Peace on Earth

The Ojai Valley is the perfect place to shop, nosh and drop your way into a stress-free holiday season

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Gaston Gal

With the Topa Topa Mountains as a dramatic backdrop, the majestic Christmas tree at the Ojai Valley Inn makes for a picture-postcard image of the holiday season.


hen I yearn for a country fix with a laidback vibe, Ojai is my nearby “go to” destination.

It’s hard to imagine a mellower spot in Ventura County to combine shopping and self-care. There’s a reason the small town has called out to spiritual seekers and Hollywood escapees, as well as creative types, among others. With no chain stores allowed, the shopping is blissfully easy during the usual holiday mayhem. Or, if your goal is to escape the madness altogether, there are plenty of cool spots for dining, imbibing and reviving, too.

Picturesque Highways 33 and 150 leading to the town nicknamed “Shangri-La” (due to its role in Lost Horizon) set the tone. Or ride your bike up the path from Ventura — but carrying Santa’s sack of gifts on the 15-mile downhill trip to the coast could be challenging. Last January, Ojai’s Topa Topa Mountains and Chief Peak received dustings of snow, so there’s a chance of a winter wonderland backdrop, depending on Mother Nature. 

To get the full benefit, check into one of Ojai’s charming lodgings for a couple of nights. The “Robin” suite at Su Nido Inn was the perfect “nest” to launch my shopping, noshing and dropping holiday. The 12-room inn is reminiscent of an Italian villa, and the pretty central courtyard with a gurgling fountain provides a soothing atmosphere. My room had a sitting room with a gas fireplace and a spacious bedroom with a Cal King-size bed. (All Su Nido rooms have just one bed, so if you need more, look elsewhere.) The bathroom, painted a warm golden tone, went beautifully with the artful tiles (nests and bird designs), a deep soaking tub and glassed-in shower.

Always on Sunday 

One could easily accomplish all one’s holiday and larder shopping between the Ojai Farmers Market and the shops within walking distance of the Sunday morning downtown emporium. How stress-free is that?

Edibles make welcome gifts, and there’s plenty offered up by local purveyors at the farmers market. Raw and unfiltered honey from Michelle and Chris Gates’ Working Bee Honey is a sweet place to start. Award-winning olive oil from Ojai Olive Oil Company makes a great gift any time of the year. Delectable Ex Voto artisanal chocolates, handcrafted by mother/daughter team Jennifer Smith and Sophia Smith-Grunder of Ventura, make perfect stocking stuffers. The single-origin, fair-trade chocolates come in a variety of shapes and flavors. Locally grown pomegranates and Ojai Pixie tangerines can add a touch of color, while baked goods from Oxnard’s Yankee Doodle Bakery are a tasty treat.

Some of the most unique items I came across were the flax-lined vegetable bags made by Jan Rem, a second-generation Ojai resident  inspired by her grandmother who wrapped vegetables in linen tea towels. Long Life Linen storage bags for the fridge are the perfect sustainability gift for the “green” people on your list.

There’s no shortage of beauty potions and lotions for sale at the market, including lovely handmade soaps. EarthTonics beauty products developed by holistic esthetician Daron Hope are handmade in small batches in Ojai. Rivendell Aromatics makes oils, balms, neck pillows and even evergreen wreaths from lavender grown on a Casitas Pass farm.

To get your mojo working, run, do not walk, to the newest coffee house in town, Beacon Coffee, and fuel up on a great cup of fair-trade java made from beans sourced in Central and South America and roasted locally. Scones, savory biscuits and melt-in-your-mouth gluten-free buckwheat savory hand pies filled with vegetables and goat cheese are made in house. Who knew a former Carrows restaurant could be so cool?

For lunch, pop into Rainbow Bridge market and grab something from the deli. I also enjoyed a satisfying and relaxing lunch of veggie tacos and organic greens under the Ojai sun on the outdoor patio at the casual NoSo Vita.

Cross names off your shopping list with ease in the surrounding blocks. The New Age Rainbow Warehouse has inexpensive stocking stuffers for stress reduction. Have children to buy for? Serendipity Toys has been family owned and operated since 1979.

How about the chic and stylish women on your list? I love the cashmere sweaters and butter-soft leather purses at Hattie, a favorite upscale clothing store tucked inside a charming, vine-covered cottage on Montgomery Street. For men, I found many cool things at deKor & Co., perhaps one of the mellowest shopping environments in town. The cornucopia of tastefully curated items includes unique gifts, clothing, furniture, lighting and even gigantic incense coils ($55) that dangle from the ceiling for the person who has everything. Check out the beautiful inlaid cheese boards here, the Bogue Milk Soap shaving kits and the fragrant orange blossom Ojai coconut wax candle ($39), which burns for 45 hours.

There are other unique boutiques to discover in the charming Arcade and nearby area. Have fun!

During my 90-minute signature facial at The Day Spa of Ojai, owner Kim Wachter gave me the best shoulder, foot and leg massage while my face was steamed between slathers of organic algae lotions and potions that restored my skin during this ultimate facial experience. I left aglow, from head to toe.

Just a half block back to Su Nido Inn, I returned for a one-on-one yoga session — gentle, relaxing and created to suit my limited abilities — with Francesca Michelle Lies. I followed Francesca’s lead in the courtyard where she offers private yoga courses. Hummingbirds sipped at the fountain while I gently stretched and balanced and centered my body and mind, ending with a quiet meditation.

Don’t miss Ojai’s famous “Pink Moment” sunset over the Topa Topa Mountain range at day’s end.

The Gift of Good Taste
In my humble opinion, and that of others I know who live in Ojai — and I have not eaten everywhere in Ojai — the lovely Italian restaurant Nocciola may very well be the best restaurant in town. Located in a charmingly restored Craftsman bungalow, it offers a sleek dining room and a woodsy covered deck. 

My dining companion and I both ordered the chef’s amazing five-course tasting menu. This is definitely the way to go, but you must come with an appetite. Seared lamb carpaccio, Piave cheese and truffle perlage and yellowfin tuna tartar were out of this world. The succulent quail and seared sea scallop were also delicious, and Nocciola’s homemade pastas are truly outstanding. Our meal was finished off with a trio of chocolaty homemade desserts. Bravo to chef/owner Pietro Biondi!

Nocciola was the perfect ending to a lovely stay — and my last stop before I dropped into soft pillows and sweet, Ojai dreamland.

Su Nido Inn, 301 North Montgomery Street

Beacon Coffee, 211 West Ojai Avenue

Rainbow Bridge, 211 East Matilija Street

NoSo Vita, 205 North Signal Street

Nocciola, 314 El Paseo Road

Ojai Farmers Market, 300 East Matilija Street
Sundays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Hattie, 109 North Montgomery Street

deKor & Co., 105 South Montgomery Street

Serendipity Toys, 221 East Matilija Street

Day Spa of Ojai, 209 N Montgomery Street

Private Yoga with Francesca Michelle,

With rich furnishings and an inviting fireplace, the parlor at the Lavender Inn is the very definition of cozy, beckoning guests to stop and stay a while.

Shop the downtown Arcade for eclectic gifts, or pop into one of the many eateries for a quick bite to refuel.
Photo by Tim Hauf


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