Ojai is a small town full of worldly people, nestled in the appropriately named ‘Ojai Valley.’ Ojai is 80-ish miles Northwest of Los Angeles, and 45-ish minutes West of Santa Barbara.
Ojai is home, my sweet spot, my retreat, and the only place I can find self-serve peppermint frozen yogurt during the holidays.
I’ve never driven into the Ojai Valley without feeling like I was shedding a load of crap off my shoulders that had been piled on me while not in the valley. Come to Ojai! We’ll help you unload you crap!’ (New town slogan maybe?)
Here are my top ten tips for exploring Ojai with kids…
1. Hit The Bike Paths. There is a seven-plus mile smoothly paved bike path running through the heart of town that will provide you amble opportunity to tire out your kids. If they’re not past training wheels the multitude of bike rental shops all offer kiddo bike trailers. If you’re lucky, they will invent adult size bike trailers by the time your kid is a teen, and they can lug you around next time you’re in town.
2. Farmer’s Market. On any given Sunday you can cuddle up to a stranger for a Free Hug, be encouraged to exhibit some interpretive dance while a child protégé teenager (he at least looks very youthful) picks away at a sitar, and take your pick of the plump ‘gluten-be-gone’ fare at the Farmer’s Market.
3. Bonny Lu’s Country Café. If you want an escape from the vegan, gluten-free, organic, paleo-something local food that really is delicious, but maybe needs some butter, head on over to Bonny Lu’s Country Café. This old school American diner has butter aplenty and puts it to good use. They are also the epitome of kid-friendly. When my hubs and I were desperate to get out of the house when our son was two weeks old we nervously sat down at Bonny Lu’s, as our newborn commenced to wail right on cue. They were so cool one of the waitresses even held the baby while we ate! Tip them well.
4. Bliss Frozen Yogurt. Bliss caters to the dairy lover, vegan, diabetic, and sugarplum all at the same time. They always have a fun and varied variety of frozen goodness and by far have the best offering of toppings this yogurt-shop-connoisseur has ever seen. Besides the brain freezing awesomeness, they have an impressive assortment of kids toys, books, and tiny tables so your shorties will feel right at home. 5. Rose Valley Falls. A short 30-minute drive up into the Los Padres National Forest behind Ojai you’ll find Rose Valley, a haven of waterfalls, swimming holes, and the occasional rattlesnake (but don’t tell anyone.) Ask any local for directions to Rose Valley Falls and you’ll quickly find yourself at the trailhead of a short 1-mile round-trip “hike” that is so easy an 18 month old could do it. No really, my 18 month old did this hike. Bring a change of clothing for your kids, and probably yourself, because the small, shallow, (and freezing!) pools at the base of the falls are just too tempting. This lush oasis could have been the inspiration for FernGully, and you may see a fairy. 6. Celebrity Spotting. Because Ojai has a strict ban on any and all paparazzi (even your camera phone,) you’ll find a large celebrity population mixed amongst us civilians. On any given Sunday, or any other day, you may run into a naturally and ‘legally’ blond, petite actress, or a towering burnet actor who knows how he ‘met your mother.’ There are so many famous people escaping Los Angeles to meander the perfectly tepid air of Ojai, I’ve even become friends with some of them! Little ole’ me, friends with celebrities, don’t ya know. It’s not too difficult to run into someone who was in ‘that movie’ or ‘this TV show’ when we only have a population of 8,000. 7. Libbey Park. This quaint and classic grassy park, complete with a sprawling playground for all ages, is located in the heart of downtown Ojai, and provides a great place to lie on the grass and hope that Reese Witherspoon walks by. 8. Bart’s Books. If your littles are old enough to read, or at least enjoy you reading to them over, and over, and over again, they’ll appreciate the laid back atmosphere of this self-proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Outdoor Bookstore,’ which is probably the world’s greatest outdoor bookstore. Their smattering of rare classics, off-the-wall finds, and children’s books you probably haven’t read before (score!) will easily captivate your family’s attention for hours. 9. Lake Casitas WaterPark. This is a small, yet fun, water park that your children will not easily get lost in; need I say more? Okay I will. They have a water-spouting playground for young children, and a lazy river that will allow tired parents of older children to float in a circle while their offspring work off the frozen sugar they purchased from the snack bar.
10. Ojai Skateboard Park. For older children that have their first set of wheels, in the form of a skateboard or razor scooter that is, this is a clean, fun, and safe (as safe a skate park could be) place to hang out. Younger children will enjoy standing by the fence, watching daredevils zip by on small pieces of rolling wood, or plastic. On a side note, there are copious opportunities to drink booze, and feel sophisticated while doing so (because you’re at a ‘tasting’,) all over Ojai. Next time you’re in town, call me up, your kids can come over and play with mine, and you can go get drunk, I mean happily buzzed, and I’ll pick you up. Be forewarned, many people come to Ojai and never leave, and not in a creepy way, in a ‘this place is so great I never want to leave’ kind of way.