Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo has traveled to 43 countries with his three kids (7, 9 and 11), but likes Southern California road trips just as much as faraway adventures. Ojai is his favorite California getaway.
Ojai with Kids
Ojai, California has long been a perfect Los Angeles weekend getaway. The town of 7,500 is less than two hours from LA, but worlds apart, set in a valley of sage and oak and surrounded by orange and avocado groves. It’s easy to find activities for couples, given the town’s spas, shopping, organic dining and yoga retreats, but it’s highly underrated as a kid-friendly destination.
We’ve been bringing our kids to Ojai for years. Here are our top ten reasons to visit.
The Park and Playground
Right in the middle of downtown is Libbey Park. There’s an amphitheater that attracts surprisingly good acts, but the best feature for kids is the playground – probably the best playground we’ve seen in any small town. Our kids can play for hours, and given that the park is surrounded by shops and restaurants, it’s easy to spend half a day downtown. Pick up Ojai Ice Cream or Bliss Frozen Yogurt nearby for a quick treat, and if you need caffeine, Ojai Coffee Roasting is less than a block away!
The Kid-Friendly Dining
Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta on the east end of town is surrounded by fields and groves and has the best atmosphere for kids, with outside dining and room for kids to run. Our kids prefer the pizza at Ojai Pizza, though, near the park downtown. We love the sushi at both Hakane and Sakura and typically alternate between the two. Sakura is downtown so it’s a little more convenient. In nearby Meiners Oaks both Papa Lennon’s and Farmer and the Cook are excellent, with outdoor patios and relaxed live music several nights a week. Papa Lennon’s has Italian cuisine, while Farmer and the Cook serves organic farm-to-table Mexican during the day and pizza Thurday through Sunday evenings. If you’re looking for higher-end restaurants that are kid-friendly, we like Azu, East End Restaurant and Bar, and Nocciola.
There are two excellent bakeries in town – Knead Baking Company and Kate’s Bread. Knead is downtown and open Wednesday through Sunday until 2pm. Kate’s Bread is open one hour a week, from noon to 1pm on Sundays. Plan ahead, place an order on Kate’s website and then line up at noon! She’s located a few minutes from downtown. Our kids particularly like the Barley Porridge with Flaxseed loaf.
Ojai is surrounded by mountains and there are more than a dozen easily-accessible trails. Shelf Road is the local favorite, right above downtown and easy to manage on foot or on two wheels, with or without kids. The views are excellent, and there are several paths that head up from Shelf Road if you want more exercise. Fox Canyon Trail around the Valley View Preserve is my kids’ favorite. Another favorite is the Horn Canyon Trail, which begins at Thacher School on the east end of town. The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s Trail Finder app is a great resource.
The Horseback Riding
The Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company offers one and two hour trail/canyon rides. One-hour rides are perfect for kids 6-12. Older kids and more experienced riders can handle the two-hour rides. And there are pony rides around their ranch for kids younger than six.
The local speciality is the Pixie tangerine. If you visit in March or April, you’ll find Pixie-themed dishes in restaurants, Pixie margaritas, Pixie spa treatments and Pixie-based activities at the hotels. You can always purchase Pixies at the local grocery stores and at the Sunday Farmer’s Market in town, but for a more authentic experience head to Friend’s Ranch for a grove tour and tasting. They run tours from January through April.
The Toy Store
We love that Ojai still has an old-fashioned toy store right in the middle of town! Serendipity Toys has been behind the Arcade for 38 years.
The Places to Stay
There are a dozen or so hotels and inns in Ojai. We’ve found that the two most kid-friendly places are polar opposites, the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa and Caravan Outpost. If you’re looking for five-star luxury, pools, a spa and a kid’s club, head to the Ojai Valley Inn. If you’re feeling a little more rustic and want to sleep in an Airstream, go for Caravan Outpost. They even have trailers that can sleep families of five. Now the similarities: both properties are magical in the evenings, with Caravan Outpost’s campfire and the Inn’s outdoor dining and oak trees strung with lights, and both have complimentary bicycles available for riding into town. I love the Inn’s Picnic & Pedal program – borrow a bike, grab a picnic lunch, blanket and map from Libbey’s Market at the resort and head off on an adventure. And Caravan Outpost is located right at the start of the Ojai Bike Trail, so you won’t see traffic on your way down to the park. They even have bikes for kids.
Ojai’s sunsets are gorgeous, culminating most nights in the “pink moment,” when the mountains surrounding Ojai turn orange/pink/red. You can appreciate the sunset from anywhere in Ojai, but Meditation Mount east of town is a particularly perfect spot. Take a blanket, sit on the grass and soak it all in! Very kid-friendly, as long as your kids know how to relax. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but open for sunset viewing every other evening.
And there’s more to do! The Mob Shop leads bike tours for all ages. Or head to Ojai Olive Oil to taste oils and vinegars – our kids love the tastings! And Bart’s Books, located downtown, is a unique outdoor bookstore with an eclectic children’s section. The Ojai Visitors Bureau downtown can always provide specific family recommendations and maps.
When To Visit
Ojai is gorgeous year-round, but spring and fall have the most idyllic weather. The smells from the orange blossoms, and the ubiquitous wildflowers, make March and April my favorite months to visit Ojai with kids.
Eric Stoen is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnational Gnomads, visit TravelocityGnomads.com.
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.