Looking at Ojai from the Outside In
By Jessiqa Pace
Photos by Matt Alberts
For someone who lives in Los Angeles, the quiet nighttime chirping of crickets is a luxury. I’m an actress, model and filmmaker who followed my dreams to one of the most expansive metropolises in the world.
It was about a year and a half ago when I began to wonder if a place existed where I could escape the noise and stress of living in Los Angeles. A place that I could get to quickly, but far enough that I wouldn’t feel the pangs of life in LA. I had heard about Ojai, but in my mind it didn’t’ sound like much was going on there except the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a high end resort. Ojai was the place where Hollywood glitterati went to relax and refresh.
I’ve never been one to follow the flock and the idea of going to visit a resort didn’t attract me, but a chance encounter with a very unpretentious stranger on a hike deep in the Malibu mountains convinced me that I should find Ojai on my own terms. This hiker told me that it was her oasis away from Los Angeles. She and her husband would spend one weekend a month in Ojai to hike, eat well and relax. It sounded to me like a place I needed to explore, so the moment I could get away I jumped in the car and headed north.
Just to be clear, I do love high-end spas and have spent my fair share on luxurious treatments to relax, but I’m more interested in finding a unique experience, something new and surprising, or perhaps something I didn’t even know existed.
The moment I set foot in the town of Ojai, I fell in love. Here’s the thing about Ojai, it’s a quiet, beautiful upscale bohemian community sitting cozy and prominent in the valley of the Topa Topa Mountains, an area previously inhabited by the Chumash Indians. The Chumash thrived in this area, so why not the boho-chic central coast crew looking to live “the good life.” And that’s exactly what they’re doing, living the good life.
My first trip to Ojai, I literally came to town with absolutely no plans. I used Yelp to find The Rancho Inn, a retro-cool motel on the west side of town. I called to see if there were any rooms available and got ahold of Sheila Piala who put me on hold while she checked their vacancies. She called me “honey” and I instantly liked her.
“Honey, are you still there?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“We are all booked up … but … the yurt is available if you would like to stay in that?”
“The yurt? Ummmm…can I come by and take a look?” I had heard about yurts but I had never actually seen one.
“Sure honey, come by.”
I drove to The Rancho Inn and met Sheila, who showed me the yurt. I took one look and said, “I’ll take it.”
The Rancho Inn is one of my favorite haunts because it’s where I first met some of my good friends in Ojai. It’s at The Rancho Inn where I met Branden Peak a favored local living in a beautiful modern Airstream trailer on The Rancho Inn property. Branden teaches a wide fanbase about conservation, living with solar energy, driving on biofuel, harvesting water from local sources, living in small spaces and the benefits of this lifestyle on the environment. It was over glasses of beer at Chief’s Peak, the watering hole at The Rancho, where I met many lovely people who I now call friends. I still love to stay at the Rancho Inn. The yurt is no longer there, but the rooms are awesome, decorated in a retro-rancho vibe.
After my first visit, I felt more focused and I could tolerate living in Los Angeles knowing that Ojai was only an hour-and-a-half away. I would dream about the possibilities of spending more time in Ojai. When Los Angeles became too much again, I would jump in the car, drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and, with every mile north, the stress would peel away. It became a routine. Every month or two I would find myself drawn back to Ojai.
The first thing I do when I get to town is go to Hip Vegan for lunch and say hello to my friend Brit Larramendy who has taken my order at least two dozen times. This vegan restaurant is so good it even turns on my meat eating friends. According to Yelp I am “the Duchess” of Hip Vegan because I’ve checked in so many times.
Next stop is usually Silver Boutique to see what they have in store. I always stop at this boutique and find a little gift for a friend or a treat for myself. This boutique carries the vibe of Ojai style, with affordable flowy upscale-casual dresses, tops and jewelry.
I’m willing to go out on a limb right now and say Bart’s Books is the coolest bookstore in the country. If you haven’t been there, then you must see it for yourself. If I run into an out-of-towner who asks me where to go, I send them there and they all love it. Grab a book, find a nook and relax. It’s a nice way to spend the afternoon.
If Knead Bakery is open, I like to stop in and grab some of the most decadent organic baked goods I have ever tasted. The cheddar dill scone is amazing, but everything will make your mouth water. If you go to Knead, make sure to bring cash — they don’t accept credit cards — and check their operating hours.
Meditation Mount is my sunset spot. This ethereal temple sits atop a peak overlooking the entire valley. From the meditation garden you get a very special view of the citrus groves and the surrounding mountain range. To see the valley vista visitors must walk the Path to Peace, twisting and turning through eucalyptus trees and Birds of Paradise. The first time I found this place I remember being so moved by it’s spirit. As I watched the sun set, I thanked the universe for all the moments in my life, both good and bad, that led me to find Meditation Mount. If you haven’t been there, you must experience it.
After sunset, if I’m not dining at Osteria Monte Grappa, an incredible Italian restaurant, or The Deer Lodge, a local favorite with fantastic food, micro-beer on tap and live music, or having a drink at Chief’s Peak, then you’ll find me at Caravan Outpost.
Caravan Outpost is that unique experience that I was talking about. This boutique motel is like nothing I have ever seen before. It’s that place I didn’t know was possible. Caravan Outpost has cultivated a community of creative conscious people. Every night, there is a campfire with food, spirits and marshmallows. Every day is filled with fun activities. I’ve never slept so well as I did in an Airstream at Caravan Outpost. This brand is smart, sustainable and it’s a taste of a lifestyle that anyone who has a sense of adventure will appreciate. If you aren’t sure about staying there, go for a campfire or one of their monthly events with yoga, music, food and drinks. You are guaranteed to walk away with a new friend and a story to tell. Say hello to Branden because there’s a good chance you’ll see him there.
The thing about Ojai is that there is always something to do. The thing about Ojai is that it’s a community that will take in a soloist like me looking for a place to unplug and unwind. The thing about Ojai is that there is so much to explore, hike, try, eat, drink, shop, discuss, create, listen, be heard and laugh. The thing about Ojai is that when I fall asleep at night, I can hear the sweet sound of crickets chirping.