When filming Lost Horizon in 1937, Frank Capra was looking for a sunny paradise to he Shangri-la, the mythical land of eternal youth. He chose the mystical, oak-covered Тора Тора Mountains that ring Ojai (pronounced OH-high), a Spanish colonial-style village north of Los Angeles. The ancient Chumash Indians (whose word for “the nest” gives the town its name) revered it as a place of healing, and over the years it has drawn many spiritual seekers like the East Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti, who moved here in 1922. Sunsets, when the mountains take on a warm, rosy cast known as the Pink Moment, are its most special time.
The downtown’s picture-perfect signature is its tall stucco and red-tiled bell tower, one of many similar buildings commissioned in the ‘teens and ’20s by Edward Libbey, a Toledo glass magnate who wintered here. Libbey was also the impetus for what is now Ihe most perfect place to stay, the 200-acre Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. In 1923 he built a private Spanish-style clubhouse and 18-hole golf course, designed by George C. Thomas Jr. to be one of the country’s most beautiful and challenging golf experiences, with scenic vistas and sharp angles. At the far end of the resort, cars are banned to maintain the peace of a walled 31,000-square-foot Spa Village, complete with 50-foot bell tower and small courtyard with fountain. Inside, the spa offers seasonal treatments with organic ingredients from local farms, like Ojai Pixie Tangerine body scrub in the spring.
Artists, writers, and craftsmen are thick on the ground in Ojai. Unleash your creativity under their tutelage in the spa’s Artist’s Cottage and Apothecary, which offers more than 30 classes in watercolors, weaving, pottery, soapmaking, drawing, print-making, journaling, and aromatherapy. The Nickelodeon set (ages 5—12) stays busy at Camp Ojai, a kid’s program that includes visits to the inn’s ranch and stables (where there’s also horseback riding for adults). Local fanners, ranchers, fishmongers, and vintners supply the inn’s four restaurants, which feature specialties like roasted Ojai squab with but-terball potatoes and persimmon chutney.
A very different experience can be bad right in the midst of Ojai’s downtown buzz at the Oaks at Ojai. one of the first destination spas (where the entire environment is geared toward health and wellness) in the country. Known for its high spirits and low prices, the Oaks has a loyal clientele who keep coming back to burn calories, condition the heart, and lose weight on 1,000 calories a day. The Oaks is located in the historic 1918 El Roblar Hotel, whose exterior was recently restored to its original Spanish Colonial style. While most of the rooms are simple, it recently added five new luxury suites and the unusual (for a spa) downtown location is part of its charm. Between the aqua-toning class and the Ojai Olive Oil Body Souffle, stroll along Ojai Avenue’s arcade of boutiques, art galleries, and ice cream parlors. If you buy a cone, you won’t be the first Oaks patron to do so. Paradise pardons all.