pixie tangerines dipped in dark chocolate. She conducts classes in the commercial kitchen at the Lavender Inn, a Victorian bed-and-breakfast that creates meals using organic produce from its garden. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

April Tucker of the Ojai Culinary School whips up coconut custard that will feature segments of Pixie tangerines dipped in dark chocolate. She conducts classes in the commercial kitchen at the Lavender Inn, a Victorian bed-and-breakfast that creates meals using organic produce from its garden. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

It would be hard to beat the beauty you’ll find in the acres that surrounds Old Creek Ranch. In the spring and summer months, an abundance of wild flowers line the driveway, and the deck is the perfect place to sip wine and take in the bucolic countryside. Ask owner John Whitman to tell you about the family label, Vino V Wines, and their specialty, Loureiro, a rare Portuguese white. Visit oldcreekranch.com.

Abandon your car and let Cloud Climbers do the driving up, down and around the Ojai Valley. Its drivers/guides are locals who can teach you about the history, climate and geology of the area with a little gossip thrown in. You can stick to paved roads or not. Visit ccjeeps.com.

Back in town… Even on warm days, Ojai’s historic Arcade provides shade and a path to diverse boutiques with unique art, crafts, clothing and books. The Mission Revival-style Arcade was built with the help of the dollars and designs of Edward Libbey, who made his fortune in the glass in Toledo, Ohio.

Owner-manager John Whitman of Old Creek Ranch explains his passion for making wine. When the vineyards were decimated by Pierce’s disease in the 1980, the ranch leased portions of other vineyards to provide grapes for its Vino V label. The winery specializes in a variety made from a rare white grape – the Portuguese Loureiro. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Owner-manager John Whitman of Old Creek Ranch explains his passion for making wine. When the vineyards were decimated by Pierce’s disease in the 1980, the ranch leased portions of other vineyards to provide grapes for its Vino V label. The winery specializes in a variety made from a rare white grape – the Portuguese Loureiro. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

 

Other Ojai offerings not to be missed: Happy hour at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa where head bartender Sam Gay mixes up unique concoctions that he and fellow Ojai bartenders create in their off-time (if it’s April, ask for the Creamsicle); scented body scrubs (think tangerine in April) at the iconic Oaks at Ojai; Bart’s Books (corner of Matilija and Canada streets), a used-book aficionado’s paradise where customers pay for the on-sale tomes via the honor system; Meditation Mount, the International Peace Garden and the most spectacular viewpoint to witness the Pink Moment (a sunset effect that transforms the Topa Topa Mountains to east a Day-Glo pink for a very few minutes).

For eats: Azu — tapas with a California twist; the offerings are seasonal, but whatever is on the menu is good and they are happy to accommodate dietary needs.

NoSo Vita — breakfasts, salads and sandwiches, scrumptious and fresh. The café is gluten-free friendly.

Knead Baking Company — artisan bakery and patio dining where pastries don’t get any better. Luscious quiche.

For more info, visit ojaivisitors.com.

CORRECTIONS: In the previous feature about Ojai, I mispelled two names. The correct spellings are Annie Friend (founder of Friend’s Ranch); and NoSo Vida, a restaurant in Ojai.

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@coastnewsgroup.com

 

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