We recently took a weekend trip to Ojai, CA, so we wanted to share our top things to do in Ojai, as well as lodging and restaurant recommendations.
Ojai is a small community of fewer than 8,000 people and only covers an area of 10 miles by 3 miles. Being small doesn’t hold Ojai back though. It’s full of character and beauty and is very easy to explore, especially in a weekend. Located in Ventura County, it’s within an hour and a half’s drive from Los Angeles. It’s also not far from the beautiful coastal town of Santa Barbara.
It’s also a great base if you’re looking to explore the Channel Islands National Park. For more on the Channel Islands, check out our kayaking trip video from June 2017.
Ojai Valley is full of small family owned establishments, including art galleries, design shops, boutiques, wineries, orange groves and olive oil farms. The name Ojai comes from the Native American word meaning “nest”. It really does have a magical feel to the place, and we did feel like we had found our very own nest for the weekend.
If you happen to be in the LA area or even visiting, Ojai might be a great place to go to escape the city and relax. In fact, I had heard of Ojai for years, but never went until just a few weekends ago. It was nice finally getting a chance to see it.
Where we stayed
In terms of lodging, we stayed at the Su Nido Inn, which is branded as “Your Nest in Ojai”. The Inn has a Spanish style architecture and is located in the heart of downtown, on a quiet street a couple of blocks from downtown Ojai.
The theme of birds runs throughout the inn. Our suite was named “Blue Jay” and had small touches around the place in keeping with the theme.
We felt at home in our little “nest” and were provided with complimentary juices, water, and snacks, along with luxurious Molten Brown toiletries.
Things to do in Ojai
In terms of things to do, below are our top picks:
1. Biking around Ojai:
The Su Nido Inn offered free bike rentals, so we were excited to take advantage of this service during our stay.
Biking around Ojai is easy. The Ventura River Trail is a safe option for cyclists and runs right through Downtown Ojai. It is easily accessible from many of the side streets.
The trail is paved most of the way and is around 17 miles long. We ended up covering eight miles of the trail before turning back. Though we enjoyed the views of rolling hills, the valley, and the neighborhoods surrounding Ojai. The trail is labeled every 0.5 miles or so, and it’s basically impossible to get lost.
The farther away from downtown we got, the more peaceful (and quiet) the trail became. If you decide to try it out, we recommend going the “extra mile”. Also, the trail has a starting point off the main street, but it’s unpaved and rocky. We suggest catching the trail behind Libbey Bowl, which is the main performance venue in Ojai and a big attraction during the popular music festivals.
If your hotel doesn’t have bikes to borrow, there are several stores around town that offer day rentals.
2. Bart’s Books:
The first stop on our bike tour was Bart’s Books, a local bookstore that’s on a residential street a couple of blocks from Ojai’s main road. This is a must-see spot in Ojai and is known as the “world’s greatest outdoor bookshop”. It’s the largest of its kind in the whole of the US and is a unique experience. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bookstore like it!
The store was opened in 1964 and was started as an informal setup. According to their website, Bart’s Books founder, Richard Bartinsdale, would set up bookcases with his huge collection of books and use empty coffee cans as cash registers. Local customers would browse the books and leave payment via the trustworthy honor system.
Things have progressed a lot since then, and it’s now a popular attraction with thousands of books that attracts book lovers from around the globe. In addition to having books out in the open, it also has themed rooms. This includes a kitchen full of cooking and nutrition books and a study with hundreds of travel books. This makes it a very interesting place to explore. And for you “Game of Thrones” fans, they even have a first edition copy of the book!
Being an outdoor bookstore, I had to ask, “what happens when it rains?” The clerk explained that heavy rain and wind is not common in the Ojai Valley. This is due to the geography of the valley. I noticed that the wind was isolated to higher altitudes as well when I flew my drone in Ojai. I received a strong wind warning when I went above 300 feet but didn’t feel anything on the ground. This natural situation makes it an ideal place for an outdoor book shop.
3. Ojai Olive Oil Company:
A short drive north of Downtown Ojai is the Ojai Olive Oil Company, where you can get a free olive oil tour. Tours and tastings are offered on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and the farm is open to drop-ins between the hours of 10 am to 4 pm. It’s also open seven days a week. Though the free tour is only available during these hours.
We didn’t have a reservation and showed up at the farm for a mid-afternoon tour. The tour took around 30 minutes and started with an overview of the history of olive trees, olive oil, and some background on the farm.
We were then guided into the mill to learn about the production of the oil. After that, we were led into the tasting room for unlimited samples of their many olive oils. We enjoyed the tour and appreciated that there wasn’t a big sales push at the end. The staff were really informative and friendly.
It’s easy to spend a morning wandering through the streets of Ojai, which are lined with unique boutiques, eateries and hidden gems, like Bart’s Books.
Where to eat
While there are several places to eat, we visited a few places during the weekend that we would definitely recommend and love to revisit.
Knead Baking Company:
The Knead Baking Company was our top choice for breakfast. We enjoyed freshly baked bagels and their daily quiche option. There’s a nice patio with an informal atmosphere and even a bike rack for cyclists. Breakfast and lunch are served from 8 am to 2 pm daily.
Azu is a Mediterranean style tapas place which offers a selection of delicious small places made with fresh ingredients from local farmers. They also offer a good selection of wines and local beers, including a few from their sister company, the Ojai Valley Brewery.
Where to get drinks (and coffee)
Tipple & Ramble:
Tipple & Ramble was one of the highlights of our stay in Ojai. It’s a great wine bar with an awesome patio. The patio is a perfect spot to enjoy drinks at the sunset hour. The staff was very friendly and gave generous pours. The bar also has a nice gift shop full of Ojai souvenirs and local arts and crafts.
Ojai Beverage Company:
We were given free tasting vouchers from our hotel for the Ojai Beverage Company so we decided to give the place a try. It has an informal atmosphere and more of a lively crowd than other restaurants in the area. The selection of drinks is huge, and they have a solid menu of burgers and appetizers. This was a good place to catch a quick and easy meal after a day of cycling around Ojai!
Ojai Coffee Company:
We also stopped at Ojai Coffee Company on our way out of town for a quick coffee and breakfast. It’s a nice coffee shop in downtown Ojai with excellent coffee. The service was a little slow when we visited, so we wouldn’t recommend coming here if you’re in a rush. Though the coffee was worth the wait!
Have you been to Ojai? If so, do you have any favorite spots? Please share your experience in the comment section below.