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I’m surprised at how many people I talk to that have yet to discover the magic of Ojai. The tiny idyllic town, hidden in a bowl of hills behind Ventura, has to be one of the best kept secrets in Southern California. In fact, I’m almost afraid of telling people about my last visit for fear of letting the cat out of the bag. But it’s my job, so here goes.
I began a recent getaway to slow-moving town at the Su Nido Hotel, a beautiful boutique inn located in the heart of the village. Designed in Mission Revival style, Su Nido features spacious one- and two- bedroom suites, built around a charming cobblestone courtyard with trickling fountains, arched doorways and spiral staircases. It instantly reminded me of Spain.
Su Nido means “your nest” in Spanish, and after a friend and I checked into our suite, we felt like we were in a big, cozy nest. The feeling was highlighted by a a plush feather bed in the bedroom, a fireplace in the living room, a quaint kitchen area, free wireless Internet, and a private balcony.
One of “our nest’s” best features was its proximity to downtown. We were only a three-minute walk from the main drag, with all its colorful art galleries, shops, restaurants, museums, thrift stores and beautiful mountain vistas.
After spending the afternoon strolling down Ojai Ave. we found the Azu Restaurant, which also featured a Spanish flare. Led by Chef Laurel Moore, Azu serves an eclectic California Spanish Menu inspired by traditional Mediterranean Cuisine with fresh local ingredients grown and hand-picked by Moore from local farms and her own garden.
For our dinner at Azu we enjoyed a roasted beet salad with ricotta Salata, fried chickpeas, Moroccan olives and sherry vinaigrette; and the chef’s unique chile relleno, stuffed with Ojai spinach, pine nuts, currants and Oaxacan Mexican cheese.
For the main course my friend had pan roasted Chilean sea bass with lemon risotto, and I devoured a memorable seafood paella with shrimp, calamari, scallops, sausage, saffron rice, artichoke and peas. We shared homemade banana fudge gelato for dessert.
The next morning we kept with our unplanned “Spanish getaway to Ojai” with a tour of the Ojai Olive Oil Farm (www.ojaioliveoil.com). Here we met owners Ron and Alice Asquith, who first showed us their groves of olive trees from Spain, France and Italy. We then went inside and learned how olives are processed to make oil. Our tour ended with a tasting of numerous award-winning olive oils.
After the farm I relaxed at the Su Nido and then took an exciting electric bike ride through the back roads of Ojai with Kelly Pasco, owner of Project Ride (www.project-ride.com). Dubbed
“Spirit of Ojai,” the journey began at Meditation Mount and continued around Ojai, while Kelly discussed Ojai’s prominent New Age Movement leaders, the native Chumash Indians, and local organic farms.
For more info on visiting Ojai, visit www.ojaivisitors.com. For more info on staying at Su Nido, call (805) 646-7080 or visit www.sunidoinn.com.