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Ojai Valley Rhapsody

Courtesy of Ojai Valley Inn and Spa © 2008 Ojai Valley

Photo: Courtesy of Ojai Valley Inn and Spa 2008

Exhilarated from the golf, Meredith and I dined outdoors that first evening at the Oak Grill. It was a warm, almost sultry night, but with the ocean only twelve miles away, a cooling breeze funneled up the valley off the relatively cold Pacific, and the temperature was delightfully Mediterranean-like. Looking down on the golf course, I still didn't see anyone out. This would turn into one of our refrains over the course of our too-short stay: Where is everyone?Is it a weekend crowd?Is the summer heat too much?We were befuddled. Maybe in the way that Bandon Dunes is best experienced in the winter when the crowds are gone, Ojai might be Southern California's best-kept summer secret.

Reposing on the balcony, we watched the Topa Topa bluffs to the east turn pink, as they are wont to do, and the night sky deepen to midnight blue, as myriad stars started to coruscate, revealing a wondrous galaxy. You don't see many stars in Los Angeles because of the pollution and the bright ambient light of the city, but here we were, so close to that sprawling metropolis, basking in the splendiferous night view, sipping a glass of wine and reflecting on the life of writers in Hollywood. We were one with the elements.

T he following morning, after an in-room breakfast of huevos rancheros, we played a second round. Grounds crews were out early, mowing the greens and raking the bunkers. Where are the players?Not another one out there. On a Wednesday. The openness of the course led to an unhurried, three-hour round, after which we lunched again at the Oak Grill, then suited up and strolled over to the pool. Finally, we discovered where some of the action was. Ojai is deliberately kid-friendly, and there was a horde of them frolicking in the pool, splashing and diving and playing Marco Polo, having such a great time that I didn't mind. The water was lovely. Everywhere you wandered around the grounds, there were splendid views of the surrounding mountains. No wonder the Chumash Indians once called this place home—their word "ojai" translated as "valley of the moon." The movie stars who frequented the inn in the forties and fifties had a simpler moniker: Shangri-la.

After a round of golf and a relaxing swim, we were ready for some pampering—it was time for the spa. "Hmm," I thought, when we got there and were handed robes to change into. "This is where everybody is." The reception area was crowded with spagoers, but the massage therapists were prompt, and Meredith and I were ushered into the couples room right on time. Honestly, I don't remember the massage. I don't know if it was the warm-weather golf, the irenic swim or that second glass of chardonnay at the Oak Grill, but I fell into a snoring (I was informed) slumber during the massage and had to be awakened when it was over. I do know that if I could have felt any more relaxed, I would have sunk to a new level of total-body torpor.

Recharged, it was off to dinner. Ojai's Maravilla Restaurant is not just another resort restaurant with steak and fish and the usual entrées—all executed well but often not on a par with big-city cuisine. No, this is a world-class dining experience. Meredith ordered lobster "three ways" (tail, claw and bisque) and I selected a special dry-aged steak that was perfectly grilled. And a very informed sommelier helped us navigate the extensive wine list.

"Even though I ordered steak," I said to the man, "this balmy weather has me thinking white."


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