Long considered a haven for in-the-know travelers looking for an idyllic escape, Ojai, California—a picturesque valley town located only 90 minutes northeast of Los Angeles—is known for its natural beauty, famous pink sunsets, and charming shops and restaurants, all set beneath the Topatopa Mountains. In recent years, a new breed of creatives has been flocking to the region, bringing with them a sophisticated energy infused with a low-key appeal. Now, in addition to classic spots like Bart’s Books and Meditation Mount, Ojai is home to stylish boutiques and great contemporary art. The town’s top hotel, Ojai Valley Inn, is also getting in on the action, developing a groundbreaking event and culinary center designed by architect Howard Backen. And following last year’s Thomas Fire—which encircled the town but failed to cause any major destruction—Ojai is not just back, it’s better than ever.
Ojai Valley Inn
Set amidst 220 lush, rolling acres, this legendary Mediterranean-style resort—originally built as a private golf club by iconic California architect Wallace Neff in 1923—has long been considered the premier place to stay in Ojai. Now, the 303-room property is expanding on its rich design heritage with the creation of the Farmhouse, a striking 20,000-square-foot culinary and event center devised by renowned Napa Valley–based architect Howard Backen of Backen Gillam Kroeger.
The expansive indoor-outdoor space—set to debut in early 2019—will be built to resemble a rustic modern barn, featuring exposed wood, a great room with soaring 25-foot ceilings, a Viking-equipped kitchen and private dining area, and a picturesque lawn dotted with lavender and anchored by a majestic 100-year-old oak tree. “The vernacular architectural history of Ojai has been a big part of the inspiration for the design,” says Backen. “The barn style of the buildings, the orchard, and the gardens are also a reflection of the farm-to-table connection to the land that is such a part of the area’s heritage.” From $400/night; ojaivalleyinn.com
In the Field
Since opening in late 2014, this perfectly curated lifestyle, décor, and fashion boutique has played a crucial role in Ojai’s transformation from a sleepy valley town into a more sophisticated travel—and shopping—destination. Owned by the wife-and-husband team of Bianca and Channon Roe—both former actor/models who made the move from L.A.—the store combines Channon’s talent for interior design (projects have included Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann’s Malibu home) with the couple’s bohemian-chic aesthetic. Items such as intricate caftan dresses and Sam Roberts bowler hats are sold alongside Turkish rugs and vintage Bruno Mathsson furniture, while a recent outdoor expansion features a garden and additional retail space.
The Porch Gallery Ojai
One of the only spots in Ojai for serious contemporary art, Porch Gallery showcases the work of local talents such as abstract painter Ruth Pastine and remix artist Cassandra C. Jones as well as international names like Brazilian photographer Mona Kuhn and Japanese calligrapher Souun Takeda. In May, co-owners Lisa Casoni and Heather Stabo purchased the gallery’s building—the historic Montgomery House, built in 1874—and are planning a careful renovation and restoration overseen by Ojai architect Amy Shook. The first phase will include a kitchen for their latest endeavor, Beato Chocolates (beatochocolates.com), named after the late celebrated Ojai ceramicist Beatrice “Beato” Wood and featuring collaborations with artists such as Ry Rocklen. For an extra treat, visit the gallery on a Sunday and combine with a stroll through the bustling Farmers Market next door. porchgalleryojai.com
Cattywampus Crafts and Beacon Coffee
Located in one half of the former Carrows Restaurant, Cattywampus Crafts—the brainchild of L.A. transplants Anna and Kirk Nozaki—offers a modern take on Ojai’s rich crafts tradition. Opened in May 2016, the expansive space sells hand-dyed, organic yarns and fabrics as well as handmade goods such as custom macramé globe light fixtures (designed by Kirk), Mark Churchill ceramics and Fanny Penny jewelry. Last spring, the Nozakis introduced clothing, and this fall they will launch pillows and throws made by local fiber artist Carol Shaw Sutton. There are also classes teaching crafts like knitting, basket weaving and crochet. The other half of the building is home to Beacon Coffee, which shares the same aesthetic as Cattywampus (sandblasted wood ceilings, polished cement floors) and serves a unique selection of responsibly sourced coffee alongside homemade baked goods. Owners John and Jennifer Wheir recently brought in Santa Monica chef Nick Barainca to launch a pop-up daytime restaurant, Garguntua, which has proven to be so popular it has now been extended indefinitely. Dishes such as black kale salad and malted barley waffles are served on custom Humble Ceramics, and dinner service will launch later this year.
In September 2016, Mike Soens and Megan Hooker opened Barro, a by-appointment showroom in a converted two-car garage showcasing their own chic, minimalistic ceramics. Now, they share the space with friends Lana and Darrick Rassmusen of Killscrow, offering stylish handcrafted furniture pieces (vintage-inspired vinyl record cabinets, mid-century-style chairs and beds), prints, and textiles. The intimate shop also supports the work of fellow local and regional artists such as potter P. Lyn Middleton—a former graphic designer and fine-arts teacher whose clients include John Legend. There is even Sunshine Honey, sourced by local beekeepers Ryan O’Dell and Katherine Rodriguez—a perfect complement to Hooker’s signature honey pots.