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Field Trip: Ojai

November 22, 2011 9:00 AM

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olive tree

meditation garden Field Trip:  Ojai

Meditation garden at The Day Spa of Ojai (credit: Kim Tracy Prince)


The little town of Ojai – the name comes from the Chumash word for moon – is just 30 minutes northeast of Ventura, which means it’s a no-brainer destination for folks who want a quick getaway from Los Angeles that includes good food, quaint shopping, beautiful scenery, friendly hospitality, and endlessly interesting people-watching. Just a simple brisk walk either in town or up in the hills will invigorate and clear the mind. You’re definitely going to want to bring your camera, your walking shoes, and your tattered city-dweller nerves. The latter will be soothed back into a state of calm after just a few days in this oasis of all things quirky, artsy, and meditative.

Where To Stay

 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Su Nido Inn

301 N. Montgomery Street
Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 646-7080
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The main drag in Ojai is Ojai Ave., and the Su Nido Inn is a convenient 2-block jog to the north on a side street, which means you can walk to and from all those tasty restaurants, and you’re just far enough from the hustle and bustle that you can enjoy the quiet when you’re in your room. All rooms are one or two-bedroom suites laid out around a cobblestone courtyard, at the center of which is a bubbling fountain where hummingbirds and other colorful fowl come to bathe in the late afternoon, right when you are enjoying a pick-me-up cup of coffee from the room’s convenient one-cup coffee maker. A guest book in one suite contains sweet, hand-written, pre-Yelp reviews from honeymooning couples and girlfriends on getaways alike. Su Nido has a stocked DVD library for your entertainment, and you may need it once you realize that Ojai shuts down pretty early.

Where To Eat

 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Suzanne’s Cuisine

502 West Ojai Ave.
Ojai, CA
(805) 640-1961
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Take a stroll back toward the main highway along Ojai Ave, and just outside the center of town you’ll notice a magical little garden entryway. “I wish I could go through that fairytale-like garden and have dinner,” you’ll say to yourself. Luckily, you can. Suzanne’s mostly-organic restaurant is fronted by a lush wall of greenery and local flora. Inside, the dining room is cozy and the menu is a delight to the senses. The specialty is whatever Chef Suzanne Roll concocts from locally grown, seasonal ingredients and the inspired workings of her clever mind. On one such visit, the kitchen offered up butternut squash soup that managed to be delicious without a gallon of cream, perfectly cooked chicken picata with capers over seasonal vegetables, pretty, pretty cocktails, and must-try fruit tart for dessert. The roasted fig with drizzled cream was a seasonal special, one of those magic dishes that comes and goes.

 Field Trip:  Ojai

Beryl Schwartz and Suzanne Coulter (credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Feast Bistro

254 East Ojai Ave.
Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 640-9260
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Located in the landmark “arcade” in downtown Ojai – a long building of storefronts adorned with a seemingly endless facade of Spanish arches – Feast Bistro is the creation of once-Chicago-based Chef Suzanne Coulter, who cheerfully greets you from the open kitchen when you walk in the front door. She and co-owner Beryl Schwartz make the rounds of the regular diners on a Saturday evening after whipping up Cupcake Meatloaf and cooked-to-perfection steaks. The Chocolate Chocolate? Yes, it’s really worth ordering. Feast is open for lunch, dinner, happy hour, and also offers cooking classes.

 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Cafe Emporium

108 S. Montgomery St.
Ojai CA 93023
(805) 646-2723
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Everyone else in town has learned the secret already, so get there early: breakfast is awesome at Cafe’ Emporium, but it’s served around the back. The storefront of this bakery/cafe just south of Ojai Ave. in the middle of everything is small and houses just a bakery and coffee shop, but if you want to sit and enjoy their honey wheat pancakes sprinkled with wheat germ and a pomegranate mimosa, you have to head to the very back and put your name on a long list. Worth it – after an early night of eating and drinking wine in Ojai, you’ll want to head here for a nice big breakfast. After all, you’re going home soon. Or someday. Might as well enjoy it.

 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Bohemia

214 West Ojai Ave.
Ojai, CA 93023
805-640-7210
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No name is more apt for a coffee house in the middle of Ojai than Bohemia, which is a newer establishment from local businessman Mike McCarthy, who wanted to create a space for coffee-lovers, artists, and musicians to enjoy their pleasures. Bohemia’s bakery items are little packages of flaky goodness, and the staff takes great pains to make sure the coffee is very special. Acoustics in the long, narrow space are perfect for small bands or singer/songwriters, and there is a delightful rack of original art for sale at the back.

What To Do

 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

The Day Spa of Ojai

The Day Spa of Ojai
1434 East Ojai Avenue
Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 640-1100
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There are plenty of spas in the Ojai area – some small, some so big you can’t miss ‘em. The Day Spa of Ojai is just right, set back from the street behind a tree line in a pretty old house that you might drive right by if you’re not looking. While you wait for treatment, sip some tea on the big old covered porch out back, or stroll slowly through the yard where there is a sauna created out of a giant barrel, a meditation corner, and plenty of odd little knick-knacks to inspect and ponder. Start with a rose-petal-bedecked foot bath, and then head inside for a 90-minute session: a massage and an algae-mud masque applied to your back and sealed with plastic wrap to draw the toxins out through your skin. No shower allowed immediately afterward – head back to your hotel room for a good long nap and let the oils and algae work their magic. The Day Spa of Ojai sells hand-crafted jewelry, spa wear, candles, and other boutique items that are tastefully displayed throughout the property.

 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Ojai Olive Oil Farm

1325 Carne Road
Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 701-3825
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Ron Asquith was a city-dweller like you, once. Then he bought acres of land in the hills of Ojai, and planted more trees to join the 130-year-old Spanish olive trees that lived there. Now over 2000 trees produce the various types of olives needed for Asquith and family to press their award-winning olive oil…themselves. All of it. Visitors can take a tour of the grove and the pressing room, where Asquith himself will walk you through the various steps and show you the great olive press and the barrels and the bottling machine. Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t have to be aged – although certain varieties of their oils are – so the olives can go from tree to bottle, just like that.

The tasting room, adjacent to the pressing room, is where the real treasure is: you can taste most of what Asquith is selling, and he has the olive oils arranged from mildest to strongest tasting, with the flavored oils in a separate section. Vinegars, soaps, and creams made on site are also for sale. You won’t be able to leave without purchasing a true taste of Ojai to savor when you are back in LA. Purchases can be made online as well.

 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Ojai Farmers Market

300 E. Matilija Street
Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 698-5555
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Every Sunday from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM the lot behind the Ojai Arcade is filled with stalls of vegetables, organic eggs, flowers, gluten-free bakery items, olive oils, soy candles, and musicians for the area’s farmers market. It’s just like the markets in Hollywood, only it has teen fiddlers and a mainstay bluegrass band – The Iron Mountain Boys – who will let you take a photo with their animatronic mooing cow.

barts books sign1 Field Trip:  Ojai

(credit: Kim Tracy Prince)

Bart’s Books

302 W. Matilija
Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 646-3755
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This big old house-turned-used-bookstore is a true treasure. A warren of rooms and corridors and nooks and crannies, all of them stacked floor to ceiling and wall to wall with books, Bart’s Books will swallow a book lover whole and only spit her out when she has explored every corner. Genres are plentiful and mostly intuitive, broken down into such detailed categories as “The Men of WWII” or “Presidential History.” There are mismatched tables and chairs around any corner and you will likely see a patron or two dozing in the sun in one of the outdoor sections. Cookbooks are naturally located in the former kitchen. Bart’s is a destination unto itself, and gives you a reason to go back to Ojai, because, like a hand-me-down Disneyland of books, there’s no way you can see everything there in just one visit.

Kim Tracy Prince is the features editor of Best of LA and a veteran mom blogger at House of Prince.

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