In Ojai, the orange groves grow fat at the feet of the Topa Topa Mountains. And as the day wanes, those beloved California bluffs exude a hue of pink so lustrous, flamingo and rose petaled, that the town has named everything from craft cocktails to kombuchas in the phenomenons pink moment honor.
Nearly six months after the demonic Thomas fire (the largest wildfire in modern California history) cornered the small town of 8,000, secondary succession explodes on those peaks’ flanks. The historic valley, known by its first inhabitants—the Chumash—as The Valley of the Moon, now welcomes visitors with wildflowers.
Known internationally as a spiritual hot spot due to its energy vortexes, the southern California town just 14 miles from the Pacific Coast, has established itself as a place of healing and wellness as many holistic healing centers and retreats have laid claim in the valley like Amara of Ojai and dozens of others, each with their own unique interpretation of energy and space—their ilk set up residency long ago—among the quaint streets of town are crystal shops, farm-to-table restaurants, and a few bare-footed wayfarers dressed head to toe in hemp.
I have visited Ojai four times and with each visit, my smile grows a half mile wider whether I have been trekking in the nearby Sespe Wilderness in search of clandestine creeks or biked through the obliging lavender fields in late afternoon. Certainly, the vortex described exists in the land. Certainly, it is capitalized on, refined, and sophisticated in the town’s gorgeous shops like Summer Camp and In the Field, and General Store exude the California aesthetic enthusiastic for desert vibes, outdoor appreciation, and minimalist, vintage, or handcrafted goods.
But it’s in the experiences that surround Ojai and the interaction with the Valley’s landscapes that trick even the most woo-woo-skeptic into meditation through a flight of experiences from hot springing and horseback riding to hiking and biking across the bluffs of the Topa Topas.. Whatever introspection or entertainment you’re in search of, wayfare to Ojai, set up camp at one of the town’s unique hotels, like the Caravan Outpost, and perhaps you too will be swindled into your own moving meditation.
My third trip in Ojai took me to the hot springs of Ecotopia. It was late August and a collection of friends and I were looking for a swift escape from Los Angeles. Ojai is only a hop, skip, and a dive (80 minutes) from the sprawl of the city and offers itself as a mellowing day trip for those on a budget, seeking a plunge of solitude and countryside charm.
Ecotopia is perched high in the Matilija Valley, just outside of Ojai and is officially a CSA Program (Community Supported Agriculture) and respects “local cultures and ecology.” Beside Ecotopia’s gardening and agricultural workshops, you can book a secluded and private collection of clothing-optional hot spring pools for yourself or group in two hour time slots, solving the awkward “can we”, “should we”, “will they care?” worries of public springs where the line of acceptable nudity isn’t always clear. Meaning, you can shuck your clothes, feel the breeze, and soak away your worries—without worry.
We spent the afternoon reposing between the springs’ boulders and warm waters taking care to listen to the reed grasses, the trickle of the water, and the cool breath sweetened by the cottonwoods of the valley. The experience,l allowed us to strip down to the essentials to appreciate not only the environment, but also our bodies.
Few things are as absorbing as a sunset ride across the public land just outside of Ojai with the Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company. The company has over a hundred horses, but their trail horses are some of the gentlest. During my fourth visit to Ojai, I took an hour-long ride on Chance, a wildly handsome quarter horse and explored the open space of wildflowers, yucca, and scrub oak on a neat, figure-eight loop.
Working in coexistence with a horse always requires a bit of getting used to as you balance on the saddle and familiarize yourself to the horse’s gait but as soon as you lock in on your rhythm and begin walking your horse with your reins in hand, you’re offered a unique glimpse of the world— 15 hands high. Unlike bikes and motorcycles, you’re offered only the natural sounds of your horse’s hooves on the trail, their happy neigh and excited whinnies. Moving through the space slowly, without much of your own physical effort can unwind you into introspection and appreciation.
Opt for the sunset tour with the OVTRC for the coolest time of day, the least flies, and the chance to catch that classic pink moment on the bluffs that the locals can’t seem to get enough of.
Sometimes the best meditation is a serious ass kicking. Whether you’re a beginner looking for a tour or are a seasoned pro, drop into Ojai’s The MOB Shop for custom tours, as well as some of the best beta and recommendations on local trails for a self-guided ride. They’re that friendly in Ojai to give you advice, free of charge.
The shop offers a variety of tours that allow you to coast downhill on Sulphur Mountain (nearly 2,000 feet) without a single uphill peda rotation, meandering many miles through Ventura Preserve, as well as cardio blasting climbs up the Topa Topa Bluffs. The company also offers more informative road tours for history buffs easy goers that wind through the groves and rock walls of the town’s historic East end where the pixies—an engineered citrus unique to the valley—grow. A sweet treat peeled at the end of your ride.