Photos/Words by Misty Hall
I’ve lived in just about every community within the Ojai Valley — Ojai proper, Upper Ojai, Oak View, and even up Maricopa Highway past the point of cell phone service.
But I have to say, Meiners Oaks is one of my favorites.
Located in the west end of the valley, it’s rural yet there’s tons to do, see, buy, eat, and experience within walking distance. It’s funky and diverse, but still maintains that quaint charm the Ojai Valley has become known for, with its cute, oak-studded neighborhoods and an awesome nickname: MOtown.
There’s just a certain laid-back, all-inclusive vibe that makes it different from any other place I’ve lived. Maybe that’s because it’s outside the city limits, or because there are no stoplights, or because it’s bordered by the Los Padres National Forest.
Left: A drive along the west edge of Meiners Oaks shows off its stunning views, and the many miles of Ojai Valley Land Conservancy trails accessible from Rice Road. Right: A dirt parking lot off Rice Road allows quick access to the Ventura River Preserve, maintained by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. It’s great by foot, by bike, or on horseback.
“Meiners Oaks, out of everything else, is the happening part of town,” says Summer McComas, owner of Enhanced Day Spa. “We’re the heart and soul of the Ojai Valley.”
Take a drive or stroll around, and you’ll begin to see her point. There’s a bit of everything here, from Mayberry to New Age.
Located in an old church, BookEnds Bookstore is as much about ambiance as it is about the written word. Lady Liberty stands sentinel in the BookEnds courtyard.
At BookEnds, set in a beautiful refurbished church, you can grab a new or used book and then crack it open in their oak-shaded yard outside. If you prefer to borrow instead of buy, check out the Meiners Oaks Library, which is part of the Ventura County Library system — so they can usually get anything for you that’s not currently on their shelves. They also have great children’s programs throughout the year.
At Greater Goods, you can take in some live music or a film screening, learn to knit or make dream catchers, or participate in community art projects. An added bonus: they’re frequently raising funds for local and regional causes, such as for the Thomas Fire survivors.
MOtown also offers you a chance to practice what you preach at several houses of worship, yoga studios (Arrow Heart, Hamsa), and a CrossFit/fitness gym (M.O. Town Fitness).
Fill your belly at one of many restaurants — like the famous high-end Ranch House, the classic hamburger-and-fries stand Jolly Kone, the vegetarian paradise The Farmer and The Cook, or up-and-coming newcomer, La Bodega, for tapas. For breakfast, pick up a killer donut at The Donut Hole, and some fair-trade coffee at Coffee Connection.
Coffee Connection may be small in size, but its fair trade coffees make it a popular spot.
For lunch and dinner, I love Papa Lennon’s. With its pretty Mediterranean courtyard, you can enjoy a local craft brew, pizzas made with super-fresh ingredients, and afterward, the best gelato in town. McComas’s favorite spots include Don Lalo’s, which she calls “a hidden Mexican food treasure,” and Trublend, for a quick healthy pick-me-up. Oh yeah, I forgot about Trublend! I love going there for a smoothie after a massage with McComas. I swear she has magic hands, whether it’s for muscle-kneading, lash extensions, or any of the other myriad services she offers. (And it’s not just me who swears by Enhanced Ojai. They’ve been named Best Day Spa in the valley for a decade now!)
Papa Lennon’s outdoor dining area is cozy and intimate.
Indeed, there’s plenty to love in the randomness and the sheer variety of things that Meiners Oaks contains. At Terramor Organic, you can pick up a set of cozy organic PJs and the softest blankets imaginable. Get a piñata at Mabel’s Place, then walk across the street and pick up some guitar strings at Cardinali Brothers Music. Drop your dog off at Four Paws Pet Grooming, then pick up a fruit tree at Meiners Oaks Nursery … or some vintage clothing at Enid and Edgar … or some killer locally-raised steaks at Watkins Ranch Butcher Shop … you get my point.
Need a piñata in a hurry? Mabel’s Place has you covered.
Then there’s the practical stuff: you can get a smog check (Roland’s or Meiner’s Oaks Auto Repair), buy a wrench (Ace Hardware), even get a replacement pump for your pool (Ojai Pool Store). Oh, there are also spots to get your hair cut, pay your water bill, or get a consultation on tree trimming, or taxes, or computer repair.
See, told ya.
If it’s nightlife you’re after, the Deer Lodge and The Hut are go-to classics, with regular live music and dancing. The Deer Lodge feels like it sounds, a cozy dark-wood lodge with indoor and outdoor seating, and a great food and drink menu. The Hut is your quintessential beer-and-pool neighborhood bar. If you prefer a more open-air music experience, Euterpe Farms hosts summer concerts on their property overlooking the mountains and river bottom.
The Deer Lodge. Photo by Danini’s Photography
If you’re feeling that fine art vibe, stop in at one of the many MOtown galleries. Gallery 525 hosts several shows of local professional and student artists, as well as nationally and internationally known artists in a variety of media. Or, simply look around town and you’ll find some pretty rad murals: a massive lion on the side of Don Lalo’s, a mermaid on the side of the Ojai Pool Store, a nature scene on the side of Meiners Oaks Elementary School, and a dream-like “sprout-man watering a flower-lady” on the side of Hamsa Studio. There’s actually a lot more public art to be found in MOtown, but it’s more fun to discover them on your own.
Don Lalo’s has some of the best Mexican food in the valley — and a striking lion mural, too.
If you’re looking for accommodations, The Ojai Retreat has 12 sweet little cottages and rooms with some of the absolute best views you can find from a hotel/motel/B&B in the valley.
As McComas points out, there are also several short-term rental properties within the boundaries of Meiners Oaks, as well. “There’s quite a few, and they’re really nice,” she says. “And they do support the community. There are a lot of them that list the different businesses and things to do in Meiners Oaks, to support the community of Meiners Oaks more.”
And it’s only getting better. McComas serves as coordinator for a growing organization, the Meiners Oaks Business and Art Community, comprised of neighborhood business owners who want to spread the word about MOtown. They help plan events like the quarterly M.O. Strolls, held at the beginning of each season, where the whole community comes alive with music, dance, special events, big sales, and community crafts.
Spend some time in Meiners Oaks and you’ll discover more public art — like this piece, honoring the bravery of first responders during the Thomas Fire — than in any other part of the valley.
“It’s a diverse community where we all respect each other,” McComas says of the businesses and artists. “There’s no competition between the different businesses; we all really want to see each other succeed.”
And whether you’re a merchant or a resident, a lifer or a newcomer, McComas sums up Meiners Oaks in four perfect words: “Close-knit, but very welcoming.”