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Ojai is finally having its moment. About an hour and a half away from Los Angeles and 30 minutes east of Santa Barbara, the small town tucked away in the beautiful Ojai Valley is winning over guests with its healing, natural surroundings, farm-fresh food, Native American heritage and vibrant backbone of local artists.
EatDelicious hippie fare abounds in Ojai, and the health conscious have many options, from the restaurant at Oaks at Ojai to the local Rainbow Bridge health-food market.
But no other dining venue has the same sense of place as Deer Lodge. The 82-year-old Ojai institution was formerly a biker bar but now serves craft cocktails alongside an only-in-Ojai menu of hearty meat dishes and flavorful vegetarian fare. The best part is the lodge atmosphere, complete with a cozy fireplace and a large stage area featuring local live talent.
It feels small-town, but its appeal is big time. Actor Bill Paxton was dining right next to us, a reminder of Ojai’s special connection with both resident and visiting artists.
PlayWeekend warriors who want to tackle Ojai’s best activities over the course of an afternoon will appreciate Cloud Climbers Jeep & Wine Tours. Our guide customized our day for us, skipping places we had already been, indulging our questions about Ojai Valley and letting us savor our extensive wine tasting at Old Creek Ranch Winery, where we chatted with winemaker Michael Meagher. Unlike other guided tours, the pacing was leisurely, and we felt like friends making rounds.
Request guide Greg Bressani, who is also a found-objects sculptor and can take groups to his studio — which he shares with master potter Larry Carnes, whose palm-sized Chumash Stones allude to local Native American lore.
Pass this on: Greg usually carries around his flute — if guests seem interested, he might treat them to a private live outdoor show as they take in the colors and sounds of the valley.
SleepHipsters will like the Ace-like Ojai Rancho Inn, and golfers and families will find all they need at the luxe Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, but the Emerald Iguana Inn is where visitors will feel like locals. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood that’s within convenient walking distance from Ojai’s Arcade Plaza of shops and restaurants, the property’s 14 cottages and guestrooms peek out from beneath the surrounding lush foliage, adding to the Iguana’s peaceful and romantic ambiance.
For groups of up to six, suggest the two-bedroom Lilypad suite, which manages to be both spacious and cozy with its own garden courtyard, local in-room artwork, wood furniture and a spiral staircase that leads to a lofted king bed.