Have you been there, done that in Santa Barbara and San Diego and looking for another laid back, family-friendly escape for the day or weekend? Consider the artsy, mountain town of Ojai, just over an hour from LA. Take a deep breath (it’s okay, it’s fresher up here), and enjoy our picks for the best things to do in this country hideaway.
photo credit: Ken Lund via Creative Commons
From the moment you enter the quaint downtown after a windy, picturesque drive, you’ll notice that time slows down, your senses go up, and your kids relax into simpler entertainment. With horseback riding, hiking, golf, spa, shopping, playgrounds, swimming, great food and wine, there’s something for every family member to enjoy.
Where to Play
The best thing to do in Ojai is to actually not to pack your itinerary with tons of to-dos. Enjoy these local favorites at your leisure.
photo credit: verno_64 via Creative Commons
An entire day of your trip could be happily wiled away at nearby Lake Casitas, where you can hike, canoe, kayak, picnic and fish. During the summer, Lake Casitas opens its Water Adventure park where kids and adults cool off in a lazy river and play in one of two age-specific water playgrounds. Fun fact: Lake Casitas, just three miles from Ojai, was the site of the 1984 Olympic canoeing and rowing events.
11311 Santa Ana Rd.
photo credit: Vanessa C. via Yelp
Ride like the free birds you are through town, down orchard-lined streets, or on dirt trails. Both Bicycles of Ojai and The Mob Shop offer hourly or daily rentals of kid-sized bikes and trailers for towing pre-biking tots.
Bicycles of Ojai
108 Canada St.
The Mob Shop
110 W. Ojai Ave.
photo credit: Marlo R. via Yelp
Parks & Playgrounds
Located in the center of town is tree-filled Libbey Park which features a cute playground, tennis courts and plenty of shady nooks to pop a squat for a picnic. Nearby at Libbey Bowl, take in a concert under the stars.
210 S. Signal St.
photo credit: Casa Ojai Inn
Hiking options for families with kids of any age abound in Ojai, and each has their own unique features. The Pratt Trail (photo above) is a forested 4.2-mile trek one-way. It’s not a loop so turn back when you want to be halfway done. Many families like to turn around when they hit Foothill Rd. The trailhead is at the end of North Signal St at the water tank with street parking available.
The Shelf Trail is rated an “easy” by most who hike it, and it is a 1.5-mile stroll along the north end of Signal St. to Gridley Road. While it can be hot with no shade, this hike offers stunning views of the Ojai Valley and the opportunity to pick oranges along the way when they are in season (December/January).
The Ojai Valley Trail is accessed right from Libbey Park, and you can explore this trail on foot or on horseback (see below for horseback riding options.) Fun fact: the Ojai Valley Trail is actually an old rail line converted to a trail. Trains used to transport oranges from Ojai to the coast – yes it goes all the way to the Pacific!
Want a more educational hike with kids 10 years old & up? Trails by Potter offers narrated 1.5-2 hour guided hikes starting at $50 per person including transportation. Some packages even include nearby wine or olive oil tasting.
Trails by Potter
1406 Drown Ave.
photo credit: Shannon Guyton
Ojai’s landscape is adorned with beautiful ranches and happy horses grazing about. Imagine your kids’ delight when instead of just shouting “horses!” from the backseat as you pass, you actually get out and climb on one of them! Tours for littles tend to be on the gentlest of horses, and friendly guides go at the pace of the most inexperienced rider. After your ride, kids can mingle with farm animals and hold bunnies. Sorry in advance for the bunny-begging you’ll receive all the way home after.
Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company
1290 Meyer Rd.
photo credit: Ojai Visitors Bureau
Where to Shop & Eat
You’re not going to find a Prada or a Bloomies in Ojai, and that’s exactly why you’ll love it. Downtown shopping includes one of a kind boutiques, coffee shops and bookstores that highlight the creativity of the community. From the apron-clad woman arranging handmade earrings on a display to the gruff bearded man with the gentle smile serving your coffee, you are probably interacting with real-life business owners. Below are our fave places to peruse and nosh in Ojai.
photo credit: Julia Smillie via Creative Commons
Bart’s Books is an absolute must. A reader’s paradise and the only outdoor bookstore of its kind on the west coast, shelves upon shelves wind indoors and out throughout a transformed house. There are plenty of bargain-priced reads and beautiful spots to nestle and turn their pages. The kid’s section in filled with books you’ll remember from your childhood.
302 W Matlija St.
photo credit: My Two Cent S. via Yelp
Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta
Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta is an Ojai staple where you can dine alfresco under the oak trees on homemade meatballs, lemonade and strawberry shortcake. Tip: there is no credit or debit card machines, so make sure you’ve got cash.
3277 Ojai Ave.
Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods
For a healthy and delicious breakfast or picnic lunch to go, grab some sandwiches and cookies at Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods, known for being like Whole Foods but without the pretense. Or for a quick afternoon treat, they have a selection of smoothies (fans love the chocolate peanut butter) and Coolhaus’ most popular flavored ice cream sandwiches in the freezer case.
211 E Matilija St.
Before you head out of Ojai on Sunday, make sure you stop to pick up some snacks for the way home, along with certified organic fruits, veggies and the best olive oil anywhere (seriously, Ojai is famous for it), between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
300 E Matilija St.
Where to Stay
Ojai is perfect for a day trip, but you’ll be even more relaxed if you give your family a couple of days to really unwind.
photo credit: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
We’ve highlighted Ojai Valley Inn & Spa as one of our favorites for babymoons, but the sprawling beauty of this hotel combined with its family-friendly luxuries make it a great choice for your brood’s sleepover as well. Highlights include age-customized guided geocaching hikes on the 220-acre property, the “Pixie Pool” designated for families only, Camp Oak (an outdoor, arts and crafts camp for ages 5-12) and special accommodations for your dog including a gourmet pet menu and special pet turndown service. Even if you don’t want to stay overnight here, it’s still a great place to stop for lunching, spa-ing and bike rentals.
905 Country Club Rd.
photo credit: Casa Ojai Inn
Casa Ojai Inn
Known for its eco-friendly, green certification and for making you feel part of their family, the amenities at Casa Ojai at an affordable price make it a great value close to town. You and the kids will enjoy the saltwater pool and hot tub, free hot breakfast, bikes, fast wi-fi, and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, all without breaking your bank account.
1302 E Ojai Ave.
Where do you eat and play in Ojai? We’d love your inside tips!