courtyard of Knead Baking Company.
Calif. ó It was a fading Friday afternoon in the
peaceful valley northwest of Los Angeles, and that meant
Marion Leeman and friends were perched along the
slow-moving downtown strip with their usual signs.
together for harmony and peace," one read.
our troops home," read another.
proclaimed, "Jobs are the way to peace."
seemed so retro of them. And it was.
do this every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m.," Leeman, 73,
said. "We started after (President George W.) Bush
years of waving signs on the side of the road? Times 52
weeks per year? Thatís a lot of standing on the side of
people might think weíre absolutely ridiculous,"
she said. "But thereís a lot of sympathy for what
we do." Just then, a slow-moving BMW station wagon
honked, and the passenger extended a peace sign out of the
and positive vibes never go out of style in Ojai, and that
has made the town of 7,500 a longtime getaway for Los
Angelenos needing relief from their cityís fabled smog
and traffic, 90 miles down the road.
into a long, green valley surrounded by the 6,000-foot
peaks of the Topatopa Mountains, Ojai exists in its own
slow-moving ether. Itís timeless enough that cable
television and the Internet might never have arrived, and
it wouldnít have been missed. Ojai is just about being
ó and being quietly. Itís the kind of place where a
downtown grocery store bulletin board features an ad from
a woman who describes herself as "transitioning in to
a lot of things right now: raw veganism; self-employment;
Ojai; consequently following my dreams." And all sheís
trying to do is rent out a room in her home.
provided your dreams donít require a lot of excitement,
Ojai is just the place to follow them. One resident, who
like many locals moved from L.A., described the town
perfectly: "Thereís nothing to do in Ojai, and not
enough time to do it."
commitment to good living is subtle but relentless, be it
a cell-free cafe that serves vegan pizza topped with
cashew cheese (at The Farmer and the Cook; and the pizza
is delicious) or the Ojai Rancho Inn, which offers a stick
of palo santo wood upon check-in to burn in your room to
"cleanse the space."
outside of town sits Meditation Mount, where you can dive
into spirituality as deeply as you want, with a meditation
class at the moment the moon turns full, even if itís,
say, 3 a.m., or with a short walk to broad views of the
Ojai Valley, where a bench is inscribed with the words
"Joy is a special kind of wisdom."
is, in other words, ideal relief from the madness of Los
Angeles and worth a couple of days in any Southern
Saturday morning I walked into Knead Baking Co. for an
egg, arugula and roasted tomato sandwich, and found myself
talking with the classic version of an Ojai resident. An
intersection of work, life and family had led the bakeryís
owner, Bobbi Corbin, to Southern California from Boston;
it wasnít until she found Ojai that she was home.
a unique spot in that itís a tiny little place in the
middle of nowhere ó itís not on the way to somewhere
ó and yet itís a really interesting place,"
Corbin said. "Itís beautiful and not showy, with a
level of intellect thatís unusual for a small town or
donít get sensitive, small towns or Southern California.
The truth is that Ojai perfectly splits the difference
between what we think of as Northern California and
Southern California: Its gentle Mediterranean-like climate
makes it far sunnier than Northern California, while going
easy on Southern Californiaís rat race and tans. Being
so close to Los Angeles, the town, which is really just a
little hippie farming town at heart, also gets a regular
infusion of the well-educated, the interesting and the
get a horse next to a Ferrari, but everyone gets along,
and it makes for a fun vibe," said Phil Asquith, who
operates Ojai Olive Oil, a family business of 5,000 olive
trees in the hills just outside of town.
reminded me of the silver Rolls-Royce with Oklahoma
license plates Iíd seen pull out of a strip mall that
keep waiting for the place to become trendy, but they keep
such a tight lock on development," Asquith said.
of bustling with gleaming malls and five-star resorts,
Ojai treasures more modest events, like its Sunday morning
farmers market with robust, colorful piles of produce,
from organic radishes to organic rosemary to organic
rapini to organic Ö well, you get the idea. Plus, thereís
"Al the Hug Guy," who has given free
farmers-market hugs for four years.
donít like to count the hugs," Al said. "It
cheapens the spirit of what Iím doing. But Iíve hugged
some people a couple hundred times."
then a woman walked up who Al clearly knew. She rested her
bags at her sides and shared a long, still hug with Al. As
I wandered away, toward a food truck for a breakfast
burrito, a group of women in black stretch pants erupted
in a flash mob.
walked a couple doors down to Porch art gallery. A former
LA resident, who had worked as a touring musician with
some prominent names, sat at a piano banging out jazz
the front yard, the gallery had a chalkboard that said
"Before I die Ö" with slots below for
passers-by to write in their dreams. Answers included the
hopeful ("visit other planets"), the theoretical
("truly live") and the eminently attainable
("learn to surf"). But the most obvious
sentiment of all came from a L.A. man walking with two
small dogs. He wrote "Live in Ojai."
Ojai is 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
TO EAT: Dining options are strong for a town of its size,
including the healthful menu at The Farmer and the Cook
(339 W. El Roblar Drive, 805-640-9608, farmerandcook.com);
classic Italian food at Osteria Monte Grappa (242 E. Ojai
Ave., 805-640-6767, omgojai.com); breakfast, lunch and
sweets at Knead Baking Co., 469 E. Ojai Ave.,
310-770-3282, kneadbakingcompany.com); and tapas at Azu
(457 E. Ojai Ave., 805-640-7987, azuojai.com). Ojai
Beverage Co. (655 E. Ojai Ave., 805-646-1700,
ojaibevco.com) is the place to go for a broad selection of
California craft beer.
TO STAY: There are also many quality options for
accommodations, including Emerald Iguana Inn (108 Pauline
St., 805-646-5277, emeraldiguana.com), Lavender Inn (210
E. Matilija St., 805-646-6635, lavenderinn.com), Ojai
Rancho Inn (615 Ojai Valley Trail, 805-646-1434,
ojairanchoinn.com) and the higher-end Ojai Valley Inn
& Spa (905 Country Club Road, 855-697-8780,
MORE INFO: 888-652-4669; ojaivisitors.com