Some weeks work just doesn’t know when to stop, and all the careful planning in the world still won’t get you on the road in time to beat the Friday traffic to Palm Springs or make the long drive to Monterey. For those times when you can’t get away until the last call is returned and the last report is filed, be thankful that you live in Santa Barbara, and that you know about Ojai. Even late on a Friday afternoon its possible to be there in less than an hour-if you use APS and Alston Road to skip the Hwy 101 Milpas exit.
Although there are as many ways to enjoy Ojai as there are happy campers thereabouts, when the point is to leave at the last possible moment and still get the maximum possible vacation/therapy effect, there’s only one place to go-the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. This historic property truly lives up to its five star reputation, offering an incredible array of experiences and activities all delivered with brilliant professionalism, warmth, and style.
Last weekend I left Santa Barbara at 4 p.m. on Friday and by 5:30 I was on the tennis courts of the Ojai Valley Inn with tennis director Tom Rohrbacher. I hadn’t picked up a racket in more than a year, so I was rusty to begin with, but within 15 minutes Tom had me exchanging long, satisfying rallies from the baseline and putting away four overhead slams in a row. Ojai has a tradition of high-quality tennis, and the resort hosts the Open division of the annual Ojai tournament every year, which means that the Inn is where you could possibly find a current or recent ATP tour player or the next big sensation from Stanford or UCLA.
In 2009 Ojai was runner-up in the United States Tennis Association’s contest for the “best tennis town in America.” Although winner Midland, Michigan, walked away from the awards, which were held at this year’s U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, with a bigger check-$100,000 versus Ojai’s $50,000 for second place-here’s guessing you won’t be heading to Midland for a spa getaway anytime soon no matter what kind of backhands they’ve got. The point is that, for me, stressed out and ready for a break, this super-satisfying experience of getting all my aggression out on a fuzzy yellow ball while under the care and observation of a top pro was as easy as putting on shorts and a pair of tennis shoes.
From the tennis club, I proceeded to check in and freshen up in my room, which was a stunning king bed suite with cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, and an elegant deck. If you are considering remodeling a home in Santa Barbara, you really owe it to yourself to check out what they have done with the interiors at this resort. Even among the other outstanding examples of Spanish-inspired, the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa achieves something very special. The tile, the blend of surfaces, the transitions and lighting, and the overall sense of scale all come together to create a seamless and thoroughly compelling whole.
Of course the rooms and the tennis are only part of what attracts people to the Inn, and before very long I was at the Oak Grill to partake in another of the resorts extraordinary strengths-its cuisine. Starting with an amuse bouche of gazpacho and a bowl of delicious, pale yellow sweet potato soup I worked my way through a martini glass full of warm lobster meat served in a slurry of fresh potatoes and corn, and then a short rib with garlic mashed potatoes. Ordering by the glass from the excellent wine list was easy, and both the Curtis rose I had with my soup and appetizer and the Melville Pinot Noir that came with my short ribs paired perfectly with the food. By the time I selected and sampled the fresh strawberry and passion fruit tart I was ready to dive into the king size bed and sleep,
My alarm rang at 6 a.m. the next morning to announce that it was time to get my running shoes on and get over to the starting line of the first annual Ojai Half Marathon. From the map on the race website it looked as though the race would begin in a spot very close to where I was sleeping, but in order to avoid attracting attention by wandering off across the golf course in shorts and a singlet at dawn, I got back in the car and drove myself out the entrance and around the corner. It was a wise move, because looking back toward my building at the resort I could see the fence that encircles the property and its magnificent golf course.
No golf for me though as I took off at a brisk run behind the 200 or so other souls interested in running 13.1 miles through the backroads of Ojai on a sunny fall morning. Despite the extra-long hill leading up to the Thatcher School, the course was mostly smooth sailing, and an ego-boost to this returning half-marathon runner. The finish line in Soule Park was about a mile from the start, and I got a ride back to my car with the day’s winner, Bobby Olivera of Ventura, who ripped the course in 1:10:32 for a blistering pace of 5:23 minutes per mile. Bobby is finishing his last year at Cal State Northridge, and he is looking at the upcoming Santa Barbara Marathon, so watch out, local distance masters, there’s a new rabbit in town.
The race left me just enough time to get back to the resort for a quick shower and a tour, which led me to consider all that I had missed. For instance, did you know that the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa maintains its own art studio and instructional facility, the Apothecary? Or that there are three separate pool areas-two at the spa and one near the dining facilities? The golf course features a magnificent driving range that’s right out behind the pro shop that is free to all guests for as long as they like. Getting into my car I saw swarms of happy-looking folks strolling the grounds or zipping around in golf carts, everyone with the unmistakable look of a pampered vacationer deep in the lap of luxury, but still with something to do and a purpose in life beyond just getting a tan or veging out by the pool.
A little later that day, just 22 hours after leaving my driveway an exhausted, frazzled mess, I was back at home in Santa Barbara feeling clean, refreshed and a little bit sore, both from the race, and from having to leave paradise.
The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, 905 Country Club Road in Ojai. For reservations, call (800) 422-6524 or visit ojairesort.com.