Five Local Secrets of Ojai California

From luxurious spas retreats to hippies with hula-hoops, Ojai packs immense personality into its 4.4 square miles. The Backroads Santa Barbara and Ojai Valley Bike Tour takes you off the beaten path to this tiny Southern Californian town, where big names like Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon have been known to reside.Ojai California Spanish Architecture

Famous for its natural health and healing culture, Spanish architecture and spectacular surroundings, Ojai offers a unique blend of modern spirituality and rustic authenticity. Here, the morning dew accentuates the scents of nature. Oak trees and orange groves compete for attention throughout the valley. And scorching summer days fade into simmering sunsets, with the last of the sun's rays transforming the nearby Topatopa Mountains into a majestic purple masterpiece. Amid all this natural beauty are celebrated art galleries, wineries and shops in the town's main arcade. While there is so much to see in this perfectly quaint town, here are a few hidden gems that you certainly don't want to miss:

Bart's Books: Go ahead, grab a book. All Bart's asks is that you pay by the honor system. Bart's Books is the largest outdoor bookstore in America, and its quaint, bizarre, inside-out framework is almost beyond description. Bookshelves line both the exterior and interior walls, boasting used books for 50 cents and brand new ones at retail price. The architecture is best described as a home sans hallways, rooms and a roof, with a garden growing on the inside. See why I say it's worth a visit? (302 West Matilija Street)

Bart's Books Ojai California

The Farmer & the Cook: Co-owned and operated by a farmer and, well, a cook, The Farmer & the Cook serves affordable and delicious Mexican food with a California flair. The daily menu offers dishes ranging from Swiss chard enchiladas to fresh corn tamales and acai bowls to taquitos. On weekends the menu is spiced up with savory breakfasts featuring huevos y...anything you can imagine, and in the afternoon they fire up the pizza oven for their selection of creatively topped pies. Not only is everything organic and locally sourced, but the colorful décor and down-to-earth ambiance make it a pleasant stop to fuel up before continuing your Ojai adventure. (339 West El Roblar Drive)

Artist Cottage & Apothecary: Located right in the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (where you'll stay on our trip!), Artist Cottage & Apothecary is a sanctuary of self-expression that offers a spectrum of hands-on art classes to immerse yourself in. Unlock your creativity with a watercolor class that draws inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty or a workshop on making seasonal wreaths using herbs and botanicals grown in the hotel's own garden. Aspiring artists looking for an even more Zen experience can learn to draw a personal mandala (Sanskrit for "circle") as a form of meditative introspection. (905 Country Club Road)

Ojai Santa Ynez Mountains, Matilija sandstone, California

Ojai Meadows Preserve: Ojai is a great place to connect with nature. But you don't have to stay at a yoga center or head into nearby Los Padres National Forest to get in touch with Mother Earth. Just grab a coffee and head to Ojai Meadows Preserve for a mellow 30-minute walk through natural wetlands. It's hard to believe that just a decade ago this thriving ecosystem was filled with construction debris and invasive eucalyptus trees. Today the meadow has been restored to its natural beauty and is teeming with native plants and wildlife, like live oaks and long-tailed weasels. The preserve is located in town by Nordhoff High School; park in the turnout along Maricopa Highway. (1605 Maricopa Highway)

Ojai Ice Cream & Fudge: Transporting you back your childhood and hot summer days, when ice cream would drip down the cone faster than you could eat it up, Ojai Ice Cream & Fudge will awaken your inner child. It's one of the few parlors that still makes its ice cream on-site, with flavors ranging from classic chocolate chip to local favorite Ojai orange. Located on the main road, this not-so-hidden gem offers simple pleasures to fuel the soul (and a cyclist's appetite!). (210 East Ojai Avenue)

Ojai Valley, Ojai California

After 13 years as a camper and then counselor at a summer camp a few miles from the town center, I've had ample time to explore all that Ojai has to offer. I found bike paths and coffee shops, bookstores and farmer's markets, and many other secret treasures, a few of which I've shared here. To this day I visit Ojai whenever I yearn to be reminded of life's simplest pleasures, and once you get to know Ojai, I think you'll want to do the same.

See all this and more on our Santa Barbara and Ojai Bike Tour!


12 Responses

  1. Elizabeth

    Ramah Rules!!!

  2. Leonardo Declich

    Greetings Hannah,

    Great post! I’m curious to know what other suggestions you can share regarding your experience in Ojai. My wife and I are looking to take our first visit this November and would love any advice you can offer regarding great trails, restaurants or other places worth checking out while in Ojai. Would also appreciate your take on lodging recommendations as we’re overwhelmed with options.

    • Hannah Teitelbaum

      Hey Leonardo! Ojai will be BEAUTIFUL in November. Cool weather and perhaps rainy because of the expected El Niño season, but still cozy and fun.

      In terms of hotel accommodations, my favorite is definitely the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. It’s where we stay on the Backroads trip, and for good reason. It’s an oasis with the best views of the surrounding Santa Ynez Mountains. The spa is also topnotch. Another beautiful place to stay is the Emerald Iguana Inn. I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard great things about it.

      In terms of restaurants, you’ll find everything from gourmet farm-to-table cuisine, casual pizza, authentic Mexican… it’s all about what you’re in the mood for. Suzanne’s, Boccali’s Ojai, and the Cafe Emporium are a few good places. The Deer Lodge is about two miles from downtown and is a motorcyclists haven – a really fun place to people watch with a good beer.

      You can also easily get to Ventura and Santa Barbara (about 30-45 minutes drive) for more beach-front dining options.

      Hiking is something I love but haven’t really had much of a chance to do in Ojai. I’ve talked to some friends who grew up year-round in Ojai, and they talk about Shelf Road (fire lane) or Pratt and Gridley for a fun, challenging hike. A hike to the Punch Bowls is a half-day activity because you can go swimming in them – so long as there is water! DEFINITELY drive up to Meditation Mount, a tranquil place to walk around in silence and get an amazing view of the valley below.

      I hope this is a helpful start to your planning. If you have any questions about local towns, feel free to shoot me a reply or email. I’d be happy to help.

  3. Elizabeth Dunson

    I would love to know your answer to Leonardo Declich (above). THough I am phylically limited as to exploring with hikes and bike rides, I still would like to enjoy the peace, scenery and fun of the area. Thank you.

    • Hannah Teitelbaum

      Hi Elizabeth,

      I posted a response to Leonardo, but it was caught in the comment queue. It should be visible now. Ojai is DEFINITELY a place to envelope yourself in the serenity. Especially Meditation Mountain!

  4. Chris

    We are considering Santa Barbara/Ojai as our Backroads trip – but it is our first. We have lived on the rails/trails in New England for the past few years, and we are fortunate to have so many good ones in our area. We like the idea of Activity I and II options being available as well as some more challenging ones. We are usually in that 15-20 mile range, but not necessarily on roads. We also have the e-ride option. I know this is a tough question, but is this a good first trip? Do many people take it as their first? If this question is too vague, I would understand.

    • Hannah Teitelbaum

      Hi Chris,

      Great to hear you are considering doing the Santa Barbara Ojai trip! The riding, food, and hotels are pretty spectacular. We see many first time Backroads guests on the Santa Barbara & Ojai trip. The five-day itinerary is a great way to ease into bike touring, and the convenience of flying into LAX is a bonus for many travelers. This trip is unique in that it has relatively shorter and “flatter” days along the coast and in Ojai (Days 1 & 5), but the middle section of the trip is quite hilly since we climb into the Montecito Hills and then the Santa Ynez Mountains. There are always shuttle options though, so if 15-20 miles is your sweet spot, you can do as much as you would like and have plenty of shopping, spa, and beach time. If your typical bike ride is on rail-trails at about 1-3% grade, and are worried about the 4-10% grades we see on this trip, then renting an e-bike is a GREAT option for your first trip. It is still a work out but offers a little boost so you don’t exhaust your legs by the end of the week. Hope to see you out there next year!

      • Chris

        Thanks much

  5. Hello! As an Ojaian I just wanted to point out that you keep referring to the surrounding Santa Ynez Mountains. That is incorrect– the Santa Ynez range is up in Santa Ynez. We are extremely proud of our own mountains which are the Topa Topa Mountains. 🙂 Cheers

    • Hi Jen–Thanks so much for reaching out. We’ve updated the blog article to reflect the correct mountain range. Happy travels!

  6. Hi, Hannah.
    I am an avid cyclist and outdoor enthusiast but my wife is scared to death to be on a bicycle. She loves yoga (which is her only exercise), culinary art, shopping and reading. Is the Ojai Bike Tour a good first Backroads trip for her while I ride my bicycle?
    Al & Connie (opposite poles attract)

    • Hi Al & Connie,

      I actually think this is the PERFECT trip for you if you both have very different visions of an ideal vacation. Santa Barbara & Ojai have some of the toughest biking we have in the states, including the option to jet up Gibraltar which is a training site for pro-cyclists. But then again, there is always the option for Connie to take it easy on the Santa Barbara promenade with the weekend beach cruisers. Or if Connie is not at all interested in cycling, State Street has some of the best shopping in Southern California, endless yoga studios (I often go to a 6:00am class in town before the Backroads day starts), and beaches to relax on. In Ojai, there are both bike paths for novice riders and climbs to appease any avid cyclists’ appetite. Ojai Valley itself is home to Bart’s Books which is the world’s largest outdoor bookstore, as well as numerous farm-to-table restaurants and shops. Needless to say, I think you’ll both find just what you are looking for! Hope to see you out on a trip someday.



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