Sharon’s Life in Ojai!

Sharon Palmer

Shangri-La. That’s the official nickname for Ojai, a small town nestled in a rich valley surrounded by mountains, located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. In fact, the name Ojai (pronounced oh-hy) is said to have originated from an indigenous term for the word nest. However, the name actually originates from the Native American Chumash word for moon.

So, this nest in the valley of the moon is now my home, as of January 2. After living in the chaparral hills of the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles for the past 30 years, I’ve decided to take the plunge and move to my own piece of heaven in the Ojai Valley. That’s me holding Teddy, poised over the Ojai Valley at sunset. This is going to be my new view every morning.

One of my favorite things about Ojai is the food—Azu is one of my favorite plant-powered lunch spots for a sunny outdoor meal.

Why Ojai, you ask? There are just so many reasons why I love this place: The land, air, soil, mountains, people, and spirit of Ojai make me feel at peace. Just for fun, I looked up what Wikipedia says about Ojai and found this description: “Ojai is a tourism destination known for its boutique hotels, recreation opportunities, hiking, spiritual retreats, farmers’ markets, and local organic agriculture.” That pretty much sums up what I love about Ojai! Ojai has been doing organics, farmers markets, sustainability, yoga, meditation, plant-based living, art, theater, and caring for people, animals and the planet long before it was a thing! This town was so far ahead of its time, but in a simple, non-flashy sort of way. Bottom line: these are my peeps!

Glimpse of Ojai Valley shortly after the devastating fire last year, with new life emerging.

Ojai has such a mix of intriguing people: farmers, artists, poets, spiritual leaders, intellectuals, environmentalists, back-to-the land enthusiasts, chefs, parents running away from the city to raise kids, retired pleasure seekers, movie stars…and everything in between. Just sit down at a café and you’ll likely have an interesting conversation with someone within a few minutes. And while you’re there, make sure you read the bulletin board, as you’ll see so many things happening, from spiritual retreats to marathons to regenerative agriculture meetups.

The bulletin board at my favorite coffee shop, Ojai Coffee Roasting Co.

My love affair with Ojai began compliments of an avocado farm tour I was invited to as a journalist about 15 years ago. I had never been to Ojai; I’d only heard of it by way of the famous 70s show I watched as a kid called “The Bionic Women,” which famously portrayed Jaime Sommers at home in Ojai, California, running and playing tennis. To this day, I remember how wholesome, sunny, and optimistic Jaime’s hometown seemed.

The Ojai Valley Inn

During my avocado tour, I stayed at the Ojai Valley Inn—my first time! To this day, it is my favorite hotel in the world (and I’ve traveled a lot!). Just look at those spectacular views. This historic hotel is magical, and it highlights the natural beauty of Ojai Valley, surrounded by a ring of majestic mountains called the Topa Topa Mountains. These mountains turn bright pink right before sundown, which is known locally as “the pink moment.” The hotel also showcases a unique architectural style in this region inspired by California’s Mission era: creamy white plastered thick walls, red tiled roofs, curving arches, wooden doors and windows, flagstone courtyards, trickling fountains, and a burst of indigenous plant-life.

Peter and I, enjoying our annual pilgrimage to the Ojai Valley Inn, with the Topa Topa Mountains in the background.

Ever since that first trip to the Ojai Valley Inn, I’ve been returning every year for a little piece of heaven. Only one and a half hours from my (former) home in LA, we could hop in the car on a Friday morning, have lunch at my favorite café by noon, and enjoy the rest of the weekend to take in the valley. The Ojai Valley Inn is like its own little community, with so much to enjoy on the grounds: walking, swimming, meditation, eating, biking, horseback riding—you name it!

Ojai Pixies are a regional variety of tangerines which is legendary in these parts!

I would soon learn that Ojai has long been a hub for growing avocados and citrus, which just thrive in this sunny, fertile valley. Indeed, one of the best parts of Ojai is its organic, local agriculture scene. There are charming citrus and avocado farms, as well as small organic mixed vegetable farms that spread like a patchwork quilt over the valley. I’ve spent enough time in Ojai to know that Ojai Pixie season is a big deal. This variety of tangerines is unusually crisp and sweet—they are like pure gold! I generally try to plan my trip around Pixie season (late winter to early spring)! I even bought a Pixie tangerine tree in Ojai and planted it in my home in LA, where it is now bearing fruit.

Lavender is another iconic Ojai product.

Herbs flourish is the sunny climate of Ojai, and lavender is everywhere. It’s become an iconic symbol of Ojai produce, and most houses boast lavender bushes, buzzing with bees, in their gardens.

Some of the finest avocados in the world come from the Ojai Valley!

Big, bushy avocado trees yield gorgeous fruit all over the valley, which is widely available at the Ojai Farmers Market held each Sunday morning—my favorite farmers market in the world. If you come to Ojai, you must plan your trip around this farmers market, where you can pick up gorgeous and unusual organic grown produce (pink celery!), hand-made products like lavender soap, and even a free neck rub or musical rendition by a local artisan!

At the Ojai Farmers Market.
Hiking in Ojai Valley along the edge of a citrus farm.

There are so many beautiful trails to enjoy a hike or bike ride. Every season of the year yields beautiful experiences.

Peter’s birthday celebration in Ojai.

A few years ago, we rented a charming artist’s house in Ojai to host Peter’s big birthday party with our friends and family. The homes here truly celebrate the natural spirit of Ojai, with local plants, trees, and wildlife omnipresent in daily life.

Daily life in Ojai: a wild rabbit posing for my picture.

A few months ago, we rented a small house in Ojai for nearly a month to see if moving to the valley was in our destiny. This was a glimpse of our daily life—a tiny snippet of the essence of Ojai. We decided it was our destiny.

My happy place: Breakfast at the Hip Vegan Café.

Ojai is like nirvana for plant-based eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. Nearly every restaurant boasts a vegan menu, and then there are places like Hip Vegan Cafe that offer exclusively plant-based fare. This amazing restaurant is located right next to the Ojai Farmers Market, hence my Sunday breakfast tradition.

My dogs at Hip Vegan Café.

I think Ojai is the most pet-friendly place on the planet! Almost every restaurant lets you bring pets, and my dogs are getting used to the attention!

My dogs behaving badly at an Ojai restaurant!

Who can resist those little faces? Now they don’t have to stay at home when we dine out!

Cheers to my move to Ojai! (By the way, they make good wine here too!)

So, now that I’ve waxed on about Ojai, I want to say cheers to my new life! I am going to be sharing my experiences and inspirations in the coming months. I hope to live a more peaceful life, closer to Mother nature and the earth. I’ll be planting a new vegetable garden, discovering new seasonal plant foods, cooking up new recipes and videos in my kitchen, and sharing even more exciting ways to live a sustainable, plant-based life. Please join me on my journey!

Eat and Live Well,

Sharon

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