A Year in Ojai

It’s hard to remember now how I stumbled upon Ojai – but that’s exactly what this small town feels like: a hidden gem nestled just inland off California’s central coast. Head an hour and a half north out of LA, veer off just south of Santa Barbara, and wind through shadowy mountains and shady oaks to find the town of Ojai, which offers plenty to do year-round.

It’s got the bountiful agriculture of places like Napa and Monterey, the New Age-y vibe of Sedona, and a small-town feel that offers a respite from Los Angeles while still being chock full of world class dining, hotels and boutiques.

I can’t go more than a few months without paying a visit to Ojai, so I figured it was time to put together my master guide of how to best experience this magical town, no matter the season.

Bart's Books / Summer Camp / Cattywampus Crats
Bart’s Books / Summer Camp / Cattywampus Crats

Shop

  • Summer Camp: This is always my first stop on the way into Ojai, and easily one of my favorite shops in town. The impeccably curated displays of rugs, ceramics, jewelry, art and more are such a visual feast, and locally made prints and clothing make for the best souvenirs from Ojai.
  • Ojai House: Ojai is a place I go to recharge my soul, and Ojai House is basically a one-stop shop for that, whether you want to stock up on an eye-popping array of crystals, candles, incense, or to pop in for a tarot or astrology chart reading from one of the shop’s spiritual advisers. Even if you don’t subscribe to any of that, the Ojai House’s staff is incredibly kind, and we could all use a little magic in our lives, right?
  • Cattywampus Crafts: You don’t have to be a knitter or crocheter to appreciate the beauty of Cattywampus Crafts: whole rainbows of yarn knit into chunky sweaters, throws, socks and more, plus books, jewelry and home goods organized by color. It’s the perfect place to window shop, buy, or browse for inspiration – with a cup of coffee from the adjoining Beacon cafe in hand.
  • Bart’s Books: If you shop anywhere in Ojai, it has to be Bart’s Books, an outdoor bookstore comprised of an eclectic labyrinth of mostly used books. If you know what you’re looking for, there are plenty of deals to be had on books in nearly-new condition – or, you can easily spend an entire afternoon perusing the shelves and maybe find a new favorite author in the process.
Summer Camp / Ojai House / Caravan Outpost
  • Bookends: Ojai’s other literary treasure trove is Bookends, an eclectic collection of books on spirituality, religion, philosophy, and poetry tucked inside the white clapboard of an old, steepled church. Hidden within the bookshelves are also “curiosities” including vintage telephones, first edition poetry collections, and a curio of vaseline glass, which glows neon green under black lights. The property also holds an Airstream trailer full of even more books, and both the shopkeeper and groundskeeper will regale you with both literary history and of the town of Ojai.
  • Pixie’s: Another must-visit for beautifully-curated local wares (especially if you have kids/kids in your life!)
Ojai Rancho Inn

Eat & Drink

  • The Nest: Easily my favorite place to eat in Ojai. This is California casual cuisine that doesn’t skimp on flavor or substance. Grab the ahi poke, perfectly crisp French fries, homemade brownie with coffee ice cream, or a glass of wine (or all of the above!) and chow down on the outdoor patio that offers a stellar view of the stunning mountains crowning Ojai.
  • Bonnie Lu’s Cafe: For a hearty breakfast accompanied by live music in a retro diner setting, look no further than Bonnie Lu’s. The portions are hearty and cheap, and the waitstaff will make you feel like a local.
  • The Farmer and the Cook: This vegetarian, farm-to-table Mexican fare is Ojai personified. Stop in for a plate of raw tacos or pop by the smoothie bar to fuel up for your exploring.
  • Topa Topa Brewing Company: Based down the road in Ventura, the Ojai location of Topa Topa Brewing Co. is one of a few breweries in town, a great place to unwind after a day of exploring the town, especially if you’re partial to lagers and IPAs.
  • Beacon Coffee: My go-to pit-stop for caffeine in town, Beacon Coffee is located adjacent to Cattywampus Crafts and offers coffees, teas, fresh pastries, and plentiful seating with a community coffeehouse vibe.
  • Topa Mountain Winery: The Ojai Valley may not be as well known for its wine as Napa, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Stop in to the Topa Mountain Winery for a generous well-balanced tasting flight of wines that you can sip out in the gorgeous vineyard on the property.
Topa Mountain Winery / Ojai Farmer’s Market

Do:

  • Caravan Outpost: This Airstream “campground” is likely the fanciest trailer park you’ll ever see, with the sleek vintage trailers, hammock sitting areas and succulent gardens perfectly curated for a ready-made Instagram op. Sadly, I have yet to stay here, but it’s absolutely worth a visit even if you’re not a guest, both for the photo ops and the gorgeous shop that perfectly embodies the easy, breezy Ojai vibe.
  • Ojai Farmer’s Market: Ojai’s lush farmer’s market is held year-round on Sundays in the center of town. Along with seasonal produce, stop in for local artisan wares including lavender, soaps, lotions, and more.
  • Rancho Ojai Inn: The Rancho Ojai Inn is another place that I’ve always dreamed about being a guest of. Guest or not, you can pop into the inn’s pool house slash bar for a glass of wine or cocktail. If the weather’s nice, kick up your feet on a hammock out in the backyard, taking in the sun setting over the mountains. On select nights, you can even catch a movie screening or live music there.
Caravan Outpost

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to explore this special town for yourself. Until next time, Ojai.

Summer in Los Angeles

I’ve seen quite a few summers in Los Angeles at this point, so this year I decided to try getting off the beaten path to check out some restaurants, bars and experiences that might be hidden gems for a lot of people, and offer a different perspective on a city that never ceases to surprise me.

So here are a few of the most interesting experiences I got to have this summer (and you can see a whole video about them below, too!)

  • Shakespeare in the Park

I had no idea that Los Angeles had its own Shakespeare in the park production (as I’ve since learned, there’s more than one!) , so I was really excited to discover that the Independent Shakespeare Company puts on shows almost every night during the summer. This year’s plays were Pericles and Twelfth Night; we saw the latter, and it was delightful and funny and a great way to spend a Friday night. The plays are free (but be sure to get there early for the best seating and parking!), and you can bring your blanket, food and wine (discretely!) for a pretty magical night of Shakespeare under the stars.

  • Dine LA

Dine LA happens twice a year across the city, during which participating restaurants offer a set menu (usually an appetizer, entree and dessert) for a fixed price at lunch and dinner. I got to do Dine LA twice this summer, and each time was reminded of how nice it is to splurge on a menu – and venue – that I wouldn’t normally. Viviane in Beverly Hills offered an all-vegetarian menu including corn fritters and mushroom risotto that was to die for, all served poolside.

Mrs. Fish in Downtown LA felt like dining underwater – the whole restaurant is basically designed around a giant aquarium – and the sushi tastes just as fresh. The whole menu is an array of unexpected flavors and pairings, including the cocktails: the Kiri is a whiskey-based cherry drink served under a glass dome of smoke (it’s really hard to explain so watch the video! Just know that it smells like a campfire and was delicious.)

  • High Tide

High Tide has been on my list since it opened months ago, but I only just recently had the chance to attend for a college alumni mixer. It’s hot pink and highly-Instagrammable, but easily the coolest part is the glass-blowing that happens right out on the patio.

Speaking of Instagrammable, here are a few more of my favorite restaurants, bars and coffee shops that didn’t make the video:

  • Barnsdall Art Park

Aside from Griffith Park, most public green spaces in LA tend to be hidden gems, and Barnsdall is the epitome of this. It’s tucked away up on a hill off Sunset Boulevard, and offers a laidback place to eat and drink with friends (or pack a book for a solo picnic) as well as an art gallery, the Hollyhock House – which also offers wine tastings on Friday nights during the summer – and a panoramic view of the Hollywood sign and city below.

  • Echo Park Lotus Festival

This is my third (!) summer living in Echo Park, and I’ve made a bit of a tradition out of attending the annual Lotus Festival each July. It’s timed to celebrate the lotuses blooming on the lake, and this year attendees could make paper lanterns to float out on the water, too.

  • Outdoor movies

This is more of a general recommendation, but it definitely doesn’t feel like the official start of summer in LA until I’ve been to an outdoor movie. There are a variety of companies that host these events throughout the city – Eat, See, Hear; Street Food Cinema, and of course the famed Cinespia in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Check out the video below to see more of these places!