Words | Matt Thompson
Photos | Matt Thompson

When a good friend started talking about her recent trip to Ojai, CA, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d never visited.

I needed to get away. It’d been over a month since I had given myself the gift of getting away and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to jump in the car and go. From tree-sprinkled valleys, local artisans and adorable small businesses everywhere to delicious food that caters to just about any appetite and a slower, more present pace, Ojai sounded like it had exactly what I was looking for.

So, after a (very) brief conversation with my willing travel partner, Nataly, we planned a day trip. She’d recently returned from a 2-month job in the South African bush and was itching to breathe in fresher air than LA has to offer.

The next morning, she grabs an almond cappuccino and cold brew from Cafecito Organico, I snag a couple of Nick’s famous breakfast burritos at Recreational Coffee in Long Beach and we meet in LA to head out for a little adventure.

After 30 or so minutes of stifling Los Angeles freeways, we free ourselves from perpetually screaming horns and Toyota trucks that merge with abandon while wearing bumper dents like battle scars. Trees begin to multiply, traffic becomes less dense and peace begins to creep in.

Winding mountain roads usher us into a town that, in many ways, time seems to have forgotten.  

As we enter Ojai, our pace slows and almost instantly… the need to rush fades away. The streets are peppered with classic cars, people are walking leisurely and riding bikes in groups (and they’re not draped in the latest racing gear and sweat-wicking fabrics) and everyone seems to be taking their time. Picture: Pleasantville with current wardrobes and Spanish architecture.

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I’ve asked Google Maps to direct us to Summer Camp, a ridiculously adorable shop that I have been following on Instagram for months, and when we pull up, it’s clear that it was an ideal first stop. We get to chatting with one of the owners who shares her love for this little town by offering up a list of her favorite spots to shop, visit and eat – the list is gold. Pure gold.

From there, we head down Ojai Avenue and can’t resist the nudge to pull over and explore the Ojai Valley Museum. It’s an off white building with thick, low-hung walls topped with an orange Spanish tile roof and today, admission is free. Taxidermy is everywhere and as the inviting woman at the front desk explains, all the typical Ojai valley wildlife is hanging out in this one room. From bobcats to bears, owls and deer, this little museum is a fun stop and great place to learn some local history.

From there, we make our way to the Ojai Farmer’s Market and catch the tail end of local farmers and artisans sharing their goods as a two piece band plays in the background. Around the corner, I indulge in a scoop of mint-oreo ice cream from a shoebox of a shop that reminds me of summers with my grandparents and we set off walking around town.

We spend the rest of the day exploring the town, stop for a late lunch at Hip Vegan – a cute little spot with a great outdoor patio and abundance of delicious options, before deciding to head back to LA at around 5pm.

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At just over an hour and a half drive from Los Angeles, Ojai is more than accessible. If you have the time, take the mountain roads.

The scenic route is exactly that and is perfectly picturesque. After the rain these hillsides have been guzzling, the world is in bloom and shades of green, orange, purple and blue are dancing across the landscape. Give yourself the gift of flexibility and allow whatever catches your eye to direct the flow of your trip.

There’s so much to take in and so many opportunities to stop and turn in a new direction. Listen to the childlike nudge ushering you into that coffee shop or boutique, down a paver-stone pathway and into the that delicious-smelling restaurant. Stop for a wine tasting and start a conversation with the woman running the museum because odds are… every experience will hold something fun and unexpected.

If your curiosity is waiting to be quenched, Ojai is the perfect playground.

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