Courtesy Ojai Inn and Spa
Seventy years ago, the valley that surrounds the village of Ojai, Calif., served as a stand-in for Shangri-la in Frank Capra’s 1937 film interpretation of the novel Lost Horizon.
Most would say the land between the Topa Topa Mountains has retained the mystical quality that earned it a movie role. Ojai is scented by orange groves and invigorated by tennis tournaments, outdoor music performances and the artists who now call it home.
For Los Angeleans, including Hollywood stars,Ojai is a dose of aspirin, relief from the headaches of big-city life.
Time moves more slowly there, yet several hours can slip quickly by in two of Ojai’s best-loved stores. Its most famous shop, Bart’s Books, bills itself as “the World’s Greatest Outdoor Bookstore.”
Many of Bart’s bookshelves are set along the sidewalk, sheltered by wide eaves and a 420-year-old live oak tree. Bart’s, in operation since 1964, offers anything from 35-cent paperbacks to rare books with four-figure price tags.
Even older than Bart’s is Rains, which opened in 1914 as a hardware store and mercantile. Over the years, Rains has expanded its physical space and its product line, selling. everything from locally produced olive oil and pottery to clothing and kitchen gadgets.
Because Ojai is within a quarter mile of the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, it is an option for off-site dinners. Among restaurants touting private dining spaces is Azu, where a dining room for 50 is outfitted with white linen and bouquets. Azu is known for its tapas and homemade gelatos; banana fudge and pear honey almond are among the flavors.
At Suzanne’s Cuisine, 12 to 14 can dine on the porch shaded by wisteria vines; groups of 30 to 60 can opt for the back patio at what Zagat’s has described as the village’s version of San Francisco’s famed Chez Panisse and “one of the best reasons to visit Ojai.”