Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Road Trip: Ojai, CA

The idea was to take a vacation with my wife's family. We would head somewhere fun and enjoy a couple of days away from all of the craziness of LA, especially in the post Christmas shopping rush. Ideas were thrown around and various destinations proposed, but the one that stuck was to visit the small secluded mountainside town of Ojai, CA. Known for being a haven for Southern California travelers seeking a boutique tourism experience, the city that once dubbed itself "Shangri-la" would prove to be the perfect destination for this particular weekend away.

As the plans for the trip began to take shape, my desire to spend sometime with my K1200S, especially after seeing some of the roads that we would be driving through, got the better of me and I proposed that to make everyone more comfortable, I would ride while the rest of the family could take the car, allowing us all to travel without cramming five people into a car for the multi-hour drive.

Out on the open road, my wife behind the wheel of the Hyundai Sonata while I cruised nearby on the bike, we caravaned in the direction of Ventura County. Since we decided to depart a little bit later in the day, we avoided most of the usual rush hour traffic, though there was still a bit of slow-down around downtown LA, which is pretty normal. As we approached Calabasas, I got a call from my wife. The decision had been made to make a pit stop in Thousand Oaks so that my wife and her family could revisit the home where they used to live. This little detour resulted in us sitting in traffic for a pretty long time, but we also took the opportunity to stop for lunch, which took up a few hours. By the time we finally reached our hotel, it was already pretty late in the afternoon.

After settling into our rooms and grabbing a power nap, we headed up the rather entertaining Highway 33 to Ojai proper and tried to get in some exploring before the stores closed. Since it is a community with a lot of artists, there are numerous tiny shops which sell artwork and curios of all manners. And since it is also in a heavy agricultural area, there are many farm-to-table types of restaurants that feature tons of locally grown produce on their menus. We selected one such place for dinner and enjoyed several tasty dishes before settling with a couple of drinks to watch some local musicians perform.

The next morning, after a great night of sleep, we grabbed breakfast before heading out to the Meditation Mount, a relaxing hilltop retreat where people can go to unwind, view the exquisite scenery, and take in the calm that the entire area seems to induce. Walking around, enjoying the manicured gardens filled with local flora, we could feel the stress drain away. As the sun apexed in the sky and our stomachs churned from hunger, we headed back into town to snag a bit of lunch. Given the rather hippie local populace, we found ourselves at a highly rated organic vegan diner that served surprisingly tasty dishes. As much as I am not a fan of most vegan food, this stuff was actually entirely palatable, bordering on enjoyable.

In the afternoon, we lazily strolled through several more galleries taking the opportunity to enjoy the local artwork and keeping an eye out for a small trinket to add to our collection. Many of the galleries served double purposes, such as the location that was both a gallery and wine bar, which despite it being only mid-afternoon, was packed with people sipping wine and snacking on plates of cheese and crackers. The entire vibe of the town is very laid back, with nothing feeling rushed.

Our final stop was Bart's books, a massive open-air book store with an absolutely staggering collection of new and used books of just about every genre. From the outside, the rather unassuming building opens up into a large courtyard that quickly turns into a labyrinth of bookshelves. I wandered through and found myself easily getting lost in the sea of readings. Of course, we arrived late enough that the store was nearing closing time and the low sun meant we needed to hit the road soon.

The return ride towards LA was amusing. Heading back down Highway 33 at a slightly quick pace, I was able to get my big Beemer leaned over pretty comfortably on the nicely paved sections of curvy road. Once we hit the freeway, the amount of traffic quickly piled up and gave me an opportunity to take advantage of lane-splitting. I cannot say enough good things about those drivers who were kind enough to scoot over and offer me a bit more cushion as I threaded my way between the cars in the number one and number two lanes. As much as I could, I waved to thank those drivers for their consideration. Lane-splitting is hard work and very mentally intensive so by the time I reached home, I was pretty spent. It was a very brief trip, but totally worth the opportunity to explore as an adult a small town that I had only ever visited before as a child.