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Sespe Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest.
Photograph: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons Sespe Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest.

The best things to do in Ojai

The best things to do in Ojai, from hikes and bike rides to lounging by a pool

By Kate Wertheimer

The cozy, pastoral town of Ojai is a beautiful bet for those looking to get away from LA or explore California, with a unique mix of old-school, hippie healers and artists and the new-school folks that are working to make that scene hip again, and both an abundance of things to do in Ojai and the surrounding area.

If you like your rural bike rides and rustic biker bars with a side of DJ'ed pool parties and fine dining, this is the spot for you. And oh, the dining! Ojai exists in a small, Mediterranean micro-climate, which means everything grows here, from olives and grapes to an abundance of citrus. Local businesses (there are no non-local businesses, really, save for an out-of-place Jersey Mike's and a few banks) take advantage of this bounty, so meals in Ojai are super fresh and always reflect the season. The wine, too, is locally made and—as a bonus—brought right to you, with tasting rooms dotting the downtown strip and saving you the (sober) drive out to a vineyard. If you're more outdoor-inclined, Ojai makes a great stop before or after a trip to Los Padres National Forest, just north of town.

Best things to do in Ojai

For local wine tasting: Casa Barranca Tasting Room

Things to do

This award-winning certified organic winery was one of the first out in the Central Coast. You don't need a designated driver to visit, however—they have a tasting room right on the main drag in Ojai, where they'll pour flights of their most popular wines (or a la carte tastes, if you want to mix and match) and tell you about the year, the grapes and the process. You can buy bottles to go or stay and drink at the bar. The tasting room also sells souvenir glasses and other wine paraphernalia such as aerators, fancy corkscrews, coasters and the like. If you go, be sure to try the merlot (we swear, it's good) and the big-bodied Arts & Crafts Red.

For alfresco book browsing: Bart's Books

Things to do Literary events

Bart's Books is one of those magical places you'll feel humbled to have stumbled upon. It's a beautiful outdoor bookstore, packed to the gills with an extensive collection of used and new titles from Sci Fi to Self Help. The center of the shop is an old house (with the cookbooks in the kitchen, poetry in the living room, art books in the "gallery," etc.), and the rest of the place is a maze of bookshelves with corrugated tin roofing and open air seating areas for comfy browsing. It's like being in a treehouse made of books—just don't ask them what they do when it rains. Tip: While you're there, pick up the Hip Hiking Guide—written by three generations of Ojai women—for info on the best trails.


For sweet citrus: Friend's Ranch

Things to do

If you've been to an LA farmer's market lately (especially those on the Westside), you've probably seen—or if you're lucky, tried—tasty citrus from Friend's Ranch. The packing house and citrus farm have been around for over 100 years, growing oranges, tangerines, mandarins, blood oranges, tangelos, lemons, grapefruits, avocodos and—last but not least—the fruit Ojai is most well-known for, the Pixie. Seedless, small and super sweet, the Pixie has been made a legendary local snack by Friend's Ranch. Visit the packing house for a tour and try one for yourself—you can also pick up bags of other, equally tasty fruit, as well as fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juice. Walk across the road and down into the actual orchard for a stunning view (and maybe some fresh-picked, sun-warmed citrus... shh!).

For an outdoor adventure: Los Padres National Forest

Things to do

This gigantic National Forest boasts over 1,200 miles of maintained trails and 875,000 acres of congressionally designated wilderness. Its ecosystems range from semi-desert in the interior to redwood forest on the coast, and are home to a wide range of flora and fauna—approximately 468 species of fish and wildlife, including 23 threatened and endagered species. It's one of the best spots to escape from LA for car camping, backpacking, hiking, biking, fishing, you name it. From Ojai, we recommend the Sespe Creek Trail to Willett Hot Springs. Hike 9 miles in to a rewarding hot spring, or continue on for another 6 miles to get to a further spring, Sespe Hot Springs. You can camp along the way, and there are ample swimming holes in springtime—Bear Creek Campground, about 4 miles in, is a popular resting point (or turnaround for day hikers). Just watch for rattlers!


For hip home goods: Modern Folk

Shopping Boutiques

Stop into Modern Folk for a well-curated collection of clothes, jewelry, home goods and little gifties, perfect for any eco- and aesthetically-minded nester. The shopkeepers here are very friendly and helpful, and there's a kind old shop dog eager for pets and treats—you can grab one from the jar of free treats on offer, on the same table as the free local tea samples.

For fresh-pressed olive oil: Ojai Olive Oil Company

Things to do Walks and tours

See (and taste) the benefits of Ojai's unique Mediterranean climate at Ojai Olive Oil Co. The olive grove here was planted back in 1880—in the era of the Missions, when there was a communal olive press in the valley—and has been thriving ever since. The specific varietal produces a robust and peppery oil, which you can taste for yourself (along with flavored oils and vinegars) after a tour of the farm and facilities.


For an art fix: Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts

Things to do Cultural centers

Beatrice Wood was a famous ceramicist in New York City at the turn of the century, known to some as the "mama of Dada." One day, she decided she'd had enough and moved to a ranch in Ojai, where she lived until her death at the age of 102. You can see her work here, as well as local exhibitions and performances; there are also regular classes and workshops, including kid-friendly options and lectures. Note: Stop into the gallery store for a peek at the Beatrice Wood Studio Kiln Gods, originally used as good luck charms to bless the firing of other ceramics, but considered good luck no matter where you put them. Good luck aside, they're also pretty cute.

For Ojai's best celeb: Ojai Valley Taxidermy

Things to do

If you haven't seen award-winning taxidermist Chuck Testa's amazing promotional video yet—well, get with the program. It went viral a while back, and Testa's business has been booming ever since; he's a homegrown local celebrity, and may even get his own reality TV show soon. Even if you're not in the market for a deer head or a stuffed duck, stop by Testa's shop (in an extended garage next to his house) and check out his craft. He's great at what he does and loves visitors: He'll show you what he's working on, tell a few motorcycle stories and pose for as many "nope!" themed pictures as you want. (Alternatively, if you DO need something stuffed, cleaned or mounted, Chuck Testa is the guy to go to. For all his jokes and quirks, he's one of the best taxidermists around.)


For a scenic two-wheeled tour: Ojai Valley bike trail

Things to do

This is one of the best rides we've been on in the area. It's not too challenging, there's lots of shade, and you can complete a one-way leg of the ride in under an hour, which means lots of time for meandering around Ojai (or Ventura, depending on your starting point) before heading back. The views from this ride are stunning: You'll see sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountains, and get a rural feel once the trail breaks away from the railroad tracks and Route 33. Bring lots of water and some cash for lunch, and enjoy!

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