The route: Los Angeles to Interstate 5 north to California 126 west through Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula to California 150 north to Ojai.
Miles: About 180 miles round trip from Los Angeles
Best time: Fall, winter and spring. Summer temperatures can climb into the 90s. There are festivals and events throughout the year so the small town can be a bit crowded.
Why: Although creeping urbanization has touched Piru and Fillmore, the abundant citrus orchards, avocado groves and tree farms along parts of 126 remind you of California’s rich agricultural history. As you descend the steep, twisting road into Ojai Valley, stop (there are roadside turnouts) to admire the views of the basin and the Topatopa Mountains.
Highlights: The Ojai Olive Oil Co. sits on 40 hard-to-find acres in the foothills at the east end of the valley. The family-owned and -operated business produces three types of olive oil from 2,000 trees, some of which are 130 years old. There’s a tasting room, with various oils and balsamic vinegars for sale. Free tours on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Shopping (there are no chain stores in Ojai) and gallery hopping are major activities downtown: Don’t miss OVA Arts, Fig Curated Living and Rains. And the one-of-a-kind Bart’s Books will delight browsers and bibliophiles. The gentle Ojai Valley Trail tempts weekend walkers, joggers and bike riders; hikers who want something more rugged should head to the nearby Ventura River Preserve.
Memorable stay: Relax and recharge at the peaceful Lavender Inn, which has seven rooms (some pet-friendly) and a cottage within easy walking of Ojai’s shops and restaurants. Enjoy the gorgeous garden, with plenty of nooks in which to sit and read or have a picnic lunch, with fixings from the Rainbow Bridge market across the street.
Memorable meal: Order at the counter, take your number and snag a table in the courtyard at rustic-casual Nest. Menu favorites include the fried chicken sandwich, a crisp, chunky thigh served on a bun with bacon jam; and fish tacos, with chile salsa, crema and pumpkin seeds. The activated charcoal lemonade? Refreshing despite its murky appearance. Still hungry? For dinner, try an antipasto platter and a build-your-own pizza at kid-friendly Boccali’s. If it’s warm, sit outside at a picnic table under a gaily striped red and white umbrella.
Tourist trap or treat: The strawberry shortcake at Boccali’s is the sweetest of treats. The buttery cake, from an old family recipe, is topped with round, ripe berries and a towering swirl of whipped cream.
Plan to spend: The 1½-hour drive from L.A. means it’s an easy day trip. But figure on spending two or three days because there’s so much to do and see.