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Weekend escapes to the simpler life of Avalon, Ojai, Del Mar, and other nearby gems
About 15 twisty miles from the Pacific lies Ojai, a tidy haven for spiritual retreats and spa vacations. Travelers come to golf, hike, and swim, but mostly for the divine opportunity to do as little as possible.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market energizes the town as downtown shoppers gather local produce, including the famed Pixie tangerines. … Just outside of town, crunch down a gravel road flanked with citrus and olive trees until you find the olive farm Regalo. The estate opens its sunny tasting room on weekends for sampling its hand-harvested, cold-pressed oils and exotic vinegars, such as tangerine or vanilla balsamic ($8 to $35). Ask nicely and you’ll get a tour of the pressing operation. … Pastry connoisseurs make a pilgrimage to theKnead Baking Co.(Motto: “Eat, drink, knead.”) for aromatic shortbread cookies, gorgeous sticky buns, and dreamy croissants ($2.25 and up).
Come sundown, watch for the “pink moment” that washes western bluffs in the sizzling hue. For early cocktails, the weekday happy hour at Sea Fresh SeaFood’s airy patio offers bargain shrimp, fish tacos, and cocktails ($1 to $5), or come for a platter of fresh-grilled fish and veggies ($12 to $15). … An interesting wine list of mostly Central Coast labels accompanies the Mediterranean menu at Azu, where small plates of lamb kabobs ($11) and bacon-wrapped, stuffed dates ($9) start a meal of squid-ink pasta ($18) or seafood paella ($29).
In the 90 years since the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa ($400 to $10,000) began as a country club and golf course for glass manufacturer Edward Drummond Libbey, the resort has grown to 220 acres with five-star features such as an 18-hole golf course with mountain views, a 31,000-square-foot spa, and an herb garden set with curtained pavilions for picnics or morning meditation. It’s tempting to never leave the oak-shaded grounds, where gourmet meals and nestlike bedding keep you cozy. But come morning, hop on a rental bike to check out the downtown’s many activities, too.
Just a few miles from the center of town, the Lake Casitas Recreation Area seems like a mirage amid the scruffy hills. Fishermen come for the trout, bass, and sunfish, while boaters find the 2,700-acre lake just the right size for a rental kayak, canoe, or motorboat. … Open during the summer, the Casitas Water Adventure ($12) is a manmade “lazy river” with waterfalls, slides, and a lagoon that keeps kids and relaxed parents floating happily for hours. For the energetic, there’s a disc golf course and a 1.5-mile hiking trail.
[ small-town cred]
Pixie tangerines. Nearly 25,000 trees grow the seedless, easy-peeling fruits in Ojai, which are in season from February through May or June.
Real Estate For Sale
Reese Witherspoon’s nine-bedroom, 7-acre ranch estate with three guest cottages was designed by Wallace Neff and built in 1923 by town founder Edward Libbey.
Rainbow Bridge Natural Food. True to its motto, “a community gathering place,” locals come here for groceries, takeout, and gossip.
The gold is long gone, but Julian still turns boomtown on weekends when SUVs vie with Harleys for parking. Specialty shops, old-time attractions, and all things apple await at this wide spot in the road, 4,200 feet up in the Cuyacuma Mountains.
[ small-town cred]
The 1914 jail at C and Fourth streets served as overnight accommodations for drunks. For a time, it had the town’s only indoor toilet.
Audubon Singing Bird Clock, $27, with a different bird chirping on the hour—every hour—at The Birdwatcher
Notable landmark For Sale
The Old Julian Drugstore, where kids gather sweets by the bucketful in the basement candy mine
A new sophistication is reinvigorating Santa Catalina Island’s principal town as motels are renovated into boutique hotels, chefs bring expert technique and seasonal ingredients to menus, and recreation becomes adventurous with zip lines, high-speed boats, kayaks, and ocean adventures.
Board a Ribcraft inflatable boat for Dolphin Quest ($35), an exhilarating open-air ride in search of whales, sea lions, and bald eagles. The boat can glide alongside pods of dolphins feasting near the shore, and close enough to sea lions to count their whiskers. … For more adventure, head to the outfitters at the Descanso Beach Club, home to the staging areas for the zip line ($109 to $120), climbing wall tower ($5), kayaks ($22 to $72), and the Sea Trek Undersea Adventure ($109). … The Catalina Island Museum is a fast immersion into the outsize history of the tiny island. Learn about its notable residents (Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan), its role in World War II, and its famous pottery.
Upscale dining can be found at the Avalon Grille, where executive chef Paul Hancock makes a juicy roast chicken that’s crisped in the deep fryer and served over creamy polenta and spinach ($23). … Delightfully eclectic and steps from the water is CC Gallagher, part restaurant—with a bar for coffee, sushi, wine, sake, and beer—and part gourmet general store, with artisan chocolates, decadent pastries, gourmet groceries, and gifts.
The Pavilion Hotel ($119 to $1,320) has evolved into a boutique property with lush landscaping, classy coastal-inspired décor, and such welcome amenities as an afternoon wine-and-cheese hour and a daily continental breakfast buffet. Its signature pavilion affords views of the central fire pit and the harbor, but most of the 71 guest rooms are tucked deep inside the garden courtyard for privacy and quiet. … With just 15 rooms, the Avalon Hotel ($195 to $649) is an intimate hideaway perched atop a harbor-facing hillside. Freshly decorated with woody Craftsman accents, the tidy guest rooms are stocked with custom-made bath products, and come with garden or water views.
[ small-town cred]
The tiny Catalina Island fox—only found here—has rebounded from near extinction and is thriving; patience is rewarded with a glimpse.
Nutz for You candy apple ($13) at Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionery is loaded with white and dark chocolate, caramel, and a choice of nuts.
A Catalina Clay Products authentic or reproduction tile, like those the factory made in the 1920s and ’30s for decorating Avalon’s public buildings and private spaces.
Avalon at A Glance:
» Population 3,728
» Main Drag Crescent Avenue
» Town Motto “Relax, you’re on island time”
» High School Mascot Avalon Lancers
» Feed the Meter None! And no stoplights!
» Indigenous Food Saltwater taffy
» Bike Rental Brown’s Bikes
» Local Celeb Musician Spencer Davis
» Librarian’s Choice for Dinner The Lobster Trap
» Single Scoop $3 for Dreyer’s at Lloyd’s of Avalon Confectionery
» Local Hang Luau Larry’s
» Notable Real Estate for Sale Zane Grey Pueblo at $9.9 million
» Off the Beaten Path Avalon Pet Cemetery, charming and poignant, just down the road from The Inn on Mt. Ada; the markers will make you laugh and cry.
» Gas $2.26 a gallon higher than O.C.
The Catalina Express’ eight boats ferry passengers year-round in just over an hour from terminals in Long Beach, San Pedro and, with slightly higher fares, Dana Point ($57 to $74.50 round trip). … The Catalina Flyer departs once each day, except in the winter, at 9 a.m. from the Balboa Pavilion at Newport Beach ($53 to $70 round trip). … Island Express helicopters fly to the island in 15 minutes. The turbine choppers carry as many as six passengers and leave from heliports adjacent to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, and seasonally from the ferry passenger terminal in San Pedro ($125 one way, $250 round trip).
Blue skies with a constant ocean breeze, a walkable main street with diverse storefronts, and happy hour on the patios of busy restaurants make the ideal small town. Add a touch of old Hollywood charm and you’ve got Del Mar.
[ small-town cred]
The late Jimmy Durante, a comedian and racetrack regular, was named honorary mayor in 1963.
Del Mar Library was originally built as St. James Catholic Church in 1914. Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien served as ushers.
Cost for a Single Serving
Free at Seaside Yogurt—if you guess the weight of your self-serve frozen treat.
Popular as a filming location, this century-old neighborhood sandwiched between Glendale and La Canada Flintridge is a quaint version of Main Street, U.S.A. Its 1920s-era buildings, shaded sidewalks, and foothill setting in the San Gabriel and Verdugo mountains help make Montrose a picture-perfect village.
[ small-town cred]
Location filming done here also includes “Bad Teacher,” “Teen Wolf,” “The Mentalist,” “Hitchcock,” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
Infamous Film Scene
Honolulu Avenue is regularly featured in movies. Locals still talk about Will Ferrell’s “Old School” streaking scene on the main street.
Needlepoint kit from Needle in a Haystack. It’s not your typical memento, but every stitch will remind you of the selection and the nice people who helped you decide to take it home.
For Travel information, click here.
by Valli Herman & Jim Walters / illustrations by Peter Hoey
To see, shop, savor and stay in of these small-town getaways purchase a print or digital copy of the June 2013 issue here.