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Why Ojai, California, Is the Ultimate Destination for a Rejuvenating Wellness Retreat

While Santa Barbara and Napa tend to get all of the buzz, if you're looking for an under-the-radar SoCal spot to add to your bucket list, consider Ojai. Nestled in a small valley surrounded by hills and mountains, Ojai is pretty much synonymous with slowing down and getting in touch with your zen side, thanks to its gorgeous scenery, hiking trails, spas, and yoga and meditation studios—not to mention the fact that coming to Ojai is regarded by some as a "spiritual pilgrimage" in itself.

Settled by the ancient Chumash Native Americans, the valley is said to hold mystical, sacred powers. Some attribute this to the valley’s location running east to west, the same direction traveled by the sun and moon (the name Ojai itself actually means "moon"). Whether you buy into this belief or not, because of the surrounding east-to-west mountain range (a rarity since most run north to south), it's one of the few places you can catch a sunset so strikingly beautiful; the sunlight creates a stunning shade of pink for several minutes on the Topatopa Bluffs. It's called "The Pink Moment."

Luckily, the Ojai Valley narrowly survived destruction from the Thomas Fire—the wildfire that burned through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for more than a week last month—and after restoration and cleaning, the area is getting back on its feet and re-opening its doors to visitors. (And highways in the area affected by the mudslides are set to re-open in early February.) 

Ahead, how to make the most of this unique and healthy destination if you're looking for a rejuvenating escape in the new year.

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Ojai Vista Farm; Photo: Buick

Get There

Luckily, Ojai is an easy hour and a half drive from Los Angeles (or 45 minutes from Santa Barbara), which makes a short weekend getaway totally doable. (But trust us, once you arrive in this tiny, laid-back town, you'll feel much farther away.)

Set a chill tone while you travel: We drove the Buick Enclave Avenir, which features wellness-minded features—like technology that absorbs noise and improves air quality—but you can also try listening to your favorite zen playlist, a mindfulness app, or a health and fitness podcast to tune out and de-stress from the inevitable LA traffic. 

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Photo: The Ojai Valley Inn

Stay

For a laid-back-yet-still-super-luxurious experience, stay at the Ojai Valley Inn, built in 1923. You can expect plenty of gorgeous Spanish Colonial architecture, but with top-of-the-line resort accommodations, including six restaurants. Take advantage of the stunning golf course and award-winning spa, book a complimentary yoga class, or simply soak in the mountain views (and sunshine!) at one of the property's three picturesque pools.

If Airbnb is more your style, consider renting out Ojai Vista Farm, a cozy, secluded California Spanish estate hidden on a 10-acre avocado farm and vineyard. It has three bedrooms and its own pool. Or for a truly unique experience, stay in one of the 10 rooms and suites at the Pepper Tree Retreat, an updated 1910 farmhouse and the former home of philosopher J. Krishnamurti. (Krishnamurti reportedly chose to settle here after feeling the energy of the "geomagnetic vortex" of Ojai and its Topatopa Mountains.) 

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Topa Mountain Winery; Photo: Buick

Eat (and Drink)

If you re looking for a local lunch spot with some über-healthy eats, check out Food Harmonics. Favorites from their organic and gluten-free menu include the raw vegan pizza and turmeric matcha latte. For lunch or dinner, hit up Mexican vegetarian café Farmer and the Cook for vegetarian Mexican cuisine. As the name suggests, the café was founded by a farmer and a dietitian/chef. All the food is grown at the pair's farm in Ojai.

If you're a wine connoisseur, don't miss the Topa Mountain Winery, right off the Ojai Valley Trail, the popular bike and jogging path that runs from Ojai to the Pacific Ocean. (If you're staying at the Ojai Valley Inn, it's an easy five-minute ride.) There you can taste wines made in local vineyards and enjoy live music.

Also worth checking out? The Ojai Certified Farmers' Market, where you can scoop up prepared foods as well as locally grown organic produce and one-of-a-kind handmade gifts every Sunday morning.

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Valley View Preserve; Photo: Buick

Sweat

Just a short ride from downtown Ojai, take a hike at the Valley View Preserve, where you can choose between beginner or more advanced trails. Thanks to the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, who maintains the 195-acre area, there are dozens of miles of new hiking routes. But for a short but steep hike that will give you a leg-burning workout and amazing views (prime Instagram material!), opt for Luci’s Trail.

Another way to explore—and get in a workout—is by hopping on a horse. The Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company offers guided horseback rides along the Ojai Valley Trail, a converted rail line that begins downtown and runs 10 miles to the coast in Ventura. They have rides suitable for beginner, intermediate, and advanced riders alike.

Or for a studio experience, hit up Arrow Heart Yoga for a variety of class options to cater to your mood and skill level. To really zen out, try their Bhakti chill flow, which uses mantras to open the body, heart, and mind, or Kundalini class, which uses breath, movement, and mantras to bring the nervous system into a state of calm. 

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7 Om private session; Photo: Buick

Zen

For a unique Ojai experience, plan a visit to Meditation Mount for a meditation session and stunning views of Ojai, and then walk through the meditative garden afterward. Although hit hard by the recent fire, miraculously, most of the Mount's buildings and some of the gardens still stand. While currently still closed, plans to re-open for continuous service are on the horizon

Whether or not you're staying at the hotel, head to the spa at the Ojai Valley Inn for a truly blissed-out experience. Voted one of the top spas in the country, they offer your standard array of facials and massages, plus unique services like the Kuyam treatment, a sauna-mud bath experience that originates from the Chumash Native Americans. While you're there, consider booking a private session with Nicola, an energy alchemist and spiritual sage and founder of 7 Om. Take home one of her custom small-batch elixir sprays made with crystal essences that are infused with essential oils said to have sacred healing energies.

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