EAT. PLAY. LOVE.
By Mayleen Ramey
Ojai is a hidden gem, tucked into the Ojai Valley, 80 miles north of Los Angeles and 15 miles inland from the coast. Serene mountainscapes and award-winning hospitality, coupled with a rustic, small town charm, make Ojai a perfect retreat from reality. Though it's a lovely road trip and quick escape from LA, most travelers overlook Ojai and visit the nearby coastal town of Santa Barbara or Santa Ynez wine country. In fact, while attending UCSB, I never once ventured here! It took me about a decade of living in Los Angeles to make my first trip to Ojai, which left an unforgettable impression.
The vibe is similar to Topanga, California, a tiny artist's enclave, set in the winding canyons north of Santa Monica. It also reminds me of the parts of Malibu that have more horse ranchers than surfers. There's a reverence for the arts and nature, plus a love of holistic health and spiritual wellness. What Topanga lacks that Ojai offers in abundance is physical space. The miles of mountains and valleys , creeks and rivers, which created life here, provide a beautiful backdrop with endless wonders to discover.
Stay & Play: Ojai Valley Inn
There are dozens of boutique hotels, adorable inns & AirBnbs, but only one five-star resort: the Ojai Valley Inn. This is my favorite place to stay, with its panoramic golf course vistas, tennis & pickleball courts (recognized as a Top 50 tennis resort by Tennis Magazine), and the most picturesque picnic spot. Honored by both Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure as one of the best hotels in the world, this property’s 220 acres are so expansive and pristine that you may never want to leave.
For a more budget-friendly option, I recommend the Blue Iguana Inn, an adorable boutique hotel just down the road. With only 14 rooms, a charming little pool and garden area, staying here feels like you're a guest at someone's Spanish-style villa. They also have bike rentals on the property and the bike path right across the street.
On or Off the Beaten Path
Ojai is one of the most bike-friendly places I’ve visited in California, with a 9-mile long trail that winds through the countryside and cute, little town. The path, the Ojai Valley Trail, is separate from the road, very safe and scenic. You can even continue all the way to Ventura Beach, which would make for a 30-mile roundtrip ride. If you’re able to venture off-road and into the valleys, you’ll truly experience Ojai’s natural beauty, with its sacred history dating back thousands of years to the Chumash Indians.
A Tennis Town
Ojai also has a rich and celebrated tennis history! It’s home to the Ojai Tennis Tournament, the oldest and largest amateur tournament in the US held in one location. It was founded in 1896 and is played till this day, every last weekend in April. With over 1000 participants, playing on about 100 tennis courts spread all over Ojai, the sleepy village becomes a buzzing city of tennis racquet-toting tourists. The main part of the tournament is held at Libbey Park, with its eight public courts in the middle of downtown. If visiting Ojai outside of the tournament dates, this is a great place for a hit.
Downtown Ojai’s main strip may only be about two blocks long, but surprisingly offers all types of cuisines. After a bike ride, I was starving for a midday snack and stumbled upon Yume Japanese Burger Cafe. From Karaage chicken and Wagyu burgers to mochi waffle sundaes, Yume has all the Japanese American fusion faves.
For dinner, I joined friends for a feast at the Dutchess, a farm-to-table restaurant, serving an unexpected combination of flavors and aesthetics. The decor is inviting and warm, a rustic farmhouse feel with a vibrant bar and bakery in the front, opening up to a large indoor and outdoor dining space, plus a pool table in the back. Having never been or even looked at the menu before arriving, I showed up to a remarkable display of exotic Indian and Burmese dishes, sprawled across our large wooden dining table. All freshly-made and locally-sourced, the naan, curries, masalas and whole-fried rock cod were all delicious!
Special Treats at Ojai Valley Inn
For an evening of fine wining & dining, I recommend Olivella, the culinary star of the Ojai Valley Inn. Celebrating local ingredients and California cuisine, Chef Andrew Foskey has created a refined menu with Italian inspiration, highlighted by an award-winning wine program.
For a simple, yet yummy lunch on the run, my go-to is Libbey's Market to pick up ready-made sandwiches and salads for a picnic. The best spot is just steps from the market, under a shady tree, overlooking the immaculate golf course and Topa Topa mountains. I could spend hours sitting here, taking in the majestic view, wishing I never had to leave.
EAT. PLAY. LOVE.
A Travel Guide for Tennis-Lovers & Foodies
A GlobeHAPA Production
▪️ Ojai Valley Inn: @ojaivalleyinn
▪️ Blue Iguana Inn: @iguanainnsofojai
▪️ Olivella @ojaivalleyinn
▪️ The Dutchess @thedutchessojai
▪️ Yume Japanese Burger Cafe @yumejapaneseburger
For more in-depth Ojai recommendations of where to stay & play, check out my City Guide (coming soon)!