Picture Perfect Parks
Screen-time has basically become our new national pastime. These days, so many (too many?) social interactions and activities require only our eyeballs and a pair of thumbs to swipe, mash buttons, and change the channel.
I’m as guilty as the next person, but sometimes, I long for the days when there was nothing better than going to the park. Whether I was climbing the rocket ship at Soule, watching my dad play softball at Sarzotti, or laying in the grass at Daly, a lot of my happiest memories took place in an Ojai Valley park.
So before you settle in for another Netflix/cat video binge-fest … read this, pick a park, and make a new Ojai Valley memory.
Here they are, in no particular order:
Named for Edward Drummond Libbey, the man who donated the land it sits upon, Libbey Park spans several acres — and the Ojai Valley Trail — in the heart of downtown. With its many tennis courts, it is home to the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament, which will celebrate its 119th year next April. On Wednesday nights during July and August, free concerts by the Ojai Band are held in the gazebo, courtesy of the Rotary Club of Ojai West. It also boasts an incredible playground, built in 2015 with lots of input from kids and a tidal wave of volunteers.
Libbey Bowl is perhaps the crowning glory of this park, the iconic outdoor performing arts venue where the likes of Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez, and Igor Stravinsky have performed. But after decades of hard use since the 1940s, the city decided the Bowl had to be rebuilt. The massive effort required more than $3 million in donations from the community, and the result — completed in time for the 2011 Ojai Music Festival — is stunning. With almost 1,000 seats and a sprawling lawn that can accommodate a few hundred more, Libbey Bowl now hosts several concerts and events each year (check out the events calendar in this magazine for some of them).
Whether you come for the music, the tennis, the playground, or just want to enjoy your Rainbow Bridge salad under the oaks, Libbey Park is a perfect, enduring example of Ojai’s civic pride.
Casually known as “The Rec Department,” Sarzotti lies on the east side of Park Road, and boasts soccer and baseball/softball fields, a large gymnasium, multipurpose rooms, a playground, horseshoe pits, a game room, fitness center, and lots of covered and uncovered picnic areas (some of which require reservations).
Along with birthday parties and innumerable barbecues, Sarzotti Park is represented in my memory by soccer, volleyball, and dodgeball leagues … and by Jazzercise, Irish dancing, gymnastics, and cross-training classes. Also, by softball tournaments, summer camps, and the iconic middle school “Rec Dances.” As the hub of city-run recreation, Sarzotti Park has something to offer everyone. Check out ojairec.com for the Ojai Recreation Department’s latest list of activities.
Fun climbing structures encourage imaginative imaginative play at Sarzotti Park.
Ojai Skate Park
It took the better part of two decades to get the Ojai Skate Park where it is today. With its 12,500 square feet of ramps, rails, stairs, pool, and lights that allow skating into the evening hours, this park is now on the map as one of the best skate parks in our region. But like many other projects in the Ojai Valley, it is the result of persistent, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer locals determined to provide a safe but stimulating spot for kids and adults alike to hone their skills.
Even if you’re not into the sport, do stop by; you’ll find yourself cheering on the little “groms” as much as the older guys and gals catching big air. See Aerial Ojai #02
The biggest of the parks in the Ojai Valley, Soule Park is comprised of more than 220 acres just east of the city limits. The sprawling lawns offer plenty of space to spread out and unwind at this county park. Even on busy weekends, you’ll be able to find an open picnic table and barbecue pit. Need room for more friends? Soule also has several large covered picnic areas (although, as at Sarzotti, you’ll need reservations for these).
If you’re just seeking a casual day outdoors, you’ve got tons of options at Soule. There are playgrounds, a baseball field, newly-refurbished horseshoe pits, tennis and Quick Start Tennis courts, and equestrian arenas.
But ask any kid who’s visited, and they’ll tell you their favorite part of the park is unequivocally “The Rocket Ship.” This massive, multiplatform metal structure features a slide about halfway up, and a “steering wheel” at the very top. If heights aren’t your thing, the park offers swings and other climbing structures near the entrance, and a more modern playground between the tennis courts and the equestrian facilities.
For parents of fur babies, Soule Park also has a one-acre dog park, with separate areas for large and small dogs. Inside are benches, dog water fountains and lots of shade.
Note: Make sure to bring cash, as there’s a small entry fee of $2 on weekdays and $4 on weekends. Also, dogs are allowed only in the designated dog park area.
The iconic rocket ship and planet play structures have long been one of Soule Park’s most beloved features.
Soule Park Golf Course
Not to be confused with Soule Park, the Soule Park Golf Course lies on an adjacent piece of land and is also county owned. Though not a park by definition, there’s still plenty of recreation to be had by duffers looking for an 18-hole course, driving range, putting green, pro shop, meeting rooms, restaurant, and full bar.
A reservoir, a fishing mecca, a campground, a birding hot-spot, a water park, a renowned disc golf course, a model airplane airstrip, my wedding venue … Lake Casitas is pretty awesome. Granted, its historically low water level is worrisome. But the place still holds so much beauty, and so much to do and enjoy.
Anglers of all skill levels can enjoy great fishing, but you’ll want to stop in at the bait shop to find out what’s biting, and consider hiring a guide (there are several outfits in the area) to maximize your yield. I hear it’s lucky to grab a breakfast burrito at the Marina Cafe, too.
My childhood is filled with Casitas camping and fishing memories. As I’ve gotten older, I discovered new loves there, like watching my husband, Logan, fly his remote control airplanes at the VC Comets airstrip, and hiking out to see bald eagles nesting in the eucalyptus trees near Wadleigh Arm.
Note: Day use fees range from $10-$20, and camping fees from $30-$60/night.
It’s fitting that Rotary Park and its hallmark horse sculpture sit at the gateway to Ojai proper. It’s a tribute to many things “Ojai” — its natural beauty, its active volunteer base, its art scene, and its equestrian community. Ted Gall’s larger-than-life metal sculpture stands sentinel in this tiny but lush park. Adjacent to the Ojai Valley Trail, it is the perfect spot to water your horses on your way to town (check out the historic water trough). Or take advantage of the large parking lot, which makes it an ideal jumping off point for a cycling adventure.
Situated at the intersection of Highways 33 and 150 — known as “The Y” to locals — the park is Ojai’s newest, and packs a lot into a relatively small space. It’s proof that even the smallest corners holds an abundance of beauty around here.
I’ll admit that I actually had to Google the name of this park. Growing up, I always called it White Oak Circle Park, because it is located in the crook of White Oak Circle. A pretty little piece of undeveloped land in the middle of a housing tract above Topa Topa Elementary School, it is dotted by oak trees, tables, and not much else. And that’s just the beauty of it; aside from a few picnic tables and a rope swing, it’s a simple, quiet nook.
At the base of the mountain north of downtown lies the quiet, peaceful Daly Park.
Many were the afternoons I rode my Huffy bike up the street to that park. A friend who lived nearby would bring out dolls and we’d have “tea parties” (I don’t think we had tea or cups, but that’s what we called it anyway), or just hang out and look for shapes in the clouds. It’s still a lovely place to do both.
At the base of the mountain north of downtown lies the quiet, peaceful Daly Park.
Community Center / OVLL fields
Home to the Ojai Valley Little League, this spot also includes an indoor basketball court/multipurpose room, meeting rooms, outdoor picnic tables, and a playground. My family spent countless hours there watching my brother play ball. Although the fields are private and intended for use only by OVLL, fans are welcome and encouraged during the season. If you live nearby, take a walk on the Ojai Valley Trail (often referred to simply as “the bike trail” by locals) to check out a game in the springtime.
At the community center, which sits at the entrance of the baseball fields, ample parking and shaded table areas make it a convenient place to eat lunch and watch the kids play on the recently renovated playground. The Old-Time Fiddlers host a jam session on the second and fourth Sunday afternoons each month (from 1:30 to 4:30 pm). Whether or not you play, it’s a slice of Americana that promises to get your feet tapping.
Oak View Park & Resource Center
Formerly the site of Oak View Elementary School, the Oak View Park & Resource Center has been reborn into a — well, an amazing community resource. The 4-plus acre plot takes up an entire block with several buildings, sports fields, and a playground. It’s also the home of the Oak View Library, as well as a variety of businesses and nonprofits.
While city of Ojai residents are often noted for their civic pride, the OVPRC stands to show that their Oak View neighbors proudly wear that label, too. In the late ‘90s, grassroots organizers raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and passed a bond measure to purchase the property and give it new life.
Today, the grounds are still a favorite spot for local kids, who come for the soccer, basketball and baseball facilities, the playground, the Boys and Girls Club, childcare programs, art classes, and more. Its proximity to the Ojai Valley Trail also makes it a popular spot for a bike ride and an afternoon picnic.
Cluff Vista Park
In my earliest memories of this triangular park, I can recall a gas station and accessory buildings that had seen better days. But what was once a weed-laden eyesore now features native plants and a rambling, wisteria-draped pergola. The calming sound of water from the fountain, which winds its way down a path to a small waterfall, masks the sounds of the busy roadways that border it on all sides.
At lunchtime, Cliff Vista is a popular place for local businesspeople to brown bag it — especially in the spring, when the wisteria blossoms transform the pergola into a sea of purple. In the evening, it’s an ideal spot to watch the “Pink Moment” splash its blush tones on the Topa Topa Mountains to the east.
While not exactly a park by definition, The Arcade — the name for the iconic arches in the downtown corridor — is a great outdoor space. Beautiful tilework and sculptures are paired with plenty of benches and shady areas to enjoy an ice cream cone or simply people-watch. Grab breakfast at Bonnie Lu’s, then hang near the Matilija Poppy fountain before working off all that bacon with a stroll through the surprisingly diverse group of shops. If you go on a Sunday, leave your car at the Park and Ride and plan on spending extra time to peruse the Ojai Certified Farmers Market on Matilija Street.
What’s your favorite Ojai Valley park memory? Let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org.