Savoring Ojai

Fresh food fills the landscape in a Southern California valley. Here's how to experience it all

Margo True

The scent of blossoms ― orange, grapefruit, tangerine, lemon ― floats on the fresh, cool air every spring in Ojai. Thousands of citrus trees grow in this little mountain-ringed valley 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles. So do avocados, olives, lavender, and a wider smattering of other crops, including walnuts, tomatoes, and persimmons, each planted in the microclimate that suits it best. Full story »

WHERE TO EAT

These restaurants all use locally grown ingredients.

Auberge at Ojai Chef-owner Christian Shaffer has raised the bar for dining in Ojai; seasonal menu. $$$$; closed Mon-Tue; 314 El Paseo Rd.; 805/646-2288.

Boccali's Good, fresh pizzas, hearty pastas; much of the summer produce comes from the restaurant's garden. $$; 3277 E. Ojai Ave.; 805/646-6116.

Bodee's Lovely place set in the side of a canyon; good tri-tip sandwiches but slow service. $$$; closed Mon-Tue; 3304 Maricopa Hwy.; 805/646-5300.

Feast Bistro A warm downtown nook with an eclectic menu: blue cheese flatiron steak and orange-olive oil cake are both popular. $$; closed Mon; 254 E. Ojai Ave.; 805/640-9260.

The Ranch House With its gardens full of fragrant herbs, the Ranch House has been an Ojai institution since 1956. $$$$; closed Mon; 500 S. Lomita Ave.; 805/646-2360.

Suzanne's Cuisine Chef Suzanne Roll sources many of the ingredients locally for her fine, easygoing French-Italian cooking. $$$; closed Tue; 502 W. Ojai Ave.; 805/640-1961.

WHERE TO TASTE LOCAL PRODUCE

Friend's Ranches Tucked away in Matilija Canyon, Friend's has a packing house where the public can buy fruit. 7-noon Tue and Fri; 15150 Maricopa Hwy.; www.friendsranches.com; 805/646-2871.

New Oak Ranch In summer, Bill and Karen Evenden invite picnickers to have lunch on this gorgeous, hilly property, planted with lavender (available for picking starting in June), tangerines, a century-old walnut orchard, and 1,400 olive trees. Sat-Sun Jun-early Aug; 9599 Ojai Santa Paula Rd.; www.newoakranch.com; 805/640-3026.

Ojai Certified Farmers' Market Here are all the fruits of the valley, from citrus to lettuces and honey ― including Jim Churchill's avocados and tangerines. 9-1 Sun; 300 E. Matilija St.; www.ojaicertifiedfarmersmarket.com; 805/698-5555.

Ojai Olive Oil Taste Ron Asquith's Tuscan-style Crisp (peppery) or Sweet (fruity) oils, plus oils flavored with rosemary or mandarins, and tour the pressing room, nursery, and stately old olive grove. Free tours 10-2 Sat; 1811 Ladera Rd.; www.ojaioliveoil.com; 805/701-3825.

WHERE TO STAY

The Blue Iguana Inn A former motor court turned into a beguilingly stylish but reasonably priced inn; on State 33, 2 miles west of town. 12 rooms and suites from $99; www.blueiguanainn.com; 805/646-5277.

The Emerald Iguana Inn Blue's more upscale sibling, this Iguana is art-filled and luxurious ― its "cottages" are so spacious and comfortable, you have to fight a desire to move in permanently. Secluded yet convenient location six blocks from downtown. 9 cottages from $139, including continental breakfast; www.emeraldiguana.com; 805/646-5277.

The Lavender Inn Pretty gardens, as you'd expect from the name, but also charming rooms, substantial breakfasts, and a nice sense of Ojai history: The inn began life in 1874 as the town's first schoolhouse. 8 rooms from $115, including breakfast plus evening wine and cheese; www.lavenderinn.com; 805/646-6635.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa Eighty years old but newly renovated (at a cost of $90 million), this rambling, Spanish-style resort remains the plushest place to stay in the valley by far. Superb golf course and luxurious spa; Maravilla ($$$$) is the formal restaurant, but we actually prefer the more relaxed Oak Grill ($$$$). 308 rooms from $400; www.ojairesort.com; 800/422-6524.

WHERE TO SIP

Ojai Vineyard The valley's best-known winery, but it's not open to the public.

Casa Barranca A stunning Greene & Greene Craftsman house, plus a winery and yoga studio, with views of the entire valley. Owner Bill Moses makes fine Viognier and Syrah and a delicate, Burgundian-style Pinot Noir, all fermented with wild yeasts (he believes in minimal intervention). The winery is not open to the public, but tastings (from $4) are scheduled Wed-Sun at Firehouse Pottery & Gallery, 109 S. Montgomery St.; www.casabarranca.com; 805/646-9453.

Old Creek Ranch Winery A charmingly ramshackle place in business for 26 years, surrounded by California poppies, roses, and 1,200 young cherry trees. In the tasting room, good wines made with grapes from coastal regions all over the state, plus three sweet cats. 11-5 Sat-Sun; $5 tasting fee; 10024 Old Creek Rd., Oak View; www.oldcreekranch.com; 805/649-4132.

EDIBLE OJAI

For free seasonal recipes ― starring local produce ― and details on subscribing to the quarterly Edible Ojai newsletter ($28 for four issues), visit http://www.edibleojai.com.

Read more about Ojai and get seasonal recipes »