Nestled in the Topatopa Mountains about 90 minutes northwest of LAX is the village of Ojai, which The Washington Post has called the “most desirable place to live in America,” and so I came as a guest of the Chamber of Commerce to find out why. My first scheduled stop was a facial at an herbal apothecary called EarthTonics, which proved to be one of the most pleasant hours I can remember. As I floated back out the door, I asked Daron Hope, the owner, “What just happened?” So she wrote me this note:
“Your Botanical Facial focused on relaxing the face, neck, and shoulder muscles while we used some potent herbs and superfoods to deliver nutrient-dense hydration. We began with an herbal steam to soften your skin and support a deeper state of relaxation. After cleansing and exfoliating with my Cardamom Cream Cleanser and Honey Bamboo Facial Scrub, I made you a custom mask with collostrum and goji berries. I covered your skin with hydrosol-drenched cotton (these are the floral waters I told you about, remember?)—a blend of rose, tulsi, and orange blossom which together are anti-inflammatory and very softening. These steeped your skin with antioxidants while we grounded your energy with a foot massage using my Grapefruit and Rose Body Nectar. We finished with a facial massage using my Repair Creme Concentrate, a powerful corrective cream with Tahitian tamanu oil and root herbs to heal sun damage and stimulate skin cell turnover.”
In other words, my face and feet had been immersed in herbs and flowers and berries by a native of Ojai who had gathered and mixed and applied these fresh ingredients herself—and I think that level of pure intentionality goes a long way toward explaining why Ojai is such a desirable place to be. Like the facial, it felt more than skin deep.
I stayed at the Ojai Retreat Center, a five-acre hilltop bed and breakfast overlooking the village that has 12 guest rooms, three libraries, and no televisions. The atmosphere is serene, in keeping with the energy of the manager, who came to Ojai from Switzerland, following Jiddu Krishnamurti. As you may recall, Krishnamurti was raised by the Theosophical Society in India, to be their prophesied Maitreya, or world teacher. Krishnamurti renounced his title and famously declared truth to be “a pathless land” that belongs to no creed or religion or country. Yet he became a world spiritual teacher, and he fell in love with Ojai in 1922 and died there in 1986. In the meantime, he drew people from around the world to create lasting centers like the Oak Grove School and the Peppertree Retreat Center, where I went for yoga. Many other teachers also came and created spectacular gathering spots like Meditation Mount, where people gather to quietly watch the sunset. While Ojai now has celebrities and cars that cost as much as houses, the underlying sprit of competition is somehow to be more mindful than one’s neighbor.
The soul of the Ojai extensive foodie scene is Farmer and the Cook. Steve is the farmer who runs a 12-acre organic farm and CSA, while Olivia is the cook who runs the restaurant/farm stand. Their food is fresh, simple, inexpensive, and wonderful—and the long tables lend themselves to long conversation among people who have just met. This is Ojai’s central kitchen where everyone comes to hang out. At night there is a thriving urban cocktail competition in the fancy village bars, but the drink they were showing off at Azu is called the Pink Moment for the light that hits the mountains at sunset. Ojai is a delightful tourist town where even the cocktails are a call to be mindful.
Where to Wander
- Azu Restaurant & Bar for a glass of wine azuojai.com
- EarthTonics, for natural skincare earthtonicsskincare.com
- Farmer and the Cook for fresh organic produce and farm-to-fork vegetarian fare farmerandcook.com
- Meditation Mount, for sunsets and special programs meditationmount.org
- Ojai Retreat Center, for writing your memoir ojairetreat.com
- Ojai Rock Climbing, for outdoor adventure ojairockclimbing.com
- Osteria Monte Grappa, for fine dining omgojai.com
- Peppertree Retreat Center, for Krishnamurti’s legacy peppertreeretreat.com