For the last decade of my life, I have been nothing short of an addict of productivity. Living in Los Angeles seems to never let you forget that you’re “super busy and important” and if you stop for a second, then you might lose your place in the world.
As a career-minded person and a single mom, I’ve never felt more pressure to keep going 24/7. There seems like there’s just never time to recover; if I’m not on a photoshoot, then I’m changing a diaper and making dinner for my toddler (hopefully not at the exact same time). My parents were coming to visit me from Oklahoma, so instead of using that time to get more work done, I promised myself that I would rest, really rest, and enjoy my family.
In deciding where was close enough (I’m practical) and where would be the most peace-inducing retreat from LA, the first place that came to mind was obviously Ojai. Ojai requires its visitors to slow down, to smell the fresh valley air and enjoy the stillness it beautifully embodies. My favorite way to rest is to eat the best food, drink the best wine and enjoy the views, and that is exactly what we did.
If you, too, find yourself in need of a detox from the productivity race, here are my favorite stops in the beautiful Valley of Ojai:
Ojai Valley Rancho Inn
Conveniently located near downtown, the Ojai Valley Rancho Inn was not only perfect for me and my parents, but even my 2-year-old loved it. It’s truly perfect for every age, and not to mention, pet-friendly with a pool and sauna. It’s newest property from Shelter Social Club, so you know the decor will be great, and Ojai Rancho Inn delivers with its blend of modern comfort and rustic charm. If you’re looking for that picturesque cabin feel that still seems unique, this is your place.
Azu Restaurant & Bar
Over sixteen years ago, executive chef and owner Laura Moore first opened the doors of Ojai’s original California tapas bar, restaurant and event space. Today, she runs it with her daughter Elizabeth Haffner, who’s also owner of Azu’s sister property Ojai Valley Brewery. Azu’s menu showcases Ojai’s unique local flavors and quality organic produce with dishes inspired from Spain, the Mediterranean and North Africa. With many vegan and gluten-free options, Azu caters to every palate. My mom and I tried every beer and we were blown away by the originality of not only each and every beer but also the incredibly fresh dishes.
The Oak at The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
The Oak is great for casual dining all day long. It has that 5-star feel but with a friendly atmosphere, warm fireplace and outdoor terrace surrounded by ancient oak trees. They offer a classic American Grill cuisine and an extensive Central California wine list. The thing I love about breakfast, specifically here, is the bacon. And the fact that you can easily sit here for hours sipping coffee and enjoying the incredible view.
The Nest is head chef and co-owner Kiona Wachter’s new take on the original, The Nest of Ojai by her father, Eric Wachter. It’s a fast-casual atmosphere quickly becoming one of Ojai’s most popular spots serving locally-sourced, modern comfort food inspired by family recipes. Don’t miss the ancho chili cashew cheese inspired by her vegetarian turned vegan mother and a house-smoked brisket sandwich, for Kiona’s uncle Fred. My mom had the flawless fish tacos and I had the Smoked Brisket and Brussel Sprouts; I died and went to Comfort Food Heaven.
For Italian food in a charming house in the heart of Ojai, grab a table on the patio of Nocciola and watch as the sun sets on the Topatopas. As is the case with much of the food scene in Ojai, the menu here takes advantage of seasonal ingredients for a classically Italian line-up of homemade tagliolini with mushrooms and leeks, pappardelle served with slow-roasted wild boar, as well as freshly-caught fish; if you’re feeling hungry, spring for the reasonably priced 5-course tasting menu where chef really gets to show off. I had the Lamb Shank with veggies and perfectly pureed potatoes. I can say with complete confidence that this lamb will change your life.
“Responsibly sourced. Thoughtfully roasted,” are the pillars of Beacon Coffee. Owners John and Jennifer Wheir strive to bridge the gap between growers and consumers, taking great care to source their coffee exclusively from responsible producers. Intimate knowledge of coffee agriculture allows them to access micro-lots not found anywhere else, source top quality beans, and ensure that customers can taste where their coffee comes from. The Wheir’s commitment to sustainable practices and the perfect cup of coffee extends beyond the farm to the café. Offering educational classes on best farming practices, pour overs, brewing fundamentals, and cupping, Beacon Coffee is the one-stop-shop for every coffee aficionado.
Topa Mountain Winery
This winery is situated under the watchful eye of the Topa Topa Mountain range in the Upper Ojai Valley. Planting the first estate vines in 2009, owner Lauro Guerra built the winery to pursue his passion for viticulture and to showcase exceptional wines made from grapes grown in the Ojai Valley Region. My mom and I happened to be there right around Valentines Day and were treated to the Red Wine & Chocolate pairing. It was easily the best date of my life (Love you, Mom).
Chief’s Peak Bar
Located poolside at the conveniently (for me) at the Ojai Rancho Inn, Chief’s Peak Bar serves up an extensive selection of wine and beer. With ample outdoor seating, an eclectic collection of hand-picked music records and friendly service with a smile, Chief’s Peak is the perfect laid-back location to enjoy an afternoon libation.
Cloud Climber’s Jeep Tours
To see a Ojai from a different perspective, climb aboard a Jeep Wrangler or classic CJ-8 Scrambler for an adventure through back-country trails of Ojai and Santa Barbara. You can choose from different routes that offer mountain, wine country and sunset tours complete with amazing history and breathtaking scenery of the area while — bonus — leaving the driving to someone else. After all the recent fire activity in the area, it was encouraging and exciting to see all the regrowth happening in Ojai. The Valley is sprouting rich new life in its every curve, and this is the perfect time to explore it.