At the front desk of Ojai Rancho Inn in Ojai, California, guests are greeted with complimentary matches and Palo Santo wood to cleanse their room. When I arrived, I knew I had found my soul place.
While it would be difficult to picture a more authentic Ojai trip than this one, during my recent visit, I learned that June is peak lavender season. I immediately marked my calendar for a return trip.
During my stay, Ojai not only looked serene, but it was fragranced with serenity as well. I stayed at an airstream motel, rode bikes throughout the city and toured a lavender farm on my stay, and to jump ahead, the Ojai Valley Lavender Festival will be on Saturday, June 24. Over 100 vendors will sell lavender plants, food, products, and more.
Here, our definitive guide to Ojai includes the activities mentioned earlier, as well as organic fare to your heart’s content, an all-natural spa, and wine and cheese. Enjoy!
Friday afternoon: Before checking into your boutique hotel—or airstream—have lunch at Osteria Monte Grappa. This seasonal Northern Italian restaurant changes its menu based on the produce they receive from local farms. During my recent visit I ordered Pizza Cali-Drupa prepared with mozzarella, sheep’s milk feta cheese, fresh local stone fruit, avocado, local organic arugula and balsamic reduction. In the past, we had this pizza topped with strawberries. Whatever the seasonal fruit is, it’s not to be missed. Since the restaurant closes at 3pm to prepare for dinner, you’ll be just in time to settle into your accommodations.
If you’re looking for a fun experience, stay in one of 11 airstream trailers at the Caravan Outpost. Here, no two RVs are the same—various configurations include two twin beds or a queen-size with spacious living area. Co-owner Brad Steward describes the motel as an inspirational place for people whose job it is to inspire. Those who have stayed at Caravan Outpost, which will soon celebrate one year since opening, are generally in creative businesses: filmmakers, writers, editors and musicians favor the property. On the land and design, which was a collective effort amongst the co-founders, Brad says, “We like the idea of taking something that every body saw as scrap, and repurposing it.” We’re already dreaming of our next adventure.
For more traditional lodging, check into the Emerald Iguana Inn. Here, choose from various cottages including the Frog Suite, which is outfitted with a king-size bedroom, full-kitchen, living room, dining area and patio. The boutique inn also has a swimming pool where you can cool off.
Friday evening: Shop whimsical home wares inside Tipple & Ramble, then enjoy wine, cheese and charcuterie on the perfectly adorned patio before heading to dinner.
Dine an extensive menu of pastas and seafood along with seasonal cocktails on the outdoor terrace at Suzanne’s Cuisine. For dessert try their pineapple gratinée prepared with fresh pineapple, mascarpone custard gratinéed served with freshly made coconut ice cream, lemon berry tart in an almond pastry crust, or chocolate peanut butter torte.
Saturday morning: At Beacon Coffee, savor a cappuccino crafted with carefully sourced beans and pastries made in-house by a baker who’s an expert on gluten-free desserts (we went back for seconds of the gluten-free and vegan cinnamon roll). Then cross the street to full-service bike shop The Mob Shop for a guided bicycle tour. The difficulty and length of the course are adjusted to an individual’s performance level—you’ll choose from Experience Ojai, Custom Mountain or Descent of Sulphur Mountain. My ride with Co-owner Kelly Pasco—who’s lived in Ojai for 17 years—was among the highlights of the trip.
Saturday afternoon: Replenish your skin with a visit to EarthTonics Spa. Interested in making the shift to all-natural skincare? Holistic Esthetician and Founder Daron Hope will make you a convert with her 100 percent natural and non-toxic skincare products, which she concocts with seasonal ingredients in small batches. We can’t get enough of the Calm & Replenish Facial Oil and Honey & Bamboo Facial Scrub. Her menu of services includes facials like an hour-and-45-minute Kansa Energy Facial and therapeutic massages. Trust us, you’ll walk out glowing, and charged with positive energy.
From EarthTonics Spa, cross the street to Ojai Valley Lavender Festival (Saturday, June 24, from 10am to 5pm). The event is free to attend, and includes over 100 vendors. Picture all-natural lavender skincare products, satchels, and fresh lavender from Ojai Lavender Farms that’s been harvested that morning.
Saturday evening: Enjoy Spanish and Mediterranean fare at AZU Restaurant & Ojai Valley Brewery. Build your own tasting flight of seasonal beers, then start with a few of our favorite bites including the chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon and patatas bravas followed by the gluten-free and vegan zucchini pesto “pasta” or lamb mezze platter. Follow the restaurant’s Twitter for updates on bier garten game nights, happy hours and bottomless mimosas.
Sunday morning: Before checking out of your accommodations—and before it gets too hot—take in the fragrance of fresh lavender at Ojai Lavender Farms. Here, co-owner Tony Luboff will give you a complimentary tour of the farm where you can curate your own lavender bouquet from 10 varieties (bundles cost $5). On why he chose to plant a third of an acre of lavender, Tony shares that it’s because lavender is a versatile herb, and people love it. He and his wife Diana also have a natural line of lavender essential oil, soaps and lotion available for purchase. Also, visit Heavenly Honey in downtown Ojai, where there is an Ojai Lavender Farms infused honey and a tasting room to try it. While you’re there, stop into nearby Revel for a flight of fresh jun kombucha or an acai bowl.
Sunday afternoon: Take a 1pm cooking class at Ojai Culinary School at The Lavender Inn. The seven-room inn is co-owned by Kathy Hartley, who is also a co-founder of the Ojai Valley Lavender Festival. Upcoming classes include a lavender-inspired lesson with lavender brick roasted chicken on the menu and ‘Speak Cook Eat’ in September with Clarissa Fishman. She not only teaches how to cook a traditional Tuscan meal, but also some basic Italian vocabulary. We’ll finally know how to pronounce orecchiette. Find a definitive class schedule here.