Word of Mouth: Ojai

Historical bookstores, transformative day spas and artistic adventures in the rural California town

The light in Ojai is a beautiful thing to behold. Nestled in the mountains above Santa Barbara, Ojai is a distance from the glorious coastline, but it has charms all of its own. As the sun sets, the bluffs along the Topa Topa mountains begin to glow pink, and the small agricultural towns nearby, Fillmore and Santa Paula, are filled with citrus groves and other produce crops. Ojai is also a product of its bohemian history. The valley became the home of several boarding schools and artist studios, as well as retreats for the study of yoga, meditation and Eastern religions. Potter Beatrice Wood lived and studied with Krishnamurti there. Ojai has, perhaps because of this history, become a desirable destination for young artists, creatives and entrepreneurs.

New and independent businesses keep popping up: Knead Baking brings fresh artisanal ingredients and baking to the valley, the MOB Shop offers custom cycling tours of the area, eco boutique Modern Folk Living has become the go to destination for hand-made designs and workshops. Plus, Kenny Osehan and Chris Sewell opened Ojai Rancho Inn, a new destination for artists and designers.


Ojai Rancho Inn

Rooms at the Ojai Rancho Inn have a rustic vibe with big comfy wood-framed beds, flanked by hanging Heather Levine‘s ceramic lamps. The pool area feels more like a friend’s backyard than a hotel pool. The fire-pit, BBQs, vintage-style shuffleboard court, and giant event and picnic area all support the spirit of the place. Ojai Rancho Inn hosts monthly concerts in its picnic and event space which have included performances by No Age, Nite Jewel and Pure Bathing Culture.


Modern Folk Living

Modern Folk Living is the place to go to pick up the Ojai edition of Apolis’ Market Bags, items made by Alabama Chanin, Coral & Tusk and Rifle Paper Co. The store on East Matilija Street is set back from the road in a cottage space that hosts events and workshops with Kinfolk Magazine and other local artists and designers. Owner Wanda Weller Sakai showcases her interest in sustainable materials and manufacturing in her collections for the store.


The MOB Shop

MOB Shop carries bikes by a dozen companies including Linus, Cannondale, Wilier and Moots as well as offering full-service repairs and a retail space full of gear and accessories. Through the shop, they organize bike adventures of the area ranging from hour rides to day trips. Their “Decent From Sulphur Mountain” ride winds down from 2,300 to 400 feet, with an optional wine tasting at Old Creek Ranch Winery. A ride from the Ojai Valley Trail to the Pacific Ocean, through an El Paca Pastures tour, or custom designed itineraries are also available for the two-wheeled experience. Rental bikes include town bikes, electric bikes, aluminum road bikes, Hardtail mountain bikes, carbon road bikes and full suspension mountain bikes.


Knead Baking

One breakfast sandwich or freshly baked pastry from Knead Baking may lead to a daily ritual. The sweet little bakery space is set back from the street on East Ojai Avenue with seating inside and on their front patio. Bread is baked daily with several egg and veggie sandwich options as well as quiche, flatbreads, and cheese and meat plates.


Bart’s Books

This unique outdoor book store has been an Ojai institution for so long that a trip to the area is not complete without wandering through their extensive collection. Categories ranging from Men’s Adventure War Fiction to True Crime Cookbooks are displayed in the kitchen and gallery room alongside an inspiring collection of art books. Patio tables with umbrellas for sunny days offer peaceful spaces for reading. Next year Bart’s Books will celebrate its 50th year in business.

WOMojai-6.jpg WOMojai-7.jpg
Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts

In addition to displaying the permanent collection celebrating the legacy of ceramic artist Beatrice Wood, the center regularly plans exhibitions, performances and workshops. Wood was not only known for her luster vessels, plates, and figurative works but also for being an avid collector of folk art from around the world. She was a true original; spending much of her life dressing in colorful saris and elaborate jewelry, and was a true lover of Ojai.


Kuyam at the Ojai Valley Inn

The Spa Village at the luxurious Ojai Valley Inn features treatment rooms, a workout center, café and artist cottage. Inspired by many cultures, the communal Kuyam experience celebrates a harmony. Kuyam, meaning “a place to rest together” in Chumash language from the tribe that lived in the Ojai Valley, has been described as transformative. The treatment combines therapeutic ancient sea clays, heat, and meditation for up to eight people to lounge in the colorful custom-built room with Moroccan-style tiles.

For more local adventures, visit an olive grove and olive oil tasting room to learn about permaculture and sustainable farming at the Ojai Olive Oil Company, sip organic wines including a tasty Cab Franc made with grapes from Paso Robles at the Casa Barranca tasting room, visit Meditation Mount at sunset, and taste vegetarian and vegan options throughout the town. This fall the Ojai Art Festival will be hosting DISCARTED, a show of art made from trash, discarded objects and materials, throughout the City of Ojai.

Images courtesy of respective companies, images of MOB Shop and Bart’s Books by Julie Wolfson