Oh my,Ojai

October 8th, 2012

 My husband and I recently took a birthday jaunt (my husband’s birthday, not mine) for a few days. Ojai is a town a little over an hour from our house and is pronounced “Oh-hi,” which rhymes with “Oh my.” And read on – because of course, the trip is related to books.








I would love to have this sign over my desk! 

When my son was growing up, we used to go up to Ojai a lot. From my house you drive up the 101 freeway, through Oxnard and Ventura. Just as the 101 begins to show a shimmering ocean view, and moments before you hit Santa Barbara (another favorite destination) you turn east for a few miles to the Ojai valley. I never appreciated the true beauty of a valley until I went to Ojai. The town is surrounded by the Topa Topa Mountains and often compared to Shangri-La, because a shot of the mountain stood in for that paradise called Shangri-La in the film, Lost Horizon. Ojai is also famous for the “Pink Moment.” At sunset most every day, the sky turns pink over Topa Topa. It really does.

Sometimes we’d spend the weekend at the Ojai Valley Inn, which now has a major spa and is called the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. Sometimes we took our dog up for the day, because there was a local pizza place, Boccali’s (that grows much of its own produce) and you could sit outside under big trees at picnic tables with your dog. Boccali’s is still there, but you can’t take your dog any more. They have a beautiful park, Libbey Park (glass magnate Edward Libbey, was a big, early booster of Ojai) which hosts the L.A. Philharmonic concerts every summer.

Sometimes when guests were visiting from out of state, we’d drive them up to have lunch at the Ojai Valley Inn at an outdoor restaurant looking out at the world-class golf course. You can see the golf course in the Jack Nicholson film, The Two Jakes. Once we took my parents up and June Allyson was at the next table. (She had married a local dentist.) My mom was a huge June Allyson fan, so it pleased her to see her favorite star at the next table looking very  happy.

We always enjoyed the town and shops in Ojai, but there’s so much more to see. We’d take long drives up into the mountains, past huge ranches – lots of avocados come from there and now, the cute Pixie tangerines. We’d drive past the sulphur fields and hold our noses. Once when my son was young, we stopped at a farm where you could feed the goats. I don’t know what they put in the food, but it was obviously gas-producing, so there were the three of us surrounded by goats making lots of noise. (Think Blazing Saddles.)  Obviously, the only noise louder than the goats was the sound of us laughing.

Our more adventurous forays to Ojai took us on picnics and hikes. Wheeler Gorge is the epitome of California to me: shaded, surrounded by chapparal and mountains with lovely mountain streams. Once, when our son was two, we went up on a weekday to Ojai. It was Washington’s Birthday – warm and sunny in L.A. and in Ojai. As our car climbed the twisty mountain roads, we saw a few tiny patches of snow, but we didn’t realize what was in store for us. We took the short hike to the Rose Valley Falls – a beautiful waterfall that, as I recall, you can walk through. (Yes, you walk through the falling water to a little cave.) That was delightful, especially to a two year-old. But the walk back was even more surprising as we encountered a shaded path that was completely covered in snow. Here we were with sunshine and warm weather one minute – and in a total winter wonderland the next. My son had never seen snow before!  The fun part was that he had no idea how to walk on snow, but he was so excited, he wanted to run. Each of us took a hand and guided him as he slipped and slided, whooping with delight.

Ojai attracted some pretty interesting people through the years – Theosophists, followers of Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley (who co-founded a boarding school there) and most famously, Beatrice Wood, the famed artist and potter who lived to be 105 and lived fully, shall we say. And there are movie stars tucked away in those hills and valleys. There is a vibe in Ojai that can’t be denied and is still there. Must be that “Pink Moment.”

We hadn’t been to Ojai for awhile and so our whole trip was a “re-discovery.” We stayed at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, as usual. Our first stop was brunch at the Ranch House restaurant, which defies description with its nooks and crannies and tables looking out on their own garden, which you can stroll through.  We visited many old haunts – most notably Bart’s Books.

Bart’s is definitely one-of-a-kind. There’s an old house in there somewhere, surrounded by mazes of aisles of used books. You could get lost in there, and you wouldn’t be sorry if you did. It was hot that day -it’s been super hot in L.A. and Ojai is a warm place to begin with. But we still managed to make a few finds. The house has the brand new books in the living room.  Cookbooks are in the kitchen, of course. And yes, there is a cat.


 Cat books …






    Cook books ….







Book nooks …


 24-hour-a-day books

If you get to Bart’s after-hours and are in need of a book, there are outdoor shelves of books you can peruse. Just leave your money in the box outside – the honor system has been in effect here for years. You have to love a place where you can get an “emergency” book 24 hours a day.

I don’t think we’ll wait so long to go back to Ojai. And we took the long way home – through those sulphur fields and winding     mountain   roads and Santa Paula and Fillmore. Next time, I think we’ll go to Rose Valley Falls.

Let’s face it: the whole doggone place is like something out of a book!




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