In his 1933 book Lost Horizon, James Hilton wrote, “Is there not too much tension in the world at present, and might it not be better if more people were slackers?”
For those unfamiliar, Hilton’s novel is about a fictional “utopian lamasery” in Tibet known as Shangri-La. When the film adaptation came out in 1937, it was filmed on location not in the snowy Himalaya, but in the Topatopa Mountains surrounding Ojai, less than 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
With all due respect, slacking is one of Ojai’s most cherished pastimes. A favorite getaway of overly tense Angelenos, the laidback town of around 7,500 has been attracting wellness seekers for nearly 200 years.
While initially settled as a cattle ranch, Ojai’s natural hot springs and dreamy light have played a major role in its purported mystical energy, but even non-believers would be hard-pressed to deny the therapeutic attributes of such a peaceful place—a quick Google search turns up dozens of yoga studios, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and practitioners of everything from Ayurveda and reiki to naturopathic medicine. That laidback, progressive vibe has also attracted artists and counterculture types for generations; even today, Ojai is home to a large arts community.
Long before Ojai garnered the nickname Shangri-La, however, it was known as the Valley of the Moon, its name a corruption of the Chumash Indian word ‘awha’y, or moon. The valley runs east to west, which makes for memorable sunrises and sunsets known as “pink moments,” but the Mediterranean climate and loamy soil also made Ojai formative in the early organic farming movement.
Today, some of the nation’s finest family farms operate in and around Ojai, producing the famed Pixie tangerines, strawberries, and tropical fruits; baby greens and avocados; and pasture-raised meats, which complement the pristine seafood of the nearby Channel Islands. The result: Ojai is one of America’s most underrated culinary destinations.
Ojai has long prohibited chain businesses in its downtown, a restriction that has allowed independent restaurants and other businesses to survive and flourish. The best way to experience Ojai is to make a weekend of it, but since many businesses have abbreviated days of operation, be sure to do your homework first.
Ditch the car and opt to walk or pedal (many downtown hotels offer complimentary bikes, and prepare to unwind.
Where to Eat and Drink in Ojai
Long before there was Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, there was The Ranch House. When late chef/founder Alan Hooker opened his legendary Ojai restaurant in 1950, it was with the intention of showcasing the region’s superb produce (originally a devout vegetarian, he began offering meat and seafood several years later). Hooker sourced ingredients exclusively from his own garden and local farmers, solidifying his role as the father of California cuisine. The restaurant is still in operation, under different ownership.
The following restaurants are keeping Hooker’s legacy alive with their commitment to supporting local family farms, ranches, artisans, and fishermen.
When this long-awaited bakery and restaurant (part of the impressive Rustic Canyon Family group), opened in 2022, the lines were out the door. No one can blame folks for driving up from L.A. to experience pastry chef/partner Kelsey Brito’s heavenly breads, pastries and lunch offerings, but if you’re smart, you’ll hang around until dinner to experience chef/partner Saw Naing’s vibrant, locally sourced Burmese-Californian fare along with a botanical-forward bar program. Every dish is made with ingredients sourced within 50 miles. // 457 E. Ojai Ave., thedutchessojai.com
Longtime friends Larry Nicola and Claud Mann realized their dream of opening a “picnic and artisan sourdough bakery” in early 2019. The simple, rustic menu with traces of France of Lebanon centers around rotisserie chicken and Mann’s exquisite sourdough and flatbread. Sides run the gamut from a crunchy, refreshing take on potato salad to creamy hummus with local olive oil, but save room for what Nicola calls “Ojai AOC (Appellation of Origin) baklava,” made with walnuts, lavender, lemon and honey. The spacious front patio has a kiosk called Winebox, which emphasizes bottles from small producers located within a 75-mile radius. // 469 E. Ojai Avenue, ojairotie.com
Tipple & Ramble
Yes, it’s an adorable little wine bar/home décor shop, but Tipple & Ramble’s lush garden is what makes this a perfect place to while away an afternoon. Ojai style means hopping in a hammock with a glass of local sparkling wine and a book; the kitchen also turns out lovely small plates and mezze, cheese and charcuterie boards. Psst, four-legged friends are welcome. // 315 N. Montgomery, tippleandramble.com
"Ocean to table" is the hallmark of this sister-owned establishment, but in addition to the Channel Islands seafood tower, oysters and crudo of the day, you’ll also find shareable bites like olives marinated with tangerines and fennel pollen and beautifully appointed cheese and charcuterie boards. // 139 E. Ojai Ave., rorysplaceojai.com
It’s all about Ojai-area ingredients at this local’s fave, from the wood-fired pies and small plates to the thoughtful low intervention wine list (also available for retail). Lunch includes house-baked bagel sandwiches and sourdough hoagies (think barbacoa with lamb, sauerkraut slaw, and consommé dip) and salads. // 423 E. Ojai Ave., pinyonojai.com
Topa Topa Brewing Co.
Hands down the liveliest spot on town, this Ventura-born-and-bred brewery has a sunny patio as well as a spacious taproom. Ask about the seasonal releases; 'tis the season for Pinker Than Rosé-Style Kettle Sour Ale, made with local grenache grapes. // 345 E. Ojai Ave., topatopa.beer
Most downtown restaurants shutter at 9pm, but you can shoot pool at token dive The Hub (256 E. Ojai Ave.) or grab a nightcap at The Vine (308 E. Ojai Ave.), a restaurant with live music six nights a week. For a buzzy weekend scene also with live music, hit up historic Deer Lodge (2261 Maricopa Hwy), Ojai’s oldest restaurant and tavern, a couple miles from downtown.
Things to Do in + Around Ojai
Channel Islands National Park
Fifteen miles from Ojai, Ventura Harbor is the gateway to this UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve and marine sanctuary where you can hike, dive, whale watch, snorkel, sea kayak, and camp. Book passage and tours with Island Packers, the sole transportation concessioner to the park. // nps.gov/chis
Ojai Farmers Market
The community turns out every Sunday for this year-round market. It is the perfect place to pick up breakfast, picnic supplies, and edible souvenirs of all kinds. // 9am to 1pm Sundays, 300 E. Matilija St., ojaicertifiedfarmersmarket.com
Hiking + BikingTrails can be found at the Valley View, Ventura River,and Ojai Meadows preserves, and within the Los Padres National Forest.
Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts
Lovers of folk art and the avant-garde will enjoy this exhibition and performance space located in the former studio of the so-called mama of the Dadas. Sign up for a ceramic workshop, hear poetry set to live music, and check out rotating exhibits in the galleries. // 8585 Ojai-Santa Paula Rd., beatricewood.com
Where to Stay in Ojai
Ojai Rancho Inn
Hotel preservationist Kenny Osehan specializes in renovating midcentury motels and other buildings for her Shelter Social Club hospitality group, and this adorable 17-room stucco property is a prime example (if it’s full, try nabbing a room at sleek sister property Capri Hotel, on the other end of town). Each stylish room sports wood paneling, timber bed frames, and blush-hued bathroom tiles; some have kitchenettes and jacuzzi tubs. Crack a local craft beer to enjoy poolside or in a retro-style lawn chair on the porch, but don’t skip a visit to Chief’s Peak, the inn’s pocket-sized beer and wine bar. Try one the ever-changing flavored beverages made with soju, sparkling wine, and an array of local produce. // 615 W. Ojai Ave., ojairanchoinn.com
If staying in a swanky Airstream is your dream, look no farther. Here, 10 silver bullets, all kitted out with queen beds, private bathrooms, heat and A/C, are situated in a palm garden. Complimentary bikes are simply gilding the lily. // 317 Bryant St., caravanoutpostojai.com