“But what in regards to the pink moment?”
Despite a poolside mezcal margarita, I could hear the panic in my voice as I reminded my sisters-in-law of a uniquely Ojai phenomenon. We only had 36 hours on this small, verdant city nestled within the mountains of California’s Ventura County, and we were going to miss our only likelihood to bask within the pink moment — the fleeting few seconds when the setting sun illuminates the Ojai Valley in an otherworldly shade of dusty rose. I had booked us a room on the Ojai Valley Inn, partly in order that we could park ourselves beneath the resort’s 200-year-old oak tree and get an unobstructed view of Chief Peak, an element of the Topatopa Mountains, that are known, in the best conditions, to glow a transcendent shade of coral.
There was just one hitch: 36 hours is just not nearly enough time to experience all that Ojai — pronounced, charmingly, “Oh, hi” — has to supply. To profit from our trip, about 80 miles from our homes in Los Angeles, we were going to should mix some activities, compromise, and accept that probably the most rewarding destinations at all times leave you wanting more.
I must know that Ojai is strictly such a place: Since moving to Los Angeles in 2015, I’ve been there seven times, and each time, I discover something recent. My inaugural Ojai visit, in 2017, will perpetually be remembered for the 50-minute “illumination session” I did with Nicola Fiona Behrman, the Ojai Valley Inn’s then “resident energy alchemist” who endeavored to infuse my “body and soul with nourishing light” by drawing circles around me with a smoldering bunch of sage.
After I told Ms. Behrman I used to be anxious a few novel that I had began writing, but kept pushing aside, she spritzed me with a homemade “inspiration mist” and told me to make use of it every time I hit a wall. Was I skeptical? After all. Did the bottle gather dust on my desk? It did. But that novel, The Goddess Effect, by which Ojai makes a distinguished appearance, will finally be published in October. (While Ms. Behrman’s illumination session isn’t any longer offered, Katie Manzella, a Reiki master, and Nancy Furst, a spiritual counselor, offer similar treatments, starting at $260.)
If this all sounds too woo-woo, know that Ojai has embraced alternative modes of healing and living since its inception. Settled by the native Chumash roughly 5,000 years ago, town’s name derives from the Chumash word for “moon.” The valley’s atypical orientation, east-west relatively than north-south, purportedly make it an electromagnetic vortex of fine energy. The philosopher and meditation evangelist Jiddu Krishnamurti lived in Ojai from 1922 to 1986. His foundation often hosts workshops and welcomes visitors; around town, opportunities to practice yoga and meditate abound. Downtown, the Crystal Corner sells slabs of amethyst ($600) and pocket-size nuggets of pink tourmaline ($12). Sanctum sells decks of “wisdom” cards based on the Bhagavad Gita, the holy Hindu scripture ($16.95).
That said, Ojai also offers quite a lot of other varieties of “healing,” including eating, drinking and therapies of the spa and retail persuasions, which was why I discovered myself stressing out, from the moment we got within the automotive, about how we were going to have enough time to do all of it. On the agenda: lunch, a wine tasting, a visit to Bart’s Books, the world’s largest outdoor bookstore, a dip within the pool, a four-course dinner, a hike, two facials, one massage and, in fact, the pink moment.
“But we also can do none of these items and just loosen up,” I said to Ritu Lal (sister-in-law No. 1) and Nicole Lal (sister-in-law No. 2), who didn’t hassle to dignify my falsified chill with a direct response.
“We will do whatever,” Ritu said, as we turned off the Ojai Freeway and onto a rustic road lined with orange groves. “Ojai is essentially heaven.”
Hunger predicated that we eat before checking into the hotel. We arrived at Ojai Rotie, a French-Lebanese patio restaurant downtown, quarter-hour before it opened, Type A personalities blazing. There was already a line, owing to Ojai Rotie’s utterly craveable array of salads (get the purslane tabbouleh, $10) Lebanese-inspired dips (the muhammara and roasted eggplant are particularly deserving of the chef’s kiss emoji, $16 each or three for $28), za’atar-dusted flatbread ($7, it comes with the spread of dips), and rotisserie chicken ($16 and up). “Dessert here or lets walk?” asked Nicole. We elected to maintain the automotive in its free parking spot and meander down the road to Ojai Ice Cream.
Until: “Oooh wait, can we stop in here?”
I don’t know who said it first, because over the course of the subsequent two hours, all of us did. Ojai is a vacation shopper’s paradise. On one side of Ojai Avenue: Fig Curated Living, a treasure trove of home goods, like earthen mugs emblazoned with iconic lyrics (“I’ll survive,” $24), Ali Golden, an on-trend women’s clothing store, and Tala Design, one other homewares store where Nicole convinced me to purchase a smoked glass candle holder I didn’t know I needed ($80). The true damage was done at Danski Ojai, where dresses fanned out from tightly packed racks. “The owner hand selects every thing from designers around the globe,” said Rosemary, the sales associate behind the register. “That dress,” the Kandinsky-esque number I had been eyeing, “is from Japan. It’s manufactured from recycled plastic bottles.”
She had me at Japan. “I can’t consider I didn’t find out about any of those places,” I told Ritu and Nicole, as we walked back to the automotive, laden with purchases, ice cream forgone. In previous visits, I’d been fixated on other attractions, like drinking wine at Tipple & Ramble, a wine bar and market off Ojai Avenue, getting a primary table at Nocciola, an Italian restaurant in a Craftsman-style house, and trawling the Sunday Farmer’s Market, where, when in season, local pixie tangerines and avocados reign.
On this trip, we discovered a divine dish of clams and spaghettone at Olivella, the Ojai Valley Inn’s plush Italian restaurant (tasting menus start at $95 for 3 courses), wine tasting rooms with a B.Y.O. food policy, which is what happened once we merged lunch (takeout salads, $17, from the Nest) with a wine flight on the Ojai Vineyard, a light-filled hangout across the road. We discovered that the approximate mile and a half walk between the Ojai Valley Inn and downtown might be as much of a workout as climbing the Shelf Road trail, especially should you’re toting bags filled with used books. We found places to try next time: Pinyon, a wood-fired pizzeria and natural wine shop that opened last fall, and Rory’s Place, a farm-to-table restaurant that opened in January.
Before heading back to Los Angeles, we had dinner at one other recent restaurant: the Dutchess, which makes a speciality of Burmese and Indian food. Opened in January, it sprawls out over three airy rooms and a big back patio. “This place looks like an embassy in Bali,” said Ritu, running a hand over a cane-backed chair. After shoveling forkfuls of crispy rice salad ($18) and lamb biryani encased in puff pastry ($31) we climbed into Nicole’s automotive for the ride back to Los Angeles We’d planned to set off before it got dark; the day got the higher of us.
“Look,” Nicole said, catching my eye within the rearview mirror. “The pink moment’s behind you.” I turned around; swaths of salmon streaked the darkening sky. The glow carried for miles.