At the base of the Los Padres National Forest in California’s Ventura County sits Ojai, a village 90 minutes north of L.A. that has nurtured artists for decades. “People who love art are drawn to this area,” says artist Joyce Huntington. “It just seems like a creative vortex.”
Huntington, who was born in Seattle, moved to Ojai (pronounced oh-hi) from New York nearly four years ago after falling in love with the area when visiting her daughter in nearby Santa Barbara. “It’s a really gentle, small-town environment with lots of culture and interesting, creative people,” she says. “There are a lot of artists here, and we can understand each other.”
Indeed, about 150 artisans from all over the world practice throughout Ojai, which boasts more than a dozen galleries. Whether you know your way around an easel or are just an appreciator of creativity, Ojai is the perfect relaxing, artsy getaway.
For a liberal dose of R & R, Ojai Valley Inn & Spa delivers. You may be tempted to just curl up in front of your fireplace, but don’t miss the spa’s Kuyam treatment, the only one of its kind in the United States. A communal experience that draws inspiration from a variety of cultures, Kuyam involves three types of clay, dry heat, inhalation therapy and guided meditation. Afterward, head to the Artist Cottage and take a class in subjects like basic drawing, mixed media or silk scarf painting. ➸ojairesort.com
On the rustic end of the spectrum, the midcentury-style Ojai Rancho Inn is a renovated motel that retains that 1950s road-trip feel but now boasts in-room hot tubs, free bike rentals and comfy king-size beds. ➸ ojairanchoinn.com
Hip Vegan says a lot with its name—it’s hip, it’s vegan—but what it doesn’t say is that it’s full of creative dishes that even a carnivore could love. Try a burger and the Date Shake for a healthier version of diner food. ➸ hipvegancafe.com
One of the more unusual shops in Ojai, Bart’s Books is known far and wide as the largest independently owned and operated outdoor bookstore in the country. Here, you’ll find both rare tomes and 35-cent specials, which are still sold on the honor system just as they were back in the mid-1960s when the store began. ➸ bartsbooksojai.com
There are under-the-radar shopping spots, too. A hopscotch court lines the entrance alley to Fig, a somewhat hidden find that specializes in handmade, local and fair-trade gifts, home décor and other items—many of which celebrate a sense of place. And since you’re so close to wine country, you may want to pick up a bottle to drink while you’re here. At Ojai Beverage Company, you can taste a sample from the ample selection before you commit.
Start your art journey at Primavera Gallery, a powerhouse of contemporary works in multiple mediums. Nearby, Human Arts Gallery carries colorful, one-of-a-kind handmade treasures from 170 artists. At Nomad Gallery, owner Leslie Clark’s travels to Africa are evident, both in her paintings and the works she spotlights from African artisans. If you feel inspired after taking in all the sculptures, drawings, jewelry and ceramics around town, channel that energy in a class at Ojai Valley Artists or Working Artist Gallery.
Perhaps the best thing about Ojai is that you can slow down and go with the flow—all in a gorgeous setting. As Huntington says, “It’s like stepping back in time to a place where things were simpler and sweeter.”
events in ojai
Check out these annual art-related events:
Art in the Park
Started in 1977, this tradition provides fine artists a place to sell their work during Memorial Day weekend. ojaiartcenter.org/art-in-the-park.html
Ojai Studio Artists Tour
Choose from a self-guided or concierge tour, dropping by the personal studios of professional Ojai artists. ojaistudioartists.org/studio_tour.html
Ojai Art Detour
This free weekend event gives visitors a chance to meet artists in their studios and galleries.
Ojai Art Festival
Last year was the first Ojai Art Festival, which featured art shown in approximately 40 shops, restaurants and galleries throughout town. ojaiartfestival.com