Ojai, California: Searching for the Pink Moment in Shangri-La

Picture-perfect view of the Ojai Valley.
  • Picture-perfect view of the Ojai Valley.

In 1937 Frank Capra used a long shot of Ojai Valley to represent the mythical paradise of Shangri-La in the classic film Lost Horizon.

Ojai (pronounced O-hi) is a small, artsy community nestled serenely near the Topa Topa Mountains, about fourteen miles west of Ventura on Highway 33. Translated as “moon” in Chumash, Ojai is a worthwhile day trip three-four hours north of San Diego.

Locals turn their eyes to the surrounding hills at dusk to appreciate the pink glow the fading sun emits across the hills, known locally as “the pink moment.” Ojai is apparently one of the few locations throughout the world to experience such a phenomenon. I came just at the right time as the pink moment is considered to be at its most spectacular, from November to February.

I arrived in time for lunch at an outdoor café and made my first stop the Ojai Museum and Visitors Center information. The gentleman at the desk provided helpful information on the local hotspots and spoke of how Ojai has grown and spread out in the five years since I’d last been there. He added that there are efforts by locals to contain the growth so as to not sacrifice the quiet village atmosphere. The adjoining museum displays several paintings and photographs by local artists and various exhibits chronicling the Chumash roots of the area.

Much of the city was destroyed by a fire in 1917. It was subsequently rebuilt in Spanish Mission Revival style. The two most prominent structures rebuilt in 1917 are the post office and the Colonnade Arcade, which houses a myriad of shops. There are a variety of unique shops here, including green-friendly clothing stores, jewelry stores, cafes and art galleries (including Primavera Gallery).

Most of the attractions in Ojai are located within a short walk, but if you grow tired of walking or driving, hop on the Ojai Trolley and take a scenic tour around the area.

Ojai is a source of inspiration for artists, photographers, painters, sculptors and other creative souls. Artists here are quite innovative and work in a variety of media. Local artwork is displayed in galleries throughout town. Festivals held throughout the year include music, film, poetry, Shakespeare, playwrights, wine and even a birding festival for you birdwatchers. There’s also a Renaissance Faire here in May.

A block up from the visitors' center is one of the most popular local hangouts, Bart’s Books, described as the world’s greatest outdoor bookstore. If you visit, give them a break and forego asking them what they do if it rains (they make do just fine). Bart’s Books is one of the few bookstores I’ve seen employ the honor system of leaving one’s payment in a basket after choosing a book on the outside shelves. The bookstore is an intellectual haven for locals and visitors alike.

Outdoor activities are popular among locals and visitors alike. You can bike or hike the Ojai Valley Trail. Nearby Lake Casitas provides opportunities for fishing, boating and kayaking. Los Padres National Forest is also nearby. Ojai spas are considered some of the best and most relaxing in California, with Ojai Valley Inn and Spa probably the most popular local spa.

Ojai’s serene setting is conducive to contemplation. Some even believe that the Ojai Valley provides a spiritual vortex similar to Sedona, Arizona. The philosopher Krishnamurti has a foundation here that I stumbled upon by accident while searching for a good spot to enjoy the pink moment.

Michael Krohnen, coordinator of Krishnamurti’s Library, showed me around his former residence at Pine Cottage. The visitor seeking solitude, serenity and contemplation can book a room at the adjoining Pepper Tree Retreat. Michael spoke of how Krishnamurti often entertained one of my favorite writers, Aldous Huxley. Other famous visitors included The Beatles, Greta Garbo, D.H. Lawrence and Dr. Jonas Salk.

Michael recommended Meditation Mount as the most spectacular viewpoint to experience the pink moment, which I reached via a short winding drive up a nearby hill. The spot offered a breathtaking view of the valley.

I patiently waited for twilight to experience the pink glow of the hills. I was not disappointed. Just before the sun disappeared beyond the hills, they became quite, well…pink.

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