With COVID travel, especially wellness travel on the rise again, many are looking at various retreats to reverse the negative impact of the pandemic on both physical and mental health. What makes a good wellness retreat? Start with a scenic location, allow for some downtime with minimum use of any devices, add a fun itinerary packed with activities for body and mind, mix in fresh local flavors or cultural events and decide whether you want to go by yourself or with a crew of your favorite humans.
Wellness, yoga and meditation retreats are a great way to restore and recharge while exploring a new destination and local communities. One downside: all-inclusive retreats that provide meals, accommodations, yoga and meditation classes and tours can cost from $800-$1,000 per day and don’t offer a lot of flexibility in terms of customizing your experience.
Did you know that you can organize your own wellness retreat on a budget and with minimum planning? Here are our hassle-free tips for creating a DIY wellness weekend in Ojai, California.
6 Reasons to Choose Ojai for Your Next Wellness Trip
Ojai celebrated its 100th anniversary in August 2021, which coincided with our visit. Here’s why this century-old town is the ideal wellness retreat location:
Natural healing energy: The Ojai valley, known as the Valley of the Moon, has been known for centuries by the indigenous Chumash people as a healing valley. Nestled in the Ojai Valley in Ventura County, at the southern end of Los Padres National Forest and only 12 miles from the Ocean, Ojai has been known as California’s own Shangri-La for over a hundred years. It is believed to be home of a calming vortex - a natural energy channel on the earth that emanates healing vibes. In addition to incredible scenery, people are drawn here to restore, heal and reconnect with the sacred.
- Unique location and easy access: Chumash were perhaps the first to appreciate this lush coastal valley’s unusual east-west orientation, a geographic blessing that yields cool nights, warm days, and a long growing season. A short scenic 40-minute drive from Santa Barbara (40 miles) or 90 minutes from Los Angeles (80 miles) will get you to Ojai in no time. We drove from San Diego (200 miles), which took us about 5 hours with a bit of a slowdown due to the usual LA weekend traffic. The nearest airport to Ojai is Santa Barbara (SBA), which is 34 miles away.
Music for the road: listen to Ojai Vibes playlist on Spotify.
Hot Springs: no wellness retreat is complete without a relaxing spa day. There are several ancient natural hot springs located in Ojai’s picturesque Matilija Canyon. The most popular one is a privately-owned Ecotopia Hot Springs, a geothermal hideaway along the Matilija Creek in the Los Padres Forest. Ecotopia offers several rock-walled sulfur hot pools to soak in with temperatures ranging from 100 to 106 degrees. Important: clothing is optional. Ecotopia was closed due to COVID-19 when we visited Ojai. Check their website for hours and reservations.
Island time: while technically you’re not on an island, it surely feels like the time flows slower in Ojai. There’s this chill and friendly ambiance in the streets and neighborhood coffee shops that enveloped us in a relaxed pace. Locals say that Ojai is a state of mind, even the name suggests so: ‘Ow-haaai’... #highonojai
Ojai Time Machine: on the day of Ojai’s 100th anniversary, the City Council voted unanimously to continue with a ban on chain businesses and franchises in town to protect the community and unique small town character for visitors and residents. Imagine yourself in pre-Starbucks times: in the morning you head over to one of the local coffee shops and meet interesting people who made Ojai their home. You will notice some even read paper newspapers while sipping on the perfect cup of cappuccino. We brought back the best kind of souvenir: a folk music album created and gifted to us by a local musician David who we met at a popular lunch spot, Hip Vegan.
Spiritual and Art Community: Ojai has become a spiritual hub for many talented artists, holistic leaders and intellectuals seeking enlightenment through creativity, meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices. Ojai has also been home for its namesake music festival since 1947.
Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi and founder of the international Self-Realization Fellowship, visited Ojai in 1946, and pretty much summed it up when he said, "One does not even have to focus to hear the Om sound here."
Whether you’re looking to hire a yoga teacher, a breathwork facilitator, a master tea blender for a private tea ceremony, or a sound bath artist to enrich your DIY wellness retreat, look no further - Ojai has a great variety of spiritual and wellness professionals of all trades. Read on for our recommendations.
Where to Stay in Ojai
Blue Iguana Inn and it’s adult-only sister property Emerald Iguana Inn are enchanting boutique hotels in the heart of Ojai within walking distance to restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, music venues and nature walks. We loved the spacious cottages with beautiful decor inspired by Barcelona’s iconic architect Antoni Gaudi. Both hotels feature beautiful gardens and pools to relax with a book on a warm sunny day.
Rooms: from $179 per night.
Looking to splurge? A historic Southern California luxury resort, Ojai Valley Inn is the place to be if you're looking to indulge and pamper yourself with an abundance of active and peaceful pleasures. This resort has been chosen by Travel + Leisure publication readers as one of the Best Hotels in the World featuring a championship golf course, surrounded by scenic hills and mountains, award-winning Spa Village, multiple pools and farm-to-table restaurants for the ultimate resort retreat experience.
Rooms starting at $600 per night depending on season.
Wine Tasting in Ojai
Ojai has several wineries and vineyards that produce high quality wines using grapes selected based on the region’s unique climate and soil. According to a long time wine maker and owner of Ojai Vineyards Adam Tolmach, "The climate is just cool enough that the acidity level never comes into play and, for some reason, there is always a zesty tang apparent that makes this wine seem to dance.”
Top wine picks to try in Ojai: Syrah, Grenache and Viognier.
Head to the Topa Mountain Winery for a fun outdoor wine tasting experience with the stunning views of the Topa Topa Mountains Range. At the time of our visit, reservations were required ahead of time and could be easily made online on the official website.
Spiritual and Wellness Activities
Visit Meditation Mount to find your Zen
After spending a relaxed afternoon enjoying handcrafted wines at the Topa Mountain Winery, we drove to the Meditation Mount to catch the sunset with a famous Ojai “pink moment” and explore a unique meditation center known for its panoramic views of the Ojai Valley.
Located just 5 miles east of downtown Ojai, this place transports you into another world of serene calm and quiet yet powerful beauty of the surrounding mountains. Visiting the mount was one of the most profound moments and a highlight of our trip, highly recommend!
Fun fact: in 2021, the center marked its 50th anniversary since it opened the doors in 1971 with a mission to promote the creation of a more compassionate world through the power of creative meditation.
The center is currently open by pre-registration only due to COVID-19. There's a great variety of mindful activities to choose from - self-guided or guided, walking or seated meditations, sunset yoga or full moon sound meditations - check out their online calendar of upcoming events and book your experience.
Cost: $10-$20 per person goes to support the non-profit center. Find it on Instagram: @meditationmount
Try a Custom Private Yoga and Meditation Experience to Restore and Recharge
I connected with Tara from Soul Body Ojai Wellness Center, located in downtown Ojai, prior to our trip to help design a private session to celebrate a milestone Birthday and accentuate our special time in the Valley of the Moon. Tara, a certified Kundalini Yoga and Yoga Nidra teacher, recommended the Ojai Experience that included gentle restorative yoga, breathwork, guided Yoga Nidra meditation and a gong sound bath for a total of 2.5 hours.
During the meditation, as we were lying on our yoga mats in Savasana, a Reiki master came in and gently worked with each of us individually to guide the flow of healthy energy and help release energy blocks from incomplete past events and experiences.
At the end of our Ojai Experience session, Tara did a special blessing ceremony for our group that left us feeling deeply grateful and connected. Some of us felt emotional in a great liberating way! If you have a special occasion to celebrate, mention it to Tara and they will design the perfect combination just for you. It’s suitable for all levels from a complete beginner to advanced. For some of my friends this was the very first time doing yoga and meditation and they had the best experience.
Nourish Your Body with Fresh Farm-to-Table Eats
Known for its olive oil, avocados, citrus - especially the sweet, seedless Pixie Tangerine grown on local family farms - Ojai is a top choice for foodies craving something new. Here are a few places we tried and enjoyed.
🍽 Sea Fresh Ojai - best sushi, relaxed ambiance and plenty of options from the menu to cater to every taste.
🍽 Hip Vegan - like the name suggests, it is a hip vegan restaurant with a lovely community vibe, outdoor dining and shaded trees to escape the heat. Serving delicious vegan sandwiches, bowls, soups, smoothies and lassi drinks. Try their Wagamama or Ashram Lunch bowls. @hvojai
🍽 Love Social Cafe - beautiful little cafe where everything is made fresh. Great for a rustic alfresco breakfast or brunch but tends to get busy during mid-morning hours so be sure to arrive early. @lovesocialcafe
Explore the Outdoors
From hiking and camping in the Sespe Wilderness area within the Los Padres National Forest to boating and kayaking on Lake Casitas, Ojai offers many opportunities to explore and connect with nature.
There are quite a few hiking trails within walking distance from the Emerald Iguana Inn where we stayed during our visit. We took the Pratt Foothill trail for an easy morning hike which was a fantastic way to start the day. It turned out to be a very diverse beautiful trail that has it all: walking through wildflower fields, avocado trees, villas, great views of Ojai Valley and lovely vineyards along the way. Distance: about 3 miles round trip. Rose Valley Falls is another popular trail with a short and easy hike to the falls.
Ojai is great for a Birthday celebration, anniversary, reunion or just because it’s always a good idea to share a great wellness trip with friends, to invest in yourself and your mental well-being.
Best Time to Visit Ojai
There is never a bad time to visit Ojai. Its mild mediterranean climate welcomes visitors year round with warmest weather in July and August. We went in August and enjoyed our chill time by the pool during the hottest hours of the day.
Bottom line on DIY Wellness Retreats
You don’t have to spend a large amount of money to get in touch with your spiritual and outdoorsy sides or go to a luxury wellness resort for healing and transformation like in “Nine Perfect Strangers.” Instead, you can opt in for your local, under-the-radar spot and put together a fun itinerary for a healthy and rejuvenating weekend retreat either for one, a couple or a group of friends. It is going to be uniquely yours and much more budget-friendly so you can do it more often!