Want Claire’s entire guide to Ojai + Santa Barbara? Check out her PDF!
WHY OJAI/SANTA BARBARA?
My husband Craig and I love Santa Barbara! It’s only a 90-minute drive from our house (without traffic) and it’s super dog-friendly, which means Buster gets to come along and we don’t have to find a pet-sitter (yay!). We’ve been to Santa Barbara together many times, but since baby James’ due date is fast-approaching, we decided to make this trip our “Babymoon” and to make it a little more special, we added Ojai into the mix—which has become a bit of a hipster mecca for expecting L.A. couples looking to bliss out together before the baby comes at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa—more on that later.
So if your next road-trip takes you to Santa Barbara and Ojai, these are some of my best tips and recommendations for what to pack, where to stay, and of course, what eat and do during your stay!
OVERALL OJAI/SB NOTES:
One thing I realized after our trip is that by starting in Santa Barbara, we actually did the whole thing backwards! I say this because Ojai is comically a Wednesday to Sunday town, meaning, the local shops and places you’ll want to check out are all closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. So, if you’re going to visit both places, I’d recommend starting your trip in Ojai (Friday-Saturday) and then make your way to Santa Barbara (Sunday-Monday)—which makes more sense if you’re coming back to Los Angeles, too. As far as the length of your stay, a 4-day weekend is the perfect amount of time for this easy, breezy road-trip. And don’t forget to cue up a great podcast or audiobook for the drive—it’s a great way to make the travel time fly by, especially if you hit traffic.
Both of these beautiful cities have their own energy and are so charming in their own special ways! Like I mentioned earlier, Santa Barbara is one of the most dog-friendly places I’ve ever been. And I don’t mean “dog-friendly” in that your dog will be tolerated here—I mean “dog-friendly” in the sense that most of the restaurants here have a separate reservations book where your dog can sign in! That’s how much these people love dogs. It’s pretty silly but also really fun and gives the city a very welcoming vibe. It’s also really stupidly gorgeous here. Though I’m sure you’d expect that from a city that lies between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. You can really see the city’s Spanish colonial heritage all over, from the Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs downtown to the local cuisine.
Then there’s Ojai. Set in a village-like valley of the Topatopa Mountains, this sleepy little town has one main road, making it very walkable and super bike-able! You can easily see everything in the entire town on a bike in one day, no problem. If you’re not into walking or biking, there’s also a trolley ($1 fare) you can ride through town. Style-wise, some of the slicker spots in town have the same mystic-hipster vibe that’s become synonymous with certain parts of L.A. (google “silver lake shaman” and you’ll have a good sense of the vibe here), but there are definitely spots that feel authentic to the area, too, with a great mom and pop vibe. Unlike Santa Barbara, Ojai isn’t as big on wine. The focus is instead on olive oil and Ojai pixies, which are the tangerines that come in around springtime here. Ojai also borders the Los Padres National Forest, so there’s plenty of hiking and trails to explore if that’s your thing! Beyond that, this place is a magical little slice of farm-to-table, yoga, and spa heaven. One thing we kept hearing about during our trip was the “pink moment”. At first we thought it was a joke, but it turns out it’s a real thing that’s super specific to Ojai and the people here love it. Apparently it’s much more prominent in the winter months, so Craig and I didn’t really notice it, but in the East, just as the sun is setting (7:55pm ish), the mountains are illuminated by a hot pink highlight that’s supposed to be out of this world! So while you’re here, be sure to keep an eye out for the infamous “pink moment” and don’t worry about forgetting, they’ll remind you!
THE WEEKEND PACKING LIST:
I rocked a caftan everywhere on our trip and no one blinked an eye! Beachwear as everyday wear is more than acceptable in Santa Barbara. Bring a jacket for the evenings though, because no matter how hot it gets during the day, it will get cold at night. It’s the coast! You’ll always have to have a jacket. I promise. And be sure to pack comfy sandals for lots of walking. You might want to include clothes for hiking, as well. And bring a good market tote bag because you’ll be collecting stuff all day and you’ll want some extra space to carry items. One of my favorite things that I brought home from this trip were some beeswax candles!
FOOD + DRINK: SANTA BARBARA
LA SUPERICA // 622 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
This is, without a doubt, the very best place to eat in the city! It’s been here for decades and even Julia Child described it as the best Mexican food she ever had! Yes, that was in the 70’s, and yes, it’s natural to be suspicious of places with tailcoats that go back that far, but this place stands up to their long-standing reputation! Some things to note. There’s going to be a line. It’s walking distance from the Santa Barbara Bowl and it’s delicious, so deal with it. Best item to order here: Rajas! These babies are a game changer and next level good. Honestly though, just order anything with cheese on it and you’ll love it. Everything is super simple and the cheese and sauce is where the dishes really shine. Order the Horchata, it’s great too!
THE FUNK ZONE // 131 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
There is a section of Santa Barbara where one company owns a bunch of different places. It’s known as ‘The Funk Zone’ district of downtown Santa Barbara and while the name is pretty hideous, the places here are pretty great. There’s tasting rooms, a brewery, a distillery, a coffee shop, and more. As far as wine tasting goes in Santa Barbara, there aren’t any vineyards of anything like that (those are like 2 hours away) but you can veer off of State street to the Funk Zone and go to wineries where you can wine taste. I suggest taking a cab or uber over, and then you can just walk around, hopping from one winery to the next, grab lunch, do a few more tastings and get dinner, all in the same area. The Lark is the most popular restaurant in this area. It’s really delicious, lots of fun and has a really seasonal menu and really interesting cocktails. It’s a bit more expensive so it’s perfect for a date.
MUNICIPAL WINE MAKERS // 22 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This winery is located in the Funk Zone and known for its irreverent wine selection. Overall, it’s cute and a fun place to do a wine tasting.
FIGEROUA MOUNTAIN BREWING CO. // 137 Anacapa St, Suite F, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This is a craft brewery in the Funk Zone where you can do tastings and buy bottled beer, though they have a rotating list of specialty and cask beers that they serve exclusively in their taprooms.
MCCONNEL’S ICE CREAM // 728 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This ice cream shop is definitely worth checking out. Their ice cream is now available nationwide in pint form, but it’s really good and located on State Street, the main hub of the city, so it’s worth dropping in for a cone!
KUNIN WINES // 28 Anacapa St 22 Ste A, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
I recommend popping in for a tasting at this lovely, family-owned winery. It’s located just a block from the beach and I love the white wines that they make here, they’re great!
LOQUITA // 202 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This is a fabulous dinner spot! It’s the perfect place to go after wine tasting because their menu is full of snacky, tapas style food.
HELENA AVENUE BAKERY // 131 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This place is known for their baked goods (the coffee is just okay). Make this a your last stop on your way out of town. You can’t go wrong with coffee + pastry combo for the road.
HANDLEBAR COFFEE // 128 E Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This is hands down the best coffee in Santa Barbara. It’s right off main drag in a convenient and really walkable area and coffee is really good. They also have lots of room to spread out and take a load off, plus, there’s a really charming little courtyard near by.
C’EST CHEESE // 825 Santa Barbara St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This is a darling little cheese shop that makes a mean grilled cheese sandwich paired with seasonal soup—it’s so yummy! They also offer a nice breakfast menu and since it’s right next door to Handlebar Coffee, you could make a morning out of it by grabbing a bite to eat here then grabbing your coffee to go.
LITO’S MEXICAN RESTRAUANT // 514 E Haley St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Two words: Breakfast burritos! These suckers are literally the size of your face! They’re so insanely big that you could politely split yours with a family of 5. No joke. Craig and I came here clueless and each ordered our own burrito and we were so ashamed of ourselves. So either split your order or come very hungry, and consider yourself warned! Another thing worth noting is their salsa bar. It was actually really, really good. Two thumbs up from two major salsa snobs.
MILK & HONEY // 30 W Anapamu St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This is another fancier spot. It has a Spanish-American fusion menu. All of the dishes have names that can only be described as “cutesy” but if you ignore that it’s actually really yummy. They also have a great cocktail called the “Holy Crop”. I’m not into vodka but if you are, it’s really great. It’s basically vodka, elderflower liqueur, fresh mint and lime juice and it’s really refreshing and lovely.
THE BREW HOUSE // 229 W Montecito St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Come here for the locally brewed beer and pub-style food. Brunch is also really big here. Like most places in Santa Barbara, it’s dog-friendly, and is the perfect place to hang on the patio. Beer tasting here is also fun because they offer some really crazy beers! Craig tried a habanero infused pilsner here and it was super spicy and so great. Honestly though, half the fun is having your dog there with you and seeing everyone else interact with their pets.
MONTECITIO COUNTRY MART // 1016 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108
Coming from LA, there was something about this place that felt eerily familiar and then I realized that the Brentwood Country Mart is owned by the same person! DUH. It’s a great spot where you can park your car and spend hours just wandering around. There’s lots of stuff going on. In fact, during the summertime on Wednesdays at 5:30, they screen classic movies! Some standout stores include: Hudson Grace and Maliah Mills.
RORI’S ARTISANAL CREAMERY // 4191 Carpinteria Ave, Carpinteria, CA 93013
This place makes the most delicious artisanal ice cream in Montecito. It’s located inside the Montecito Country Mart, so it’s a super convenient spot to grab a sweet treat while shopping and wandering around.
MONTECITO COFFEE SHOP // 1498 E Valley Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108
This is a really charming, super delicious breakfast and brunch spot. Perfect pitstop if you’re on foot or bike and want to gather supplies for picnic.
PIERE LAFOND MARKET & DELI // 516 San Ysidro Rd, Montecito, CA 93108
This place is near Montecito Village and is basically a gourmet foods and boutique wine bistro. It’s the perfect place to gather picnic supplies.
JEANNINE’S // 1253 Coast Village Rd, Montecito, CA 93108
This is one of the best breakfasts you can get in Santa Barbara and clearly a local favorite. We ordered the huevos rancheros and it was really lovely. It’s located right on the main drag with tons of boutiques and shops, so it’s a great place to start your day.
FOOD + DRINK: OJAI
BEACON COFFEE CO. // 211 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
This coffee shop is next door to the aforementioned crafter’s paradise, Cattywampus, and they serve the BEST coffee! It’s clear these are L.A. transplants in Ojai but if you love coffee, this is THE place. They have pour over, nitro, gluten-free food, it’s hipster coffee heaven. The staff here is also very sweet and super friendly!
NOCCIOLA // 314 El Paseo Rd, Ojai, CA 93023
The restaurant’s name is Italian for hazelnut and it’s a really lovely spot. Excellent wine selection, yummy pasta, seasonal and simple food—very California! They have a big balcony patio for outdoor dining that is so lovely! This is the kind of place where you want to order bottle of rose and a bowl of pasta and just chill out! Craig and I ordered two appetizers and two pastas and it was perfect! The restaurant is a converted house, so the atmosphere is great and really makes you want to stay a while.
KNEAD BAKING COMPANY // 469 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
This is a wonderful little breakfast spot or a great place for a mid-day snack. Think: Delicious homemade bagels, butter cake with fresh fruit and coffee. Giant patio you can chill-out on, etc.
O-HI FROSTIE RESTAURANT // 1205 Maricopa Hwy, Ojai, CA 93023
This place is a no-frills dive but it’s SO good. It’s a classic burgers and fries joint with pricing that matches Ojai. Everything we ordered really hit the spot. We loved it. And yeah, you’re gonna want to get a milkshake with your meal. It’s delicious.
AZU RESTAURANT & OJAI VALLEY BREWERY // 457 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
The food was good here, kind of Mediterranean inspired, but the brewery was really fantastic. The beer is all local with regionally inspired flavors like Jasmine and other herbs that they infuse into the beer here. The beer really surprised us—it was just so delicious! The menu is tapas-driven and also includes a lot of local flavors, like figs and the pixie tangerines Ojai is known for.
THE OJAI VINEYARD TASTING ROOM // 109 S Montgomery St, Ojai, CA 93023
If you’re into wine tasting this is a great place! I didn’t partake this time around because I’m pregnant but it’s right next to Dekor and has a great selection of wine. It’s a good place to go if that’s your interest, plus, the interior is really lovely and it seems like a fun place to hang out for a while.
OJAI TORTILLA HOUSE // 104 N Signal St, Ojai, CA 93023
I’m sure the name gives this place away but they have really good tacos! They also have fantastic aqua fresca—we got watermelon and it was delicious and so refreshing.
LA FUENTE // 423 E Ojai Ave # 108, Ojai, CA 93023
We came here for breakfast tamales, which were delicious, but the thing that sets this place apart from other mexican restaurants is their FANTASTIC salsa. We were blown away by their salsa bar! Craig and I are total salsa snobs and find very few things as depressing as shitty salsa, but this place has really nailed it.
COLD SPRING TAVERN // 5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
We left Ojai on Sunday and drove to Cold Spring Tavern because this is the day that they host their Tri-Tip Cookout! If you’re not familiar with Santa Maria BBQ, it is a specific type of California barbecue. It’s known for being very, very simple and tri-tip is the signature meat. It’s seasoned with salt and pepper, maybe some garlic powder, and it’s cooked over an open flame that kind of smokes it. At Cold Spring Tavern, they serve thick slices of the tri-tip on a french roll and you choose your sauce: remoulade, bbq sauce, salsa, etc., it’s all set up for you! This is such a great little random spot. It can get a little touristy since the secret is definitely out about this place but totally worth it for the tri-tip, cold beer and world’s best onion rings! I’m talking, LIFE CHANGING. I definitely recommend ordering them. Maybe it was pregnancy but HOLY MOLY did the onion rings taste good—even Craig thought so! This place has been around for over 100 years, but it has morphed into different things over the years. It went from Inn/Tavern in the 1800’s and at one point was converted into a jail, which is still there but pretty small. This place was also a spot where bandits would hole up before they’d rob trains and retreat to their mountain pass, etc. And now, it’s a biker bar—complete with harley’s out front, live music, and of course the restaurant and an antique store. It’s a really goofy, fun spot, and you can even rent it out for events, etc. One thing to note: Dogs aren’t allowed on weekends because it just gets too busy to accommodate them. Also, as the name suggests, there is actually a cold spring. Craig and I came here after the crazy rains we had in the spring it was all filled up to the top and running.
HOTELS: SANTA BARBARA
There are so many different places to stay in Santa Barbara, but one area you can stay is right next door to Santa Barbara and that’s Montecito. You probably know this area because this is where Oprah lives. It’s pretty fancy, and is a much older part of the city.
SAN YSIDRO RANCH // 900 San Ysidro Ln, Santa Barbara, CA 93108
This is the place to stay if you want to splurge. It’s a gorgeous compound. Every room is a cottage with all of its own private amenities like a fire place and your own private jacuzzi in the back. Everything has a British meets South of France countryside feel to it with flowers growing everywhere. There’s a giant rose garden for walking, an organic garden that you can sit and read by, and lots of amazing hikes that you can do on-site. However, if the concierge tells you that it’s easy—she’s lying. We went on a hike that was advertised as a “4 miles round-trip” with “1200 miles in elevation” and “so easy, a toddler could do it.” The hike turned out to be closer to 7 miles round-trip with 1800 elevation and it was so hard, a grown woman (who also happens to be 8 months pregnant!) found it very hard to complete. Like, barely made it back. It was still very beautiful and fun though, despite the exhaustion. The hotel also has a couple of it’s own restaurants on site. The fancier one is called Plow Angel. The food was solid—not amazing but you can eat on property and it’s lovely. You can eat with your dog here and they actually have separate guest book for them, too! It was really hilarious to look through the guest book because of this and it took me a minute to realize the names I was reading belonged to dogs. “Fido, party of 3!” The other cool thing is that this spot is nestled right into Montecito, so you can actually walk to the Montecito Country Mart pretty quickly, right from the property. There’s also a spa on-site but overall, staying here means spending a lot of time in and around your cottage. It’s so gorgeous and relaxing, you will not want to leave. If you want to see Santa Barbara, I actually recommend staying somewhere else because it’s magical quicksand and you really won’t want to leave!
THE BILTMORE // 1260 Channel Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93108
This is a really classic hotel that’s been in Santa Barbara for thousands of years! It’s an old Spanish colonial revival, right on the coastline, and it’s again, very dog-friendly. Stay here for the beach views.
BACARA RESORT // 8301 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117
This is another very dog-friendly hotel, and the best part is that it’s nice—but not so nice that you’ll regret leaving the hotel to see everything else Santa Barbara has to offer. It really is the perfect launch pad and home base for exploring the city but don’t get me wrong, they also have a spa that’s really nice and a trail that you can go for a morning beach-walk on with your dog and there’s different hikes that you can do on the property as well. It’s just a really nice place to stay!
AGAVE INN // 3222 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
This is a great little motel if you wanna stay right in the city and have quick access to downtown. It’s perfect if you’re in town for a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. It has a fun, youthful and hip vibe.
OJAI VALLEY INN & SPA // 905 Country Club Rd, Ojai, CA 93023
This place is HUGE. The property is just massive and is right next door to a golf course. It’s great for a multi-generational trip because there’s something for everyone here (think: golf, tennis, spa, etc), plus, it’s dog-friendly! Everything about our stay was pleasant. There is a bit of a corporate feel here though, and it’s obvious that the hotel is used for a lot of corporate retreats and the like. As far as the food goes, it was good but it wasn’t amazing. Overall, the hotel is super nice and it’s conveniently located right in the heart of Ojai.
OJAI RANCHO INN // 615 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
This place is part of a series of hotels owned by the Shelter Social Club (e.g. Agave Inn in Santa Barabra), which are basically converted motels with a really hip, boutique vibe. Most of the rooms here have their own hot tubs inside, and there’s a larger room that you can rent on the back of the property with a living room, record player, and small kitchen for a more extended stay. Chief’s Peak is the hotel’s super cute beer and wine bar, and it’s open most nights, so it’s worth stopping by even if you’re not staying here. There’s also a swimming pool and bikes that you can use to get around town and a cute gift shop in front. Everything has a young, hip feel to it here.
BLUE IGUANA INN // 11794 N Ventura Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
I’d describe this hotel as a nice in-between choice if you’re not staying at the Ojai Rancho Inn or Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. It has a mom and pop feel to it and is also pet-friendly. The architecture and décor is very Spanish colonial, and overall it’s a cute place to stay and again, very conveniently located near town.
SHOPPING: SANTA BARBARA
The Farmer’s Market is on Saturday and it’s HUGE. If you live in L.A. You might notice that its all the same people who are at Santa Monica market on Wednesdays, which is where all of the chefs go, so it has a really amazing selection. You’d be hard pressed to find a better Farmer’s Market in such a beautiful setting.
MONTECITO UPPER VILLAGE // 525 San Ysidro Road, CA 93108
This complex of stores is so great. Be sure to check out the Jenni Kayne Apparel and Home store. It’s full of lovely items like the women’s wear that Jenni Kayne is known for like gorgeous cashmere sweaters, plus, Italian apothecary items and beautiful home décor. Honestly though, all the shops in the area are so great.
WHISTLE CLUB // 1235 Coast Village Rd c, Santa Barbara, CA 93108
This is my favorite store in Santa Barbara! They have an adorable espresso bar inside the store and it’s a great place to look for designer clothing with an east-LA vibe, like Rachel Comey, etc.
On Sunday’s you’ll want to check out the Ojai Farmer’s Market. It’s a great way to see what local goods are on offer during each season here. It’s not massive so you don’t have to spend too much time here. But it’s a fun way to spend some time sampling and shopping local food and goods.
CATTYWAMPUS CRAFTS // 209 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
This is hands-down my favorite place in Ojai! It’s relatively new and is basically a crafters version of paradise! The store is so beautifully curated with fantastic products. They have every type of yarn you could possibly want and I’m a total yarn-nerd so I freaked out when I saw that they carried all of the brands with a cult-following like Madeline Tosh and Loopy Mango, etc. You can even sign-up to take a class here while you’re in town. This shop is just so chic and beautiful—even the people who work there are extremely attractive and sweet!
SUMMER CAMP // 1020 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
This store is really cute! It’s a converted gas station and there’s a framing business next door. It’s the perfect place to pick up gifts on the way out of town and fun décor items. They have a lot of Califorina/Ojai inspired items. Think: Handmade cards, posters, soaps, oils, plants, ceramics, etc.
DEKOR // 105 S Montgomery St, Ojai, CA 93023
Gorgeous home design store that actually happens to have a 2nd location in my favorite area of L.A., Atwater Village. This store is so beautiful and has basically everything you need for a flawless Ojai home. Rugs, wall décor, home furnishings, eco-friendly skincare, and these candles that smell like the tangerine blossoms that grow in the area. It’s just a really beautifully curated store.
IN THE FEILD // 730 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
This is the place to go for clothing if you want to look like an effortless hipster that lives in Ojai. They have perfect straw hats, and lots and lots of chambray and linen! Plus, a great selection of gifts and home decor.
TIPPLE & RAMBLE // 315 N Montgomery St, Ojai, CA 93023
You could spend an entire afternoon here – especially during golden hour! It’s a converted house with a wine bar where you can order cheese and meats, and a patio garden where you can hangout. There’s also a converted Airstream bar in the backyard with string lights and lots of chairs that’s really cute. As well as a boutique, filled with ceramics and kitchen and bathroom products like hand soaps, etc.
BART’S BOOKS // 302 W Matilija St, Ojai, CA 93023
This place feels like it started out as a one-room bookstore and eventually, overtime, the books sort of overtook the space like vines! It’s an open-air bookshop, so you can actually see all of the books from the outside, just walking by. It’s a great spot to check out and get lost for a while. They’re known for signed first editions, but you’re also likely to score some fantastic $.50 finds. Personally, I love their California section of books.
OJAI LAVENDER FARMS // 11550 Topa Vista Rd, Santa Paula, CA 93060
We didn’t go because it was too early in season, but the Ojai lavender farms, located in the upper Ojai valley, are so beautiful! In the summer, the farms have tours so that the public can witness the fragrant, purple explosion. They also have gift shops with lavender infused items for sale—but go for the fields, they’re so fantastic.
THACHER HOUSE // 4424 Thacher Rd, Ojai, CA 93023
Former private estate converted into a gorgeous b’n’b sounds gorgeous and saw photos but we didn’t have time to check it out! Lovely place to stay- the property you can walk round and see organic garden, etc.
ECOTOPIA // 2566 Matilija Canyon Rd, Ojai, CA 93023
The only way to describe this place is hippy dippy! This place is known for their organic gardens and hot springs, and there’s no phones or social media allowed, so you have to be willing to go “off the grid” while you’re here. It’s basically a beautiful, hippy commune where you can disconnect and relax for a while. Craig and I (and Buster because it’s dog-friendly!) packed a picnic and just chilled out in the gardens but it would be fun to soak in their hot springs next time.
OJAI OLIVE OIL // 1811 Ladera Rd, Ojai, CA 93023
There’s a couple different ways to do a tasting here (Wednesdays or Saturdays only). You can do a guided tour, which is like a 45-minute hike where they teach you all about the trees and the process, and feed you olive oil along the way. Or, you can simply sit-down in their tasting room and enjoy an olive oil tasting from the comfort of a chair. They also have a dog run where your dog can play in the shade of the olive trees and mingle with other pups while you hang out.