Nestled in a valley of the Topatopa Mountains, the idyllic village of Ojai brims with small-town personality and charm. Its close proximity to the Los Padres National Forest, coupled with a thriving arts community and scenic citrus groves set against mountain landscapes, makes it a captivating daytrip destination just over an hour’s drive from Malibu Beach Inn.
Named after the Chumash Indian word for “moon,” Ojai is known for both its rich natural environment and its vibrant culture. Make the drive there in a convertible to fully immerse yourself in the spectacular scenery, then spend your morning exploring a wide array of outdoor activities, from hiking to rock climbing to boating on one of Ojai’s picturesque lakes.
Photo: Ojai Rock Climbing
Covering 1.75 million acres, the Los Padres National Forest spans a range of ecosystems accessible throughout 1,257 miles of trails. Trails by Potter offers guided hikes in which you can learn about the local flora and fauna, while Ojai Rock Climbing can accommodate beginners and advanced climbers with all equipment provided.
Three miles from the town center, Lake Casitas was once the site for the 1984 Olympic canoeing and rowing competitions. Today, it is the place for locals and visitors to boat, kayak, and fish (which you can arrange with Ojai Angler). Swimming is prohibited in the lake, however there are natural pools within hiking distance of the city that are perfect for a mid-morning dip.
Photo: Bart’s Books
Those who wish to see the mountainous landscape from another perspective will enjoy horseback riding along the Ventura River (with Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company) or cruising winding country roads (with Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours) before heading into the village.
Lunch takes you to a locals’ favorite in the heart of Ojai: Suzanne’s Cuisine. Home to a globally inspired menu – with roots in Italy – the restaurant offers a stunning garden setting in which to enjoy a portabella mushroom sandwich or steamed clams in a Thai green curry broth. The ingredients come from an array of farmers markets in Ojai and beyond, which Chef Suzanne regularly visits herself.
The surrounding village is filled with more than 50 local boutiques and art galleries, as well as wineries, museums, and all manner of interesting rustic outposts.
Stroll through well-known destinations like Bart’s Books (a sunlit, outdoor book store), Primavera Gallery (fine art and American crafts), and Rains of Ojai (local clothing, home, and lifestyle items), then find a few hidden gems of your own.
Should you like to see more of the countryside before dinner, take a 10-minute drive to the olive oil ranches on the edge of the mountains. Ojai is famous for locally grown, organic citrus fruits and avocados, but the atmosphere is also perfect for olive groves.
Dating back more than 150 years, the region’s oldest producer, Ojai Olive Oil Company, welcomes visitors for free guided tours on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as well as free tastings and shopping every day of the week. Sample some of Ojai’s finest extra virgin olive oil –extracted, blended, and bottled on site – then head back into town for the main course. (Trails by Potter also offers a package that includes a 2-hour hike and a trip to the ranch for a tour and tasting.)
Nocciola; Photo: Fawn Grant
Wrap up your day with dinner at Nocciola, a cozy Italian restaurant offering savory, organic pastas and exquisite entrées like pan-seared duck breast with truffle-honey glaze. The chef’s choice 5-course tasting menu is the perfect way to end your excursion in Ojai – unless you have plans to attend an evening concert beneath the ancient oaks of the iconic Libbey Bowl.
Featured Photo: Ojai Olive Oil Company