Getting the Skinny on the Oaks at Ojai

The Oaks at Ojai is a favorite weekend hideaway for SoCal residents By: Deborah Dimond
One of the many suites at the Oaks at Ojai // (c) 2011 Oaks at Ojai
One of the many suites at the Oaks at Ojai // (c) 2011 Oaks at Ojai

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The Oaks at Ojai

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Sheila Cluff is celebrating her 75th birthday at the property. // (c) 2011 Oaks at Ojai

Sheila Cluff is celebrating her 75th birthday at the property. // (c) 2011 Oaks at Ojai

Who doesn’t want to shed a couple of extra pounds, right?

That was my first thought as I booked a three-day weekend at the Oaks at Ojai. The family-owned destination spa is located in the heart of Ojai, Calif., a favorite weekend hideaway for Southern Californian residents, and fitness is a theme on the property. The owner of the spa, Sheila Cluff, is called the “Grandmother of Aerobics” by visitors, and it’s easy to see why. The pale-haired energetic founder of property is still going strong and celebrating her 75th birthday this month. I had the pleasure of meeting her, listening to her powerful life story and participating in an activity-packed weekend at the Oaks during my recent visit.

The picturesque town of Ojai is a magnet for golfers and the antiquing set and is located just a 90 minute-drive from Los Angeles International Airport. Visitors will be charmed by Ojai’s downtown village comprised of quaint shops built in an iconic California Spanish Colonial style.

The Oaks at Ojai is located in the heart of the village, right off of the town’s main thoroughfare. The property consists of a central lobby building, which houses the dining hall, an old ball room turned workout room and a spa. The guestrooms are a smaller subset of interlocking bungalows strung together by a lazy labyrinth of winding paths set in a garden landscape that is a blend of citrus plants and succulents surrounding the property’s turquoise pool.

During my visit, I stayed in one of the recently remodeled suites. Staying true to the Spanish-style façade, the room was laden with tapestry drapes, large, carved-wood furniture and thick terra-cotta tiles. The large bathroom had a separate, vintage-tiled shower and bath. The whirlpool bathtub featured multiple jets and recessed LED colored lights for chromatharapy. Suites also include small private patios with lounge chairs and babbling water fountains.

The full Oaks experience lies beyond the guestroom, however. During a day on the property, clients will enjoy a set menu and can choose from 16 fitness classes and full use of the properties facilities: the pool, free weights, standard exercise equipment and the spa sanctuary. The spa includes a private whirlpool, sauna and eucalyptus steam room. The Oaks has modest spa facilities and offers a wide assortment of treatments, but guests should be aware that spa appointments can not be booked in advance and must be made the day of the appointment — perhaps an incentive to rise early.

The Oaks at Ojai offers a wide range of classes and hikes for a variety of fitness levels. During my stay I participated in yoga, fitness ball and my first ever water aerobics class. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I (in my early 30s) was well worn out after the water aerobics class that was heavily populated by the 60-something set. All of the Oaks classes are designed to allow participants to work at their own level, making the experience both comfortable and challenging.

All the exercise definitely builds up an appetite, and meals at the Oak’s are built off of a carefully planed 1,000-calorie-a-day menu. The main meals are served in the property dining hall and are supplemented with snack breaks throughout the day. The resort does not serve alcohol of any kind, which can be a bit of a let down to those who like to have a glass of wine with dinner. They also have a policy of no sugar or salt used in the preparation of their meals. It takes a little getting used to, but I did come to enjoy the resort’s signature salt-free seasoning and agave nectar used instead of a packaged sweetener in my ice tea. For clients who are curious about what a daily menu would look like, it is as follows:

• Breakfast: Freshly baked muffin, fresh fruit (200 calories)
• Mid-Morning Snack: High-potassium vegetable broth (15 calories)
• Lunch: Split pea soup (50 calories); mushroom barley burger with mozzarella and a Waldorf salad (250 calories); fresh fruit sundae (50 calories)
• Mid-Afternoon Beverage Break: Assorted smoothies (50 calories)
• Late-Afternoon Snack: Assorted raw vegetables and dips (20 calories)
• Dinner: Ensalada (50 calories); chicken enchilada (165 calories); Mexican rice and chayote squash (85 calories); fitness flan (50 calories)
• Evening Snack: Popcorn (25+ calories)

The Oaks at Ojai caters very well to a specific clientele, with return rates that are well over the 50 percent. However, this is not a retreat for hardcore fitness snobs. You will find the majority of guests are very down to earth and friendly women over the age of 50. Many of the Oak’s guests travel alone and participate in room sharing, so most guests seemed happy to strike up a conversation in a class or over one of the daily meals.  

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