[spotlight series. paul blackthornechris sewell & lori anna stern]

Just one and half hours north of LA, and a short skip south from Santa Barbara, Ojai is a magical and spiritual mecca, often referred to as “The Shangri-La of Southern California”. A haven for hippies and healthy living, Ojai has long been home to artists and bohemians, and is one of our favorite stopovers.

Ojai’s charms are many, from the changing colors of the mountains (get ready for the “pink moment” at sunset, whereby the fading sunlight creates a brilliant shade of pink over the Topatopa Bluffs), to the stunning oak-shaded laneways, the horse stables, the rambling country properties, and the warm and friendly people – life moves at a slower beat here, and the energy is intoxicating. An equally charming hideaway for a romantic weekend getaway, or a well-needed rest.

While living in Santa Barbara, we would come to Ojai on a weekly basis – mainly for our dose of chai and cookies, or smoothies and salads at the Farmer & The Cook – but also for hikes, or visits to Meditation Mount. One of our most favorite times to visit however, is on the first weekend of December, when the Ojai Rancho Inn hosts an amazing, artisanal pop-up Christmas market known as “Deck the Halls”. The Rancho’s 16 rooms get taken over by more than 50 seriously cool and creative local vendors, as well as live music, a fully stocked bar and food stalls. The best way to kick off the holiday season.

1. To eat…

Farmer & The Cook (actually located nearby in Meiner Oaks, not Ojai itself): is our firm favorite, and a quintessential Ojai experience. Soulful, healthy, wholefood paradise. Vegetarian, and renowned for its hand-made Mexican food, salad bar, smoothies (try the avocado ones!), chai, and baked goods (we cant go past the “birdfeeder cookie”). People travel for miles to feast here. This is a special place. Forever indebted to you, Paul Blackthorne, for introducing us to the chai here back on our first trip to Ojai in December 2012! The start of a long and illustrious love affair with this magical spot.

Hip Vegan Café: tucked off the main drag, this super cute spot offers seriously classy vegan food at friendly prices, with outdoor seating.

Deer Lodge: originally a gas station and market that opened in 1932, the Deer Lodge, is now a local watering hole and a great spot to grab some local farm fresh organic tucker, as well as to hear some live tunes.

2. To sleep…

Ojai Rancho Inn: the only place (in our minds) to sleep when in Ojai. The Rancho is brought to you by Chris Sewell and Kenny Osehan – the ever-talented husband and wife duo behind the Shelter Social Club – also responsible for other boutique shelters including the Agave Inn, and the Hamlet Inn; as well the most legit Indonesian restaurant California has to offer, Sama Sama Kitchen, our favorite place to eat when in Santa Barbara. Reminiscent of an old summer camp, this laid-back, affordable, oasis is hard to get into, so make sure you book early. Simple, stylish and understated cool. We love it here.

As a back-up option, the Capri Hotel has recently undergone a renovation, and offers modern, mid-century-esque guest rooms and pool cabanas.

3. To shop…

Mosey along Ojai’s Spanish style shopping arcade, and pop into cute boutiques and vintage stores. Lori Stern recommends the thrift store across the street from the Ojai Roasting Company on Signal Blvd. We also love Modern Folk: for a beautifully curated selection of homewares, clothes and jewelry.

If it’s a book you are looking for – pop into outdoor bookshop, Bart’s Books – to see what goodies are on offer. We love their 24/7 honor system as well, where you can choose a book to buy from their outdoor shelves. So sweet.

4. To do…

Experience the “pink moment” at sunset, from the serene garden of Meditation Mount.

Hike: there are so many special hikes to choose from in this area, but we do love the 6.5mile Last Chance Trail, which winds through the Santa Paula Canyon. Dramatic valley views, through the lush forest, await.

Meditate: our favorite time to do this is at dusk, as the sun is going down, from the beautiful rock platforms atop of Meditation Mountain. The views over the valley here are spectacular, and there is an incredibly powerful spiritual energy from this vantage point. Even my most non-spiritual friend, was swept away from a feeling she had never experienced before, when atop the mountain. A very powerful place.

Drive: the mountain road back from Ojai to Santa Barbara (about 45mins). You will pass Lake Casitas (swimming is not allowed, but you can rent a boat, or a kayak, or do some fishing!). Stop at one of the vista points on the hill, and look back over the stunning lake. It may just take your breath away. Pure magic!

Spa treatment at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: detox and recharge.

Bike ride along the Ojai Valley Trail: from Ojai to the coast (9.5miles).

Go horseback riding into the foothills.

Hot springs: natural hot springs located in the hills of Matilija, just minutes from Ojai.

Visit the Ojai Farmers’ Market: held each Sunday morning. Local produce and friendly vibes.