A cloudy sky with the sun trying to peek through, a drive from the coast and up the long windy road lined with colorful trees on the side, animals moving around and the smell of fresh food in the air. People are walking around ready to shop until they drop.
Located 40 miles from California Lutheran University is the small town of Ojai, a hidden gem of Ventura County. Ojai is tucked away in the Topatopa Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest creating a mystical and calming vibe for the town.
With a population of about 8,000, the town is flooded with tourists every weekend. Ready to immerse themselves walking through art galleries, tasting wine and olives, shopping at local stores, hiking along the trails and much more, the town is electric and lively.
“We enjoy the shopping and going to restaurants that we liked to visit,” Former resident Doug Wood said. Wood is a frequent visitor to Ojai, having previously called the town home for 12 years, but now plays the role of tourist with his wife.
Other than shopping and dining, tourism comes to see the many festivals that Ojai hosts several times a year.
Jamie Fleming, Head of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, said, “There are so many festivals here! We have the Lavender Festival. After that we have 10 days of the Ojai Film Festival it is really fun and adds to what people can do when they are here.”
Libbey Park, at the heart of town hosts anything from outdoor concerts at the Libbey Bowl, dance classes and family quality time spent under the town’s famous olive trees.
With the stress that school creates for some students, Ojai provides an environment that allows Cal Lutheran students to get away, relax and re-center, all within driving distance.
“If you are looking for something to do on a Saturday, just pile all your roommates in the car in the morning and you’ll be back by dinner time,” California Lutheran University sophomore Julia Wright said. She said the reason she goes is because her mom and her like shopping in little quaint towns.
“It’s not like downtown Los Angeles where its all corporate it’s really picturesque and cute,” Wright said.
Ojai sits just an hour down Highway 101 just past Ventura sits the small town making it convenient for Cal Lutheran students and residents of the Conejo Valley to visit for a quick and affordable getaway.
“People come here for the galleries, but the real gem here are the restaurants. We don’t allow franchises like McDonald’s and Outback. They are all individual and special in their own ways,” Fleming said.
One of the popular local hot spots is the restaurant Food Harmonics where everything is 100 percent organic, gluten and GMO-free. Across the street is the family-friendly Ojai Pizza restaurant where groups gather after football and soccer games to enjoy each other’s company over a delicious pizza or sandwiches.
Fleming said that outdoor seating at restaurants is common because of the town’s idyllic valley location nestled in the valley creating a more temperate climate. The town was voted the No. 2 tennis community in the United States and hosts many tournaments throughout the year.
Along with tennis, there are many hiking trails such as the Ojai Meadows Preserve or Valley View Preserves Luci’s Trailhead. Despite the city being busy on the weekends, it still carries a unique sense of silence.
“Big cities have the hustle and bustle and its quiet in this small town,” Wood said.
When looking to get away from campus for the day, head to Ojai for small town charm.