Finding Your Creative Side in Ojai. There’s a saying in the little bucolic village of Ojai – “The town with nothing to do and not enough time to do it.” I found this saying on postcards in art galleries and bookstores.
Situated on an East and West direction of a Valley, locals tell you the area two hours from Los Angeles, offers a magical vortex that provides positive energy. Some claim it is similar to Sedona, AZ or Joshua Tree, CA. I discovered that Ojai attracts artists, musicians and spiritual people.
Many of the residents are transplants. They are fed up with big city life, and discover Ojai is a calmer change of scenery, with a more open natural environment that helps people feel grounded again.
Staying two nights at the charming boutique hotel The Emerald Iguana Inn, I was determined to explore the town with nothing to do and find a few worthwhile adventures in just enough time, before I had to drive back to Los Angeles.
The Emerald Iguana Inn is a creative place designed 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 colored iguana made of tile. The sculpture sits in a 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 Inn 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.
The Inn offers one and two-bedroom cottages set among live oak and sycamore trees with a hot tub and pool. One of the most desired cottages is near the front named Frog Suite. Built in 1906, it’s a stone house with an expansive front porch. Other cottages are named leaf, peacock, raven, gecko, and grass hopper amidst gardens designed by landscape architect Thomas Bostrom.
Each cottage is impressive in size and decor. Mine had a dining table for four looking out to the pool area, and wicker seating conversation room. The small kitchen has a stove and full sized refrigerator stocked with cold beverages. The hallway leading to a large bedroom has two Queen size beds made up with luxury bedding, and the attached bathroom has a shower and deep soaking tub. Nice touches include hardwood flooring, elegant rugs, lots of accent pillows and decorating pieces from Bali.
Under a canopy of stars, guests can soak in warm water until 10 p.m. In the morning there is a small breakfast room attached to the pool area serving assorted pastries, bagels, muffins, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, orange juice, local tea, milk and coffee.
After a good night’s sleep, I enrolled in an art class at the Artistic Cottage in the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa to awaken my new found creativity. The artist in residence offered assistance in translating my vision in a silk scarf painting class. There are a variety of classes available on a rotating schedule and designed for all ages and skill levels. They are open to guests of the resort and to the public when space is available for a nominal fee.
Feeling inspired, I went for a hike up to Meditation Mount. It’s perched above Ojai, and is a popular spot to witness the colors intensify on the surrounding mountains, during sunrise and sunset. Locals call this “the magical pink moment.” Guided meditation is offered in the Meditation Room on Wednesday through Sunday at 8:30 a.m. It’s open for personal use from 9 a.m. to sunset, Wednesday through Sunday.
Feeling hungry, I drove into town to dine with locals and visitors at Azu Restaurant and Bar. It’s a great lunch spot for salads, sandwiches and tapas. Located in a restored 1910 building, General Manager Elizabeth Haffner welcomes guests to enjoy a cocktail, craft beer and Mediterranean dishes inside the restaurant or out on her private back dining patio.
I strolled over to the Arcade to explore some of the stores and stopped into the Human Arts Gallery featuring over 150 artists. The shop was filled with ceramics, clothing, and beautiful pieces of jewelry by owner and resident Hallie Katz.
Needing a coffee, I went up a block to NoSo touted as Ojai’s social café. This is where you will find locals gathered in conversation sipping espresso drinks, wine and beer while nibbling on wholesome food out on the dog friendly 50 seat patio with views of the “pink moment” Topa Topas. For those in LA who have been to Cafe Gratitude, this cafe offers a little bit of validation on the Orange Wall, where you can express yourself by creating a context for your day or declaring the difference your going to make. They encourage guests to be bold, be courageous, and take action.
Ready to relax by the Emerald Iguana Inn pool, I walked over to the town’s outdoor bookstore, Bart’s Books to get a new book. It’s open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. to sunset. If you want a book after hours, there are rows of books in bookcases along the outside wall. There is an honor box outside the door for readers to put cash and coins in the slot.
Ask any local in Ojai and they all will recommend Suzanne’s Cuisine for dinner. With its farmers market produce to table menu, this mother-daughter culinary team offer creative, contemporary dishes that are lovingly made with 90% organic products.
On Sunday morning, the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market opens 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a lively, block-party-like event near the Arcade along the town’s main street. The vendors include Ojai Olive Oil and organic honey from Ojai Valley Bee Farm. Head over to The Porch Gallery to attend a social scene filled with locals and visitors. Co-directors Lisa Casoni and Heather Stobo turned a 1870 farmhouse, originally called The Montgomery House into a charming art gallery. It’s the social hub for the community, where locals bring potluck breakfast items to share with others. Sometimes musicians, including Dave Palmer play music for an hour or two.
Be sure to see the exhibit of artist Cassandra C. Jones titled JPEG Mountain. Her pieces of art from a distance looks like one thing, yet up close they beautifully different.
Before leaving Ojai, I stopped into the old Carrows that is now turned into Beacon Coffee to buy an iced tea and pastry for the trip home. Next door is the colorful 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 as a place for locals and tourists to be inspired to be even more creative.
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 “not much of anything.”
This article was featured in the December 2017 issue of Not Born Yesterday.