Monday, May 19, 2014

Ojai, Here We Come ...

Morning coffee on our favorite bench in Ojai, California.
Ojai, Here We Come ...
By Jamee Gregory


Sometimes last minute changes are the best. For weeks we looked forward to our Easter holiday in Montecito, California. Two days before, our daughter Samantha took charge explaining that 60-degree temperatures along the fogged-in coast were not ideal, and suggested a new game plan. So off we went to the historic Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a 220-acre property, opened in 1923, further inland and only an hour and fifteen minutes north of LA.  

Edward Libbey saw the valley and fell in love, thinking up many plans for expansion and beautification of the existing rustic town.
Who knew that the valley was an agricultural and spiritual center and that we were arriving at peak season, when local small, seedless, and easily-peeled “Cutie” Murcott mandarin oranges were being celebrated and featured in everything from margaritas to sorbet?

The 10x3 mile valley, surrounded by hills and mountains, is known for its beauty and the ‘Pink Moment’ which occurs to the east, not west, as the sun sets over the 6000-feet high Topa Topa Bluffs. Its name, pronounced ‘oh-hi’, comes from its original settlers, Chumash Indians, and was their word for moon.

In 1917, Edward Libbey helped design, build and finance the downtown in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. Hippies and gurus arrived in the 1960s, attracted by the peaceful Shangri-La-like setting.

Today, guests are drawn by the golf course, tennis center, spa, restaurants and magnificent grounds. Families from San Francisco and Los Angeles enjoy the ranch, trails and newly renovated spa and suites. There are three dining areas, a pub, a driving range, putting green, boutiques and exercise studio. Visitors fill over 300 rooms, but the vast resort never feels crowded, retaining an elegant, old-world charm.
Ojai Inn, c. 1880s.
Libbey's Transformation of Downtown Ojai.
Roses and lavender leading to the main lobby of the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
Bright foliage lifts one's spirits.
Pale pink roses, large as saucers.
More roses.
A rose-covered arbor used for weddings.
Peter as a wallflower.
Carolina, my granddaughter, sings along to Let It Go from Disney’s “Frozen,” as we follow the Freeway. Arriving in high spirits, we are taken by cart on a tour, arriving at spacious adjoining suites with fireplaces, overlooking the grown-up’s swimming pool with a magnificent herb garden to our left.
Carolina, in the car, singing Let it Be from "Frozen," all the way to Ojai.
Brightly tiled terra cotta stairs, layered into the mountain, join the rooms to the resort’s main areas. Walkways are covered with tumbling roses and perennials. We change, climbing the stairs, huffing and puffing, and head for the well-appointed pool, heated and full of families. Lunch is served by friendly bus boys and girls, straight to your lounge or to an umbrella-covered table. The fare is light and lively, with Cobb salads and sandwiches and sweet potato fries. Under bright sunshine the pool glistens and Carolina dons goggles, kicking her way across the shallow water, making friends and enjoying every underwater second.
Heading for the swimming pool.
Roses cover the swimming pool walls and beautiful blooms tumble from every trellis.
Heaters add warmth for outdoor dining at breakfast and dinner.
The scene at the swimming pool.
Carolina donning her goggles.
Wrapped up at breakfast, when the temperature is cool.
Lunch by the pool.
Enjoying watermelon in a sweatshirt that depicts Casper, the Inn's avian mascot, who resides in a well-appointed and enormous bird cage beside the pool.
Next, it's time for tennis with Tom, a delightful pro who taught at John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch. He wins favor with our four-year-old, saying, “Are you ready, spaghetti?” which makes her giggle. By lesson’s end she hits the ball over the net and gives him a big hug.
Tennis lessons with Tom.
And putting lessons with grandpa.
The golf course, surrounded by mountains.
Afternoon shadows make patterns on the greens.
My husband, Peter and I take a 4-mile hike, along a woodland trail. By 5:45 we meet for dinner on the Oak Grill terrace. Nicely dressed families populate early-bird hour, enjoying splendid views and local wines.  As night falls, trees are gently illuminated and children return to their tables from the lawn. A musician plays inside and many guests take seats. In another area individual bonfires are lit for S‘mores, a combination of melted marshmallows, Hershey chocolate and graham crackers. Needless to say, Carolina loves toasting the marshmallow until it turns golden brown on the skewer.
Ready for dinner at the Oak Grill terrace.
The S'more pit, before being ignited.
Waiting for the smoke to subside leaving hot embers for S'more roasting.
Many steps keep guests in shape.
The spa.
The spa courtyard, for peaceful contemplation.
The next day she paints a glass jar at the Artist’s Cottage class, visits the playground, and swims. We sample spa cuisine inside, barred from the adult’s only terrace. After lunch, we hop on a bright red trolley taking us to town, sharing the ride with several pony-tailed, aging hippies. We stop at a terrific ice cream parlor, with homemade flavors, instead of visiting Bart’s Bookstore, a famous outdoor destination.
The charming trolley to the village center.
A plaza in town. The old-fashioned ice cream and candy store in town.
Returning to the resort, we study the schedule’s hourly offerings, from Stretch and Spinning, to Tequila Flight Tasting. We pass on most organized activities, but enjoy a fascinating lecture offered by the local animal rescue organization, on wounded raptors. The children are mesmerized by the appearance of winged creatures at close range.

We sign up for a treasure hunt, individually tailored to your child’s interest. Carolina chooses a “Wizard of Oz” theme, and we follow tailor-made clues that are beautifully illustrated and cleverly personalized, ending with a plate of pastel sugar cookies served at Joe’N Go, the coffee shop, after an exhilarating half-hour race, up, down and across the property. Each clue is within Carolina’s reach. She loves the experience.
Raptor Rescue.
Reading the clue we found at the front desk.
Reaching Hugh for a treasure hunt clue. Finding Dorothy and Toto.
Climbing the tiled steps in a princess costume.
Visiting the playground where children's activities are held at Camp Ojai.
Three generations, waiting for the 'Pink Moment' at sunset.
Settling into a routine, we dine at our favorite table on the terrace edge, always presented with crayons and coloring pages along with the menu. After dinner, we pause for music and make our way back down the many steps to our rooms, observing live bunnies, the pink sunset and once crashing a wedding.
The dining terrace with heaters.
Dinner on the terrace.
Beautiful weather for outdoor dining!
My favorite moment comes each morning when Samantha deposits Carolina and takes off on her run.  Easter Sunday arrives before we know it. There are Egg Hunts for each age. Carolina finds the lucky egg and wins a giant bunny. She is thrilled. On Monday we pick up our last handfuls of “Cuties” and are really sad to leave this heavenly spot.
Carolina on her way to Easter Egg Hunt. A real Easter bunny pausing on the lawn.
Egg hunting.
With the Easter Bunny.
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