Ojai, CA is a small, sleepy town nestled at the foot of the Topatopa Mountains in Ventura County, California. Just two hours and 80 miles northwest of L.A., it’s quickly becoming a destination–not only for LA getaway seekers, but also drawing in creative types from places like Brooklyn, Denver, and Austin.
So what’s the draw? First, the scenery is stunning; hills and mountains surround the town, and are part of the landscape everywhere you look. Second, there’s a number of rad shops, restaurants, and hotels popping up in Ojai–and it just so happens that one of those rad hotels is being opened by a friend of mine. Last December, my girlfriend and I headed out of the city and into the mountains to check it out.
We arrived in Ojai late afternoon, looking for our hotel in the light-industrial neighborhood just outside of downtown. A tall green fence with palm trees peeking over it greeted us–along with an oversize padlock, chain, and no external markings of any kind. The only real hint of what’s in works here is the group of airstreams, which you can make out beyond the fence. This is Caravan Outpost, the newest project from founders Branden Peak, Matt Alberts, Chet and Melanie Hilgers, and Brad and Shawn Steward.
Caravan Outpost is a quaint Airstream-based hotel and botanical garden in the heart of a small, American town. Besides offering up unique lodging, the space will also serve as home-base for the artistic and eclectic community of people involved in the project, ultimately creating a place for them to thrive. Formally opening in April of 2016, we got a sneak peak of what’s to come, touring the grounds and airstreams–some of which arrived the night before from Colorado. Since they’d just gotten there, the hotel trailers weren’t ready to be inhabited; instead, my friend Branden put us up in his personal Airstream for the weekend.
Over the winter, the Airstreams will be remodeled one by one, staying true to the vintage Americana vibe they already have going. Once finished, they’ll be equipped with solar power, perfectly suited for the sunny weather of Ojai. To see more about Caravan Outpost, check out this teaser for the hotel or this video featuring Branden and his 45 minute cup of coffee.
We also stayed a couple nights at Ojai Rancho Inn, which is “chill” to say the very least. The small hotel has a swimming pool, bikes for guest use, a teepee and a sauna to relax in. There’s also a communal space in the yard with BBQ’s and a stage that once a month hosts a concert Folk Steady, with bands like Little Big Here, Suns of the Earth, and YesWay.
While hanging out at the Rancho Inn we met a wide variety of people–local artists, out of towners, and new age teachers. We also bumped into the singer of The Allah-Las, Miles, and his girlfriend Brea, who were roadtripping toward Las Alamos to stay at the Rancho’s sister hotel, The Alamo Motel.
As far as dining goes, every meal in Ojai was better than the last. We started a couple mornings at Knead Bakery (now sadly closed), a family-owned bakery with the best breakfast sandwiches around. You can taste the love that goes into their food–especially the almond croissant. Another delicious option we found were the acai bowls at The Farmer and the Cook. For lunch, I had the best fresh rolls of my life at HIP, a counter-service vegan cafe with a big outdoor succulent garden. Besides the rolls, they also serve sandwiches, wraps, salads and bowls. For dinner, Deer Lodge was our favorite, with a full bar and the best burgers in town. A couple nights each week, it’s also a live music venue, packed both with locals and bikers passing through. After dinner, for great tunes and good vibes, we hit Chief’s Peak, the bar at Ojai Rancho Inn. It opens at 4 p.m. and has some of the best selection of beers and wine in Ojai.
In town, there’s tons of great shopping, with a couple stand-outs. We killed a couple hours at Bart’s Books, an outdoor book store, taking in the mountain air while browsing their stacks. We also really liked Summer Camp, a cool shop housed in an old gas station with some of the best locally made, thoughtfully selected clothing and home products in town.
My friend Branden Peak, one of the guys behind Caravan Outpost, served as our unofficial Ojai travel guide. One afternoon, he took us to Meditation Mountain, with amazing vistas and sweeping views–and hot springs, if you can find them. Another day, we went to Ventura Beach, just 30 minutes from Ojai. There’s decent waves there if you’re a surfer–otherwise, it’s cool to hang on the beach and soak in all the sights and the sun. Speaking of water, “foraging” for water from the natural springs in Ojai is a thing. To try some, check out Euterpe Farms, where my friend Branden filled a water jug with spring water straight from the mountain. The honor system in place just asks for a 25 cent donation per gallon. Last, we spent a fun afternoon at Ojai Skate Park to hang with some locals, take some photos, and of course, skate.
Though I’ve lived in L.A. for four years, I spent ten years living in New York City, “escaping” it to the Catskill Mountains to towns like Woodstock and Phoenicia as often as possible. Oddly enough, visiting Ojai took me back to the Catskills–the scenic, small town tucked into the mountains with friendly vibes reminded me of Woodstock. To contrast, Ojai also has the luxury of surfing beaches and palm trees that are so iconic in California. To me, Ojai is the perfect combination of the two worlds.
Ojai’s unofficial motto is “There’s nothing to do in Ojai and not enough time to do it,” which pretty much sums up the vibe here. Though we kept ourselves pretty busy, sometimes it’s nice to have no plans except to chill–and the small, sleepy town of Ojai is the perfect place to do it.