There’s a saying in the little bucolic town of Ojai – “A town with nothing to do and not enough time to do it.” Postcards have this saying overlapping a photo of a cotton candy Ojai sunset where the dusk colors enhance the Topatopa Mountains into a “Pink Moment.”
Ojai is situated East and West in the Valley creating a magical vortex. This positive energy attracts artists, musicians and spiritual people. Some claim it is similar to Sedona, AZ or Joshua Tree, CA.
Staying overnight at the charming boutique hotel, The Emerald Iguana Inn, one appreciates the creative art by the owners and architect Marc and Julia Whitman.
Located at the end of a residential street, outside the reception office is a ten-food long mosaic emerald iguana made of tile. The sculpture sits in a tile fountain to greet guests upon their arrival. Whitman made this piece from tile from RTK studios just one block over from the property.
The design of my Leaf Suite at the Emerald Iguana offered an outdoor patio with thick rounded walls that reminded me of renown architect Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain. Like Gaudi, Whitman’s passion of design is influenced by architecture and nature.
The Craftsman/Art Nouveau-style architecture is set in a lush green foliage with art pieces nestled in the gardens. I spotted a frog statue, metal iguanas near the pool, and “flaming” copper basket metal lights by Jan Sanchez.
One of the most desired suites is near the front named frog suite. The 1906 built stone house offers an expansive front porch. Others are named leaf, peacock, raven, gecko, and grass hopper amidst gardens designed by landscape architect Thomas Bostrom.
My two room Leaf Suite was impressive in size and decor. There is a dining table for four looking out to the pool area, and wicker seating conversation area. The small kitchen has a stove and full-sized refrigerator stocked with cold beverages. The hallway leading to a large bedroom with two Queen size beds made with luxury bedding, and a bathroom with a shower/deep soaking tub. Nice touches include hardwood flooring, elegant rugs, lots of accent pillows and decorating pieces from Bali.
The pool and hot spa tub at the Emerald Iguana stays open until 10 p.m. The spa is an ideal soak in the morning after a small breakfast in a nearby room serving assorted pastries, bagels, muffins, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, orange juice, local tea, milk and coffee. It opens at 8 to 10:30 a.m. A few guests take their coffee and pastry out to the pool deck to sit on thick cushion lounge chairs, under large shade umbrellas.
Being inspired to the surroundings and art, I took an art class at the Artist Cottage & Apothecary located at the nearby Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. It’s offered to guests at the resort and to the public when space is available. It’s the ideal spot for self-discovery and creative expression with an artist in residence leading and offering assistance to enhance your vision into a keepsake.
I took a silk scarf painting class where I let my imagination shine while noticing another scarf on the wall. When finished, I was so proud of myself that I told the instructor that I want to frame, instead of wear it as a decorative scarf. Each class is designed for all skill levels. They have classes just for children too. Other teen and adult classes include glass or tile painting, drawing, beginning watercolors or acrylic painting. The classes are approximately 45 to 90 minutes and cost $25 to $75 per person.
Next to the cottage is an Apothecary room where guests can learn how to mix and blend botanical oils to create a unique, natural environmental fragrance. The personalized mist, spritz and blends cane be used to uplift your spirit. Students even make a personalized label to their creation. These classes are 45 to 90 minutes long and range from $45 to $120 per person.
Working up an appetite, I drove down to the middle of town to Azu restaurant. The restored Bill Baker’s 1910 building is open for lunch, brunch and dinner. General Manager Elizabeth Haffner welcomes guests to enjoy a cocktail, housemade craft beer and Mediterranean dishes in this local favorite dining spot. I’ve been told at sunset, this is an ideal viewing spot of “the pink moment” on the surrounding hills.
A stroll to the Arcade is worth a visit, especially at Human Arts Gallery featuring over 150 artists pieces that include jewelry by owner and resident Hallie Katz. There are cases of blown glass, ceramics, sculpture, furniture displays, racks of clothing, and art made from repurposed materials.
A few blocks away and close to the Emerald Iguana is Bart’s Books, a local and tourist favorite. Located on the corner of Matilija and Canada streets it’s the “Greatest Outdoor Bookstore” in California. I stopped inside to purchase an art book to read by the pool before dinner.
After a swim, I drove at sunset about three miles to Meditation Mount. Driving past Pixie and Gentleman farms and ranches I realized this is one of the best view spots in the Valley. Walking along the manicured paths, guests can quietly reflect while taking in the beauty of the views. I now understand why the local Chumash Native Americans named the city Ojai, translated to Moon. When the moon comes out and the sky grows dark, it’s beautiful.
Ask any local in Ojai and they all will recommend Suzanne’s Cuisine for dinner. With its farmers market produce to table approach, this mother-daughter culinary team offer a creative, contemporary menu that is lovingly made with 90% organic products.
The next day, before leaving Ojai, I stopped into the old Carrows, that is now a coffee and craft shop.I ordered and ice tea for the car ride home at Beacon Coffee and walked into Cattywampus Crafts Ojai craft center. This shop offers products and classes in sewing, quilting and knitting. Owned by husband and wife, Kirk and Anna Nozaki, this is a place for locals and tourists to be inspired to be more creative with its colorful yarns, fabrics, books, clothing and jewelry.
Ojai’s world-class art galleries and classes, interesting shops and boutiques, fine restaurants and natural beauty is not enough to take in on one visit. You will be seduced to return again to do not much of anything.
This review was also featured in Independent Traveler on November 8, 2016 – Be An Artist in Ojai