As teenagers growing up in Ojai, we lounged and lingered at the swimming pool of the then Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club – Paul Newman was a regular visitor and, in today’s terms, I guess we would be described as ‘stalkers’. However, our parents did have memberships, so we were there many other times, not just when we knew the fiery red convertible VW Beetle with the Porsche engine would roar into town. The Country Club designation has been dropped, but the ambience and charm of the Ojai Valley Inn remain in place. Sometimes a serendipitous visit will change a memory of a place. My Catholic school education and extremely strict parents has shaded my memories of this tiny scenic town that so many travelers cherish. Glossy magazines display the pink skies at sunset, the sought after ‘Pink Moment’, it’s just a sunset, but in Ojai, it’s the ‘Pink Moment’. Ojai is artsy and bohemian, small spiritual communities flock to the Oak tree studded Valley. The Ojai Valley Inn posts the exact time of Sunset, so a guest can look east toward the mountain range to catch a dusky glimpse as the sun drops below the horizon.
Frank Capra used a long view shot of the Ojai Valley to represent the mythical paradise in the classic film Lost Horizon. In 1923, Edward Drummond Libbey, a wealthy Ohio glass manufacturer and philanthropist, commissioned California architect Wallace Neff to build a private Ojai Country Club. The architectural remnants of the original Spanish-colonial-style design are still in evidence; the hotel offers a little over 300 spacious and tastefully decorated rooms, a relaxing spa, four pools and several restaurants. I’ve always loved sitting beneath the massive Oak Tree terrace for lunch or dinner – and actually, it is the perfect station for pink moment viewing! Order your Rye Manhattan and gaze east!
The property spreads across a gentle rolling hillside into a deep green valley punctuated by massive Oak trees; the rambling flow of Spanish Revival style buildings resemble a picturesque village of red tile roofs sheltering white stucco walls, typical of what you might view in remote Spanish or Tuscan villages. My favorite suites have a cozy corner adobe like fireplace and a verandah with views of the hillsides. For the ultimate in privacy and luxury, there are two Penthouse Suites. Two bedroom suites offering over 1500 square feet of privacy and endless views from your private terrace. The 1900 square foot Hacienda Penthouse is one of my favorite spaces, it will be completely refurbished this fall, but it is a terrific family gathering space. A collection of suite spaces is nestled into mini-villa clusters with expansive fragrant courtyards, ideal for a group or extended family. Off property, Casa Elar, is a private oasis, resembling a Tuscan Villa it features over 10,000 feet of luxurious living space. Fully staffed and accessible to the resort by golf cart. Private pool and spa, entertainment features inside and out, a fabulous retreat if you crave absolute privacy.
Come to the Ojai Valley Inn to camp out at the pool, play golf, hike, walk, cook – innumerable activities. Visit the stand alone Discover Ojai building, which is akin to the hotel’s own little chamber of commerce. Knowledgeable staff can assist and plan a myriad of activities; pick a postcard outlining leisure, kids, group connections – ropes course, sailing, bee hive building, skeet shooting – honestly, you could fill a week with activities, or merely chill at the pool and read! For guests wanting something a little more creative, the menu also offers Container Gardening and the wonderful Artisans Cottage where one can take a class in Custom Blending creating a personal essential fragrance. I did mention Ojai has always been a community of creatives? Some traditional and some not so much. The activities at the Inn should inspire and entertain all guests.
A championship golf course lures many travelers for a week stay. Bikes are available for a trail ride all the way to the beach if you desire. Hardier trail ride, try the strenuous Sulphur Mountain bike ride. The old pool has been replaced with the Indigo Pool, a near Olympic size plunge with ten shady cabanas. Blue skies and a Mediterranean temperate climate almost guarantees a sunny day even in winter. Relaxing under a massive oak, I watched families and couples out on an evening stroll, pacing about the Spanish Moorish courtyards and art installations, one could easily work up an appetite with a scenic tour of the grounds. Visit in spring, the orange blossoms permeate the valley, it’s positively intoxicating. Pixie tangerines are also grown here, look for the scented round tangerine soap in your room. The striking Mediterranean landscaping is a refined blend of citrus, sage, lavender and desert plants.
The oldest Tennis Tournament in the country has been hosted in Ojai for over 117 years. Naturally, the Inn has a cluster of courts with lights, and a pro if you need to brush up your backhand or serve. My mom used to keep me out on these courts in the blistering heat until I would beg to quit just from sheer heat coma! She couldn’t keep score at this point, but she was still fiercely competitive.
Italian Chef Andrea Rodella is passionate about cuisine with market driven ingredients. Do visit the extensive rambling farm garden dotted with fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. The culinary program is driven by the fresh Ojai Valley farm produce, fruit orchards, and the nearby Pacific. Chef de Cuisine of Olivella collaborates with Executive Chef Truman Jones, they create refined, ever-evolving tasting menus that highlight the area’s incredible, local bounty. Garden herbs and vegetables are extensively used at the Inn restaurants, including Olivella.
The Oak, al-fresco restaurant, serves meals under a vine covered pergola beneath an iconic ancient oak tree. This is one of the finest view locations with sweeping vistas of the Topa Topa Mountains and the undulating golf course studded with 200-year-old oak trees.
Spa – I used to pop in here often when I visited my parents, an hour is not enough of an escape! A full-service spa offering mani-pedi, two pools, a fully equipped workout room, spa treatments, and healthy indulgence at the Café. The pedicures are given in zero gravity chairs in an upper suite in a room complete with a fireplace. Ojai has been a spiritual destination since the time of the Chumash and the menu reflects the Ojai energy for mind body and spirit. The spa menu also includes a few mind/body programs – a private fitness assessment and guided two and three-hour hikes. There are also daily complimentary classes – from guided meditation and nature walks to Pilates and Spinning Yoga. The spa is the only one in the country to offer Kuyam—a Moroccan mud treatment and guided meditation.
Town – Chumash Indians were the early inhabitants of the valley. They called it Ojai, which derives from the Ventureño Chumash word awhaý meaning “moon.” Commonly referred to as The Valley of the Moon. The area became part of the Rancho Ojai Mexican land grant made to Fernando Tico in 1837, and he established a cattle ranch. The town’s arcades resemble a long Spanish walkway with endless white arches and red tile roofs. The stucco and red tiled post office tower is a landmark with a four-story Spanish Bell Tower, built in 1917, it was inspired by the campanile over Christopher Columbus’ tomb in Havana.
Life is slow in the burg; shops are local centric with a mix of contemporary fashion boutiques. Bart’s Books which has been here forever, is an outdoor bookstore with an honor system, desire a book and drop your payment in a slot. Ojai has always been a magnet for artists, poets, musicians, fancy boarding schools, Krishnamurti and other thoughtful thinkers. And yes, I did visit the intriguing Saturday meditation classes, sat on floor cushions and chanted ommm – of course, my parents had no idea we made visits to the Krishnamurti Center for open thought. Strict dogmatic Catholic girl education would never be so liberal! Some have said that Krishnamurti indirectly established the intellectual and social climate of the Ojai Valley after his arrival. An earlier post mentioning the famed Beatrice Wood, internationally known ceramicist from Ojai is here: https://www.gwenbooks.com/2015/01/travel-tribe-soul-food/
The Ojai Valley Inn combines casual elegance with impeccable service and is a draw to many return guests. Kate, one of my dearest clients advised: visit Ojai with the mind set of a visitor, not a former resident. Leave out the personal history and arrive with an open mind, she a font of wisdom! Approaching my visit as I would to a foreign city, I marveled at the views, the extreme quiet of a town sans overhead jets and the clamor of a big city. The remoteness also provides inky black skies dotted with diamond drop brilliant stars. Attitude adjustment – worked miracles.
Highly recommend an escape to the Ojai Valley Inn. Do note summer has intense heat – at a minimum over 100 degree daytime temperatures. Spring and fall are lovely if you are allergic to heat, as I am!