Ojai: A Cheap & Chic California Weekend Getaway

by  Kristine Hansen | Apr 20, 2015

Wedged between the expensive seashore city of Santa Barbara and the beach cities of Los Angeles County, Ojai is in the perfect spot for a budget-friendly getaway. This laid-back town of 7,500 people boasts charming bed-and-breakfasts, spas, eclectic boutiques, farm-to-fork eateries, and outdoor adventures. It’s not uncommon to pass a shop touting palm or tarot-card readings, and a yoga class is always an easy find. Fly into LAX, and even with LA's worst traffic, you can be there in less than two hours. Here's the perfect plan for your Ojai getaway.

Where to Stay
To slash hotel costs, visit Ojai during the week. Many Los Angelenos trek here for a peaceful weekend getaway, which drives lodging prices up. Ojai Rancho Inn ($119-plus per night) carries a mid-century vibe and boasts a pool. Come nightfall, DJs spin vinyl at Chief Peak, the inn’s hip bar, which serves organic sake and local wines.

Charming and historic, Lavender Inn (from $145 per night), is situated in the heart of downtown with splendid gardens, where you can arrange a meditation class for $15. Guests receive complimentary breakfast and WiFi access daily. There's also a spa, and the inn hosts cooking classes through Ojai Culinary School. Or, at the 45-room Casa Ojai, rooms start at $129 per night, and bicycles are available to rent for $25 a day.

For a smart splurge, we love the 13-room Emerald Iguana. Its owners scour the globe for furnishings to decorate adobe-style buildings, and there's an outdoor pool, too. Rates this spring and summer start at $169 and include continental breakfast and WiFi.

Where to Eat
You really can’t go wrong with any meal in Ojai. Most chefs cull the local landscape for farm-fresh finds, whether it be pixie tangerines (in season through June) or herbs. Deer Lodge is the current hotspot with taxidermy decor and farm-to-table fare served in the shell of a gas station. Tune into nightly live music at this former biker bar -- reimagined after changing hands in 2013 -- while biting into a chopped kale salad ($12) or sampling bar bites ($6-$12) like Deer Lodge wings slathered with creamy habanero chili sauce.

Start your first full day in Ojai at Knead Baking Company, run by a mother-daughter duo who got their start selling fresh-baked breads at Ojai’s farmers markets. The build-your-own breakfast sandwiches ($7.25-$11.25) can be made with seeded bagels and paired with drinks in Mason jars -- a morning meal best enjoyed in the courtyard. NoSo Vita, a new addition to the culinary scene here, dishes up indulgent but health-minded breakfasts. Think: quinoa with vanilla-lavender butter ($5) and Croque Monsieur croissants ($12). The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, too, with plenty of sunny outdoor seating.

Another popular eatery is Boccali’s, a family-owned restaurant featuring heirloom recipes from Italy dating back to the late 1800s. The famed strawberry shortcake here is made fresh daily with Ventura County berries, and most everything is sourced from the family’s farm. Entrees here will run you between $9.95 and $17.95. The owners also dabble in winemaking -- six of the Boccali Vineyards & Winery wines are poured at the restaurant.

Where to Play
Downtown Ojai spans a manageable five or six blocks, but there's plenty packed into that modest stretch. A leisurely stroll here yields unique stores like Made in Ojai -- where all pottery, jewelry, books, and more come from the local community -- and  Bart’s Books, an Ojai institution since the 1960s where books are hawked in an outdoor space, including $.50 used hardcovers. If you love fair trade or eco-friendly art, be sure not to miss Nutmeg’s Ojai House. And on Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Ojai Farmers Market is in downtown with vegetables and fruits, raw chocolate, locally caught fish, cooking oils, and more.

Outdoor recreation is plentiful in Ojai, and you don’t have to travel far to the trailhead. For views of Ojai Valley, the 3.6-mile Cozy Dell Trail -- a 15-minute drive from Ojai -- in Los Padres National Forest is a must.

If you're into wine, take a breather at Ojai Vineyard’s tasting room, tucked into an historic farmhouse in downtown Ojai. Founder Adam Tolmach has been making wines since the early 1980s, but the tasting room debuted in 2010. A flight of six wines is $15. Two other tasting rooms are just outside of town in Ventura, at Old Creek Ranch Winery and Vino V Wines, sharing the same space.

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