Guide to a Classic Day in Ojai

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I wanted my first epic day to be a well-rounded itinerary of classic Ojai activities that locals and tourists would enjoy equally. I read a lot of Ojai travel guides to get a visitor’s perspective and asked friends and family for their classic Ojai. Then I fully quality controlled all aspects of my plan for epic-ness. The following morning I woke up hungover with a Deer Lodge souvenir t-shirt and an empty liter of Kombucha in my recycle bin. Classic. Epic. Yep.

The plan for the day:
Yard sales
Morning hike at Cozy Dell
Reading and photos at Bart’s Books
Take a nap
Margarita tasting downtown
Evening concert and dancing at Libbey Bowl


No Early Birds: Yard sales in Ojai

My daughter and niece looking through Christmas decorations at an Ojai yard sale.
Kids love yard sales for the opportunity to comb through piles of mysterious junk.

My epic adventure started at 8:45 am with my best friend and nineteen month old daughter in tow. We met up with my sister-in-law and three year old niece to hunt for treasures at the Saturday morning yard sale lineup.

Ojai is a great place for yard sales because of their popularity and the close proximity of multiple sales. I can’t think of a more intimate and authentic way to experience life in Ojai in a couple of hours. You could end up anywhere from a celebrity mansion to a trailer park community sale to a freaky haunted house filled with possessed demon dolls available at bargain prices. Two of the sales we visited were in nooks of town I’d never seen before, nor would have ever seen if not for the sales there that day. Both were poltergeist free and had awesome views of the the valley.

The Ojai Valley News contains a convenient yard sale map, and Ventura Craigslist works well for finding sale locations and descriptions. You can also cruise Ojai Avenue or El Roblar in Meiners Oaks for signage if you’re a gambler. The best day and season for yard sales is Saturday in the spring or fall, but you can generally find sales year round Friday through Sunday.

Beautiful garden with a sunflower bird bath at an Ojai home.
Normally stumbling upon this beautiful garden would be considered trespassing.

Cozy Hell: “Hiking” Cozy Dell in the morning heat

So much optimism at the Cozy Dell trailhead

My epic day party, now three cars deep, reached the Cozy Dell trailhead by 9:45 am. Sadly, this was about two hours too late for toddlers and adults to hike this steep, exposed trail during a summer heatwave. I decided to call it about 30 minutes in while nursing my sweaty baby on my sweaty boob.

In cooler weather, I love this trail. The first leg of Cozy Dell from Hwy 33 to the lookout at the top makes for a short and sweet hike. You can get a decent workout and see many examples of Ojai’s natural settings from orchards to the Los Padres National Forest in about an hour (much, much longer if you’re walking behind a toddler). Climbing the steep switch backs, you quickly gain gorgeous views of citrus fields and cascading blue mountains. You’ll see varying patches of flowers, ferns, oak trees, and succulents that define sections of the trail. The grand finale of the hike is a sweeping view of the valley floor that’s hidden until you reach the top.

The Cozy Dell trailhead is a quick 7-10 minute drive from downtown Ojai. To get there, head north on Hwy 33 and park on the left in the dirt lot in front of the Cozy Dell sign. If you pass the turquoise colored Friend’s Ranch packing house on your right, you just missed it. There’s a lot of poison oak bordering the trail in the summer, so be mindful of what you touch, and wash with Tecnu afterwards for good measure.

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That’s all poison oak on the left.

Simple Pleasures: R&R at Bart’s Books

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The beautiful halls of Bart’s Books

The next part of the plan was to leave my daughter with my mom, grab a beverage, and head to Bart’s Books to sip, meander, and read at our leisure. As soon as I ditched my kid, I instantly felt like I was actually on vacation. My niece was still along but thoroughly entertained by the children’s book section. I asked the staff for a recommendation of a sci-fi, futurist, Amy Tan kind of novel, and, even though that’s not a thing, they happily came up with a couple of titles to offer me.

Bart’s Books is a photographer and book lover’s paradise. It’s a beautiful outdoor labyrinth of shaded bookshelves packed with colorful book jackets. There are seating areas with comfy chairs around every corner where you can breathe in the pleasant musty odor of the cool cement floors, dust, mildew, and what must be the oils from a thousand different hands on the old books. The current owner has really done a nice job of sprucing the place up while still retaining its old smell and keeping it pretty much how the original “Bart” set it up in the 60s.

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Who can resist an old, smelly art book?

This is the part of the day where you can take a 2-3 hour nap. You’re welcome. Enjoy.


Missing you Los Caporales: Margarita Tasting Downtown

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Pixie Margarita at Agave Maria’s. You know any drink that comes in a cactus handle glass is going to be good.

Rested and de-oaked, I headed back to town for margarita tasting with my BFF at 4:30 pm. Our first stop: Rainbow Bridge to buy a novelty sized bottle of Kombucha. At $9.95 for a whole liter, how could we not buy this classic Ojai beverage? With our big Kombucha  tucked under my sweaty arm, we walked to Jim and Rob’s for our first drink of the evening.

Jim and Rob’s Fresh Grill:  My favorite margarita was from Jim and Rob’s, because it was was cheap, tall, strong, and tangy but not too sweet. Happy Hour is from 3-6 daily and house margaritas made with Zapopan Tequila Reposado are $4.00. If only they had a liquor license for their patio seating. (Update: Alcohol is now allowed on their lovely new patio.)

Is this Jim and Rob’s margarita served in a shot glass or is that bottle of Kombucha huge?!

Agave Maria’s Restaurant and Cantina:  BFF’s favorite margarita was the Pixie from Agave Maria’s for its light, fresh pixie tangerine flavor. We also tried the ceviche. It was fresh but lacking in any interesting flavor to my palate, which, to be fair, was slightly inebriated. I did enjoy the cheerful, shady atmosphere created by the ceiling of yellow gold and dark red umbrellas on their patio.

Yellow and gold umbrellas at Agave Maria's in Ojai
Colorful patio seating at Agave Maria’s

Azu:  We shared a Pixie Blossom margarita at Azu.  The word ‘creamy’ came to mind every time I had a drink of the aged tequila cocktail, maybe because it was the color of a melted Creamsicle. We also shared a Native Slider (grass fed bison and beef, cheddar, lettuce, Russian dressing and caramelized onions), and all that came to mind was good, salty, and too small. (Update: My favorite margarita is the Maria with the simple ingredients of citrus juice, agave syrup and tequila.)

Margarita at Azu
Pixie Blossom Margarita at Azu and BYO Kombucha

The concert started at 6:00 pm, apparently sharp, because we had missed the opening act when we arrived at 6:45 pm.  That was disappointing, but you know what they say, ‘When life gives you lemons, make a margarita,’ or something like that. We had just enough time to sample one last drink across the street at The Vine.

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One classy looking house margarita at The Vine

The Vine: This bar tucked in the tunnel pathway of the Ojai Arcade specializes in wine and live music, but they also make a tasty house margarita. It was reminiscent of Jim and Rob’s margarita but half the size and twice the price. What The Vine lacked in tequila in my drink, it made up for with live music, nice ambiance, and dim enough lighting for people watching.

No Regrets: Dancing at Libbey Bowl 

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A packed house at Libbey Bowl

We made it back to Libbey Bowl just in time for the main act, which happened to be my favorite band for the last 15 years- Ozomatli!  I felt embarrassed by the scant turnout of my hometown for a group I obviously consider to be pretty big time. On the upside, though, it was basically a private concert for me, my BFF, a handful of other good friends, my high school biology teacher, and the other  hundred or so Ozo fans that showed up. I’m glad I went with the cheaper tickets as there was plenty of room for all attendees to dance their butts off right up front.

Libbey Bowl is a very intimate and beautiful venue. It’s so small that there’s really no bad seat in the house. Outdoors under the blue sky, oaks and stars, you’ll feel transported no matter what the show is. There are only a handful of “real” concerts a year (listed on The Libbey Bowl calendar), so jump on them when you can. Free concerts at Libbey Bowl include some events at the Ojai Music Festival in June, the night before the 4th of July, and the night before Ojai Day in October.

And, there was beer and Kombucha being passed around, so yah, show-up next time, Ojai.
The small turnout meant plenty of Kombucha for everyone.

It’s only 9 PM: Nightcap at the Deer Lodge

The Ozomatli concert at Libbey Bowl was the first concert I’ve ever been to that started exactly on time and ended a full hour before noise curfew (10 pm in Ojai). We ran into some friends that were just arriving in expectation of another hour of music- poor suckers. Oh well, more lemons, more margaritas… Ozomatli’s early exodus meant that  I had another hour before the hubby/baby curfew.

The Deer Lodge is generally my go-to place to end an afternoon on the town, because it happens to be on my way home. Sunday afternoon it’s often packed with bikers from all over Southern California, but every night of the week it’s a classic locals’ scene. The crowd ranges from the twenty something “bar-scene” to baby boomers there for the local, organic cuisine, and music. The decor is rustic pine lodge meets hip San Francisco bar. It’s lovely to sip a drink under the twinkling white lights that spiral up the huge pine tree out front, that is, when there’s not someone smoking in the adjacent parking lot.

I ended my night with one more house margarita made with Sauza Gold. I’ve had a lot of bad drinks at the Deer Lodge, but this was not one of them. Even better was the chorizo and cheese stuffed squash blossom we shared. Before we left, BFF had the excellent idea to buy matching souvenir Deer Lodge tees to commemorate this classic epic day in Ojai.

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We still got it.

Thank you to Amy Joy Bakken for the yard sale, hike and Bart’s Books photos.

Alternative Itineraries

More yard-sailing:  During the spring and fall, you can often spend the whole morning going to sales. Estate sales and Help of Ojai’s 1st Saturday of the month sale are really fun to check out. You could grab a cup of coffee and quick (or leisurely if you’d like) breakfast at Farmer and The Cook, Coffee Connection, or Knead Baking Company.

More hiking:  The Cozy Dell trail actually extends to Foothill Road and the Pratt Trail, so you could hike much farther than to the lookout described here. I’ve been wanting to park a car at the Pratt trailhead and then drive another car over to Cozy Dell, and hike it one way.  A little further up the 33 from Cozy Dell is gorgeous Matilija Canyon (make a left on Matilija Canyon Road). There are a number of hikes for any length and intensity you desire. There’s generally always water running in the Canyon, but you might need to bump into a local to point you towards any swimming. Please drive slowly through the canyon neighborhood, and watch out for rattlesnakes, especially around the many rock walls that line the properties you’ll walk past after parking at the dead end.

More Research

Yard sale listings:
Ventura Craigslist
Ojai Estate Sales
Help of Ojai 1st Saturday Sale  (Rummage sale the 1st Saturday of the month at HELP’s West Campus)

Cozy Dell Trail

Rainbow Bridge

Bart’s Books

Margarita Tasting:
Jim and Rob’s Fresh Grill
Agave Maria’s
Azu
The Vine
Deer Lodge

Evening Concert Venues:
Libbey Bowl (This Libbey Bowl’s official website and calendar.)
Libbey Bowl Concerts put on by the Canyon Club 
The Ojai Art Center (Checkout their “Jammin'” concert series in the summer)
Ojai Visitors Bureau Event Calendar
Ojai Bowlful of Blues
Ojai Concert Series
The Vine and Deer Lodge often have live music.

In retrospect we should have bought these to take margarita tasting.
In retrospect, we should have bought these and worn them margarita tasting.

18 Comments

  1. Sharon Bisaccia

    Wow, Monica!! I’m almost worn out traveling with you on your blog…but what fun!! You make all those excursions so exciting. And so well written, too! Thanks for the ride thru our home town.

  2. Sandy Hebenstreit

    What a fabulous travel blog! I want to book a flight to Ojai tomorrow, so that I can follow Monica’s first epic adventure, starting with morning yard sales, then very (and I mean very!) quick hike at Cozy Dells and eventually closing out the day under the twinkling lights at Deer Lodge.

    1. admin

      I don’t know if I can top your epic Chicago. In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone that can match your stamina or enthusiasm for giving tours of his or her hometown.

  3. So well written. I would’ve been your designated driver had I known you were going to
    the Ozomatli concert, and I’ll bet Michael McDonald will be well attended.
    Wonderful all around, loved the photos. That was a LOT of margaritas.
    You’ve always had the most wonderful way of composing a sentence.
    xo Lisa

    1. admin

      I would have invited you and everyone else if I had known the assigned seating wasn’t going to matter / advanced purchasing of tickets. And PS we shared most of those drinks.

  4. Jeany powers

    OMG… The photo you took, where you said “normally stumbling upon a beautiful garden like this would be considered trespassing” is my parents house! We’re selling things and getting it ready to rent… Small world. Loved your blog!

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