If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, try Ojai

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, try Ojai
The 65-foot tower on the 100-year-old Ojai post office, located on the town’s main street, was built when Ojai was named Nordhoff and had 500 residents. Today, the population is about 8,000 and the post office is a Ventura County Historical Landmark. (Photos by Laurie Brindle)

 

You can’t say we didn’t try.

Our pursuit of Ojai’s Pink Moment — those few minutes just before sunset when the surrounding mountains radiate a rosy glow — just wasn’t going to prove fruitful.

Hikers staying at The Oaks at Ojai hotel and spa head up North Signal Street, in the heart of Ojai’s downtown. The pavement gradually turns to trail, which eventually enters the Los Padres National Forest. Spectacular views of Ojai Valley await those who make it to the top.

Hikers staying at The Oaks at Ojai hotel and spa head up North Signal Street, in the heart of Ojai’s downtown. The pavement gradually turns to trail, which eventually enters the Los Padres National Forest. Spectacular views of Ojai Valley await those who make it to the top.

My photographer friend, Laurie and I, on the loose for 48 hours in this idyllic town 25 minutes north of Ventura, wanted to see the legendary pink panorama pictured in the travel brochures, but Mother Nature was not cooperating.

The Oaks at Ojai was built almost a century ago with some financing from Edward Libbey (1854-1925), an Ohio businessman who made his fortune in manufacturing glass and spent winters in the Ojai Valley. The 46-room hotel offers complete packages for those who want to focus on developing or maintaining healthy minds and bodies.

The Oaks at Ojai was built almost a century ago with some financing from Edward Libbey (1854-1925), an Ohio businessman who made his fortune in manufacturing glass and spent winters in the Ojai Valley. The 46-room hotel offers complete packages for those who want to focus on developing or maintaining healthy minds and bodies.

We posited many theories as to why the Pink Moment wasn’t happening: Wrong viewing location. Wrong season. Atmosphere too dry. Atmosphere too clean.

My favorite theory is that, after a winter that brought 30 inches of rain to the area, the mountains are just too darn green and you can’t make pink out of that.

But this is hardly reason to complain; record rainfall in the Ojai Valley has its benefits.
The hills, roadsides, parks, gardens and groves have been transformed into explosions of color. March, April and May are key months for local wildflowers and the Pixie tangerine harvest, and this year’s abundant rains have produced a bumper crop of both.

Ojai Valley celebrates the Pixie tangerine harvest each spring. There are special Pixie-based spa treatments offered at The Oaks at Ojai, and restaurants, bars and boutiques feature special tangerine dishes, drinks and products.

Ojai Valley celebrates the Pixie tangerine harvest each spring. There are special Pixie-based spa treatments offered at The Oaks at Ojai, and restaurants, bars and boutiques feature special tangerine dishes, drinks and products.

Ojai (population 8,000) celebrates this annual happening with special tangerine-infused foods, drinks, toiletries and tours.

The heated pool at The Oaks at Ojai is used for numerous water-exercise classes for both hotel guests and community members.

The heated pool at The Oaks at Ojai is used for numerous water-exercise classes for both hotel guests and community members.

At The Oaks at Ojai, a destination hotel and spa, this means special facials, massages and pedicures, as well as boxes and bowls of Pixies scattered throughout the property.

The Oaks, ideally located in the center of town, is a century-old, Spanish-style oasis that reflects the architecture of Ojai’s signature arcade. Once called El Roblar, The Oaks has a mixed history that includes a famous financier, business successes and failures, owner suicides and a gangster or two.

Today, it is a beautifully renovated and maintained jewel that attracts patrons from all over the country seeking refuge from busy and chaotic lives. Many come to get a fresh start on a lifestyle change by choosing from 15 fitness classes a day, poolside dining, evening entertainment and seminars and calorie-conscious meals designed to promote weight loss. We found most of the meals to be sizable and tasty — with one caveat. If you can’t do without salt, bring your own.

Wendy Barker, former director of the Escondido History Center, is the executive director of the Ojai Valley Museum, which focuses on the town’s history, art and culture. The museum is located on Ojai’s main street in the beautifully restored St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

Wendy Barker, former director of the Escondido History Center, is the executive director of the Ojai Valley Museum, which focuses on the town’s history, art and culture. The museum is located on Ojai’s main street in the beautifully restored St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

We weren’t the only cheaters; we caught other salt shakers materializing from purses, and saw a few tacos and beers being smuggled into the bungalows. (And I confess: we made an impulsive foray to the nearby ice cream store.)

One morning, we joined the brisk, 6:30 a.m. uphill hike led by energetic local high school counselor, Judy Oberlander. After apologizing for being her less-than-peppy-self because of a cold, most of us had to hustle to keep up as we gained altitude on North Signal Street. The pavement and quaint neighborhood gradually give way to a dirt trail that snakes through public open space (thank you, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy), and eventually leads to the Los Padres National Forest. It’s a vigorous workout, but the reward for those who make it to the top is a spectacular view of the Ojai Valley, rightly compared to the mythical Shangri-la of the novel “Lost Horizons.”

Judging by the many locals we passed on the trail, it’s apparent that residents do appreciate their outdoors.

They also love their artists.

Camille Shapiro tends Nomad Gallery, which features the jewelry and paintings of Ojai artist Leslie Clark, who spends much of each year in the African nation of Niger. Her favorite subjects are the Wodaabe nomads, and Clark started a foundation to help the tribes economically, educationally and culturally. Some of the jewelry for sale at Nomad is created by the Wodaabe.

Camille Shapiro tends Nomad Gallery, which features the jewelry and paintings of Ojai artist Leslie Clark, who spends much of each year in the African nation of Niger. Her favorite subjects are the Wodaabe nomads, and Clark started a foundation to help the tribes economically, educationally and culturally. Some of the jewelry for sale at Nomad is created by the Wodaabe.

Downtown’s East Ojai Avenue and its side streets are replete with galleries featuring works in every medium and then some, most created by valley residents. With so many galleries and shops to see, we never got further than a block from The Oaks during our first afternoon of exploration. The following morning, we returned to see the Ojai Art Center and lovely Libbey Park, the pastries at the Ojai Café Emporium (oh, those gluten-free blueberry muffins!), and Rains, a unique, 100-year-old department store whose inventory is incredibly contemporary and smart.

Bottom line: A stay at The Oaks at Ojai is what you make it. The opportunities for a variety of activities, contemplation, exploration and sightseeing are there for the taking in whatever amounts you like — with or without salt.

Visit oaksspa.com and http://theojai.net.
For more photos and commentary about The Oaks at Ojai and the town of Ojai, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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

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