Inside the foyer of The Oaks at Ojai spa, it was pleasantly dark after the bright afternoon sun of outside downtown Ojai. The restaurant area to the right inside was set for dinner with cloth napkins and candles, and we were welcomed and invited to look around, while waiting for the desk clerk to return, a few minutes. Down the main hallway toward the gardens hung a selection of area artists’ work and an activity board listing everything from Aquarobics to an assisted bike ride to Ventura, as well as the week’s menu. At various spots, eyeglasses hung, too, and it seemed odd that that so many people had left their glasses behind. You know, like you see at the gym or library near the lost and found? Then we realized the specs were placed specifically where information was meant to be read so that farsighted guests didn’t have to include cumbersome glasses in their spa outfits — amazingly thoughtful, and that is, in a word, how we felt during the rest of our Oaks weekend.
We wandered out to the pool, where a handful of ladies bobbed like apples in the water, chattering away while moving to music. “Work your core,” said the instructor, reinforcing the apple image. We took the spa tour next and heard of the acorns that spawned the mighty Oaks. Though the building was semi-historical, built in 1920 as the Hotel Roblar, the woman who fashioned it into a spa is arguably more historical. Sheila Cluff, who began life as a renowned Canadian figure skater, hails from the old school of fitness boosters like Jack LaLanne. Though less famous, she is credited with inventing what she called “cardiovascular dance,” better known as aerobics today. She opened two spas, downtown Ojai and another in Palm Springs. At 78, she still leads classes and offers support and encouragement to her visitors, who are mainly women. “She bounces through here like a teenager. I can’t keep up with her,” whispered one of the front clerks clearly 50 years Cluff’s junior.
The building was renovated with lovely tile and plaster and has all the amenities you want in a spa: massages, skin treatments, hair and beauty, sauna, pool, and secluded gardens. But it also includes nutrition counseling, too. Many of our new spa friends said they came more than once a year to “jump-start the diet.” A few mentioned getting back on track after the holidays.
Our room was so restfully nice that we worried about preferring the comforts of private patio, spa tub, and fireplace. But the activities seemed too exciting not to try. Wife attended relaxing yoga session; husband went into the pool and on a long Ojai early morning walk. All had enchantment values. Dinner was tables set for four, and you could sit anywhere. Our company was better conversant with spa life and much preferred The Oaks for the intimacy and casual elegance over Golden Doors and Tassajaras. Our menu consisted of a salmon quiche with a carrot mouse, salad, and a cranberry tart with a yogurt sauce for dessert. It was all delicious and already pre-portioned. You could ask for something different if special diet restrictions applied, but as a rule, everyone eats what the chef prepared with spice sprinkler toppers but no salt and certainly no sugar. Agave syrup and artificial sugar abounded. Teas, coffee, fruit, and vegetables were available at all times, and special “nutrition” breaks happened during the day.
Evening included an after-dinner stroll through town, a movie, and a demonstration of portrait drawing by an area artist for entertainment. The spa is directly downtown Ojai and within walking distance to theaters, shops, and, yes, bars and restaurants if you wanted to sneak out. We skipped the walk but enjoyed the sauna (both steam and dry) before the depths of bed.
The full spa experience day began with fruit, yogurt, and a hardboiled egg; a gentle stretch wake-up class; and then aqua aerobics. The mega cardio dance class we missed, but, according to the crowd at lunch, it was “fabulous.” You can’t do everything. Wife enjoyed an “Ojai pixie scrub,” rubbed all over with a semi-abrasive salve of tangerines. When the scrub was removed, her skin was so soft that she had to go back to the room to have husband verify. Not what you were just thinking. Then it was on to a step class, old fashioned in this Zumba-and-body-boot-camp era, but sweating and smiling while working out hard? Good. Later, wife had a facial and another yoga class, while husband sat in the peaceful room and read.
Even with the promise of a movie, we were ready to sleep. The next day, relaxed and glowing, core and calves a little sore, wife imagined returning back by herself and, when she later looked, had lost two pounds — A gift even more thoughtful than reading glasses on the wall.
The Oaks at Ojai is located at 122 East Ojai Avenue, Ojai. For information, call (805) 646-5573 or visit oaksspa.com.