By Keith Kennedy
Like many New Yorkers who travel to Los Angeles for business, I frequently extend my visits through the weekend for a little fun in La-La land. Whether staying on the beach in Santa Monica or in the heart of Beverly Hills, these extended stays usually include some combination of wining, dining, seeing friends and celeb spotting.
On my last visit, though, I decided it was time to leave the TMZ (the 30-mile zone surrounding Hollywood to you entertainment neophytes), and venture out into the country for a more pastoral experience.
I had to look no further than Ojai, found in the scenic Ojai Valley, a Berkshire-esque destination an hour and a half north of Los Angeles. Located in Ventura County a half-hour from Santa Barbara, the hamlet is nestled snugly between the Sulfur and Topa Topa mountain ranges.
With a bounty of outdoor activities, holistic experiences, and a thriving arts scene, Ojai is the perfect antidote to the sometimes vacuous vibe of Los Angeles.
The natural beauty of the Ojai Valley and the surrounding mountaintops which acquire a pinkish hue at sunset, known locally as the “Pink Moment,” provide the perfect backdrop to a host of outdoor activities. Some of the most incredible hiking, horseback riding, cycling, fishing and golf that California has to offer can be found here, in a setting of lush landscapes, sprawling orchards, and year-round perfect weather.
This scenic setting has likely provided the inspiration for the many artists whose works can be found in the galleries which dot both Montgomery and East Ojai avenues in Ojai. Many of these artists who live, work and show in the area are rightfully drawn to the natural beauty and vibrant art community that exist here. Whether it is in the form of an oil painting, sculpture, jewelry, glasswork or eclectic art, there are abundant opportunities for visitors to collect original works or just admire them close up.
Ojai is also home to many spas, yoga studios and holistic health practices, which have helped make Ojai a top destination for those seeking a mind, body and spirit experience.
You’ll need a home base for exploring Ojai, of course, and the historic Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, frequently at the top of many “Top 10” lists for spas and getaways, should be first choice.
The Ojai Valley Inn, fresh off a two-year, $90 million renovation, serves as the centerpiece of the Ojai Valley, with its renowned golf course, an 800-acre ranch for horseback riding, and of course, the Spa Ojai.
The 31,000-square-foot Spa Ojai offers a mind boggling array of treatments and classes, all in a serene environment, with an experienced staff of masseuses, yoga teachers and fitness instructors.
The classic Par 72 golf course, originally built in 1923 and completely renovated in 1988, has challenged both presidents and celebrities alike. A full staff of PGA professionals will help up your game, and a top selection of rental clubs will keep you from having to lug your sticks cross-country.
For horse lovers, the ranch is nirvana. On an afternoon trail ride, our guide Marie pointed out the interesting flora and fauna that thrive here, while our steadfast trail horses, Wyatt and Sunshine, provided us with the original four-wheel experience.
What Ojai Valley Inn doesn’t have, they can arrange for you. This includes guided fishing trips to Lake Casitas, home to some of the biggest largemouth bass in the U.S. Mark Mitrani, the top guide in the area who runs Ojai Angler Services – and who also happens to be under exclusive contract to the Inn – took me out for a morning on the lake. On a day when most other boats around us seemed to be coming up empty, Mark was able to put me into several serious fish. No record breakers, but maybe next time.
Since fishing was “catch and release,” it means I wasn’t bringing home dinner, but luckily, a range of informal to formal dining choices at the Inn allowed me to cheer on the Giants at Jimmy’s Pub, and then, experience top-notch cuisine later in the evening at Maravilla.
Maravilla uses many local and regional ingredients in its innovative cooking, and when paired with a California Chardonnay or a Rhone blend from their award-winning wine cellar, one can see and taste why the restaurant has attracted so much praise.
The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa delivered as promised in many ways, from sheer beauty, charm, activities, comfort and cuisine. At the same time, the Ojai Valley left me feeling at peace, invigorated and cleansed, ready to head back to the big city, but with a full tank of tranquility to last me until the next time I need a break from city life.