Ojai: An Affordable, Rejuvenating Roadtrip from Los Angeles

by  Will McGough | Apr 15, 2014
Ojai / Kristin Baalman/iStock

Often lost in the shadow of coastal spots like Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and Los Angeles, the inland orchard town of Ojai is a remote hideaway popular with spa-happy travelers with their hearts set on real R&R. The name means "Valley of the Moon" in the Ventureno Native American language, and the land is considered by many to have powerful healing properties. Despite the small-town feel, the experience of staying there doesn’t necessarily come at a discount, partially because it's become a favorite among Hollywood stars. Here are a few ways to experience Ojai without breaking the bank:

Visit the Meditation Mount: As a result of Ojai's supposed curative powers, the town has many spas and relaxation retreats, but those will cost you. To center yourself without splurging, make some time to visit the Meditation Mount overlooking the citrus-covered valley. Donation-based meditations are held Wednesday through Sunday from 8:30-9:00 a.m., and the International Garden of Peace is a nice place to stroll, or enjoy a picnic. (Note: Meditation Mount is closed Monday and Tuesday.)

Camp on the cheap: Ojai’s natural beauty and proximity to the Los Padres National Forest has made it ground zero for wellness-themed hotels and inns, but camping is a great way to commune with nature, while also saving a few hundred bucks. Campgrounds are available for as low as $20 per night at places like Dennison Park. If you want to be closer to the action downtown, Camp Comfort costs $40 per night. Wheeler Gorge ($23 per night) and Foster Park ($20 per night) are also solid options if you want to be further away from civilization.

Stargaze at Lake Casitas: A visit to Lake Casitas is a must for the chance to hike, bike, fish, or play disc golf by its shores, but don’t rule out a nighttime visit either.  The lake’s position in the valley means that light pollution is kept to a minimum, making it a great spot to stargaze, camp, or visit for a night hike. Time your visit right, and you can even attend a free stargazing session hosted by a NASA-accredited astronomer. Talks will be held once per month this spring and summer.

Hike for a Bird’s Eye View:  Getting a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling citrus orchards will help you appreciate the reality of working life in Ojai Valley. Numerous hiking trails offer a fantastic 360 degree panorama, including the Pratt Trail (10.6 miles round-trip) and Cozy Dell Trail (3 miles round-trip). The Matilija Canyon Trail (8.4 miles round-trip) takes you across creeks to a waterfall, and the Rose Valley Falls trail (1 mile round-trip) leads to a 300-foot waterfall.

(Tip: if you don’t feel like walking, you can explore the natural world via a Jeep tour of the hillsides, and if you visit before April 30th, you can get a special discount of $399 for a six-person tour with Cloud Climber Jeeps. To claim the deal, reserve by calling 805-646-3200. As an alternative, simply drive to the top of aforementioned Meditation Mount.)

Eat Pixies: While many Californians have probably never been to Ojai, the mention of the town’s most famous product, the Ojai Pixie, will certainly ring some bells. Known well and available at farmer’s markets throughout the central coast, Ojai is the world’s only producer of this small tangerine. And it might as well be a piece of candy thanks to its low-acidity, lack of seeds, and easily-detached peel.  Pixies are available each year from late March through early June, and you can take a tour of the sweet-smelling orchards at Friend’s Ranch on Saturday mornings for $12. Those who visit during April can help the town celebrate Pixie month, when restaurants serve Pixie-inspired cocktails and meals. If you show up out of Pixie season, head on over to the olive tree groves and taste local olive oil at Ojai Olive Oil Company and Regalo Olive Oil.

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