Goat Cheese Chile Relleno, Olive Oil and Blue Iguanas in Ojai

Ojai is less than a three-hour drive from the L.A. area. – Photo by Greg Aragon / Beacon Media News

By Greg Aragon

One of my favorite places in winter is Ojai, where beautiful landscapes and small town charm mix to form pure relaxation. A friend and I recently took a day off work and snuck away to this little hideaway. It was only for the night, but the memories will linger for a long time.

The getaway began when we pulled into the Blue Iguana Inn, located on the outskirts of town. Seeped in old-mission style architecture, the Iguana is an old-world style boutique villa-inn designed and built by renowned Ojai architect Marc Whitman.

The property, which has been welcoming guests for more than 20 years, is highlighted by arched entrances, terra cotta curved roofing, and rugged outpost railings. Flagstone paths marked with intricate stone mosaics and hand-made Mediterranean tiles accent the landscape, along with lush courtyards, gardens and trees, and a pool.

The interiors are also distinctive. Every one of the inn’s rooms, suites, bungalows and vacation cottages feature authentic one-of-a-kind furniture pieces throughout, including exotic rugs, original pieces by local artists, and lots of Southwestern-type furnishings.

Our two-bedroom bungalow was no less special. The living room featured a large sofa, chase lounge, large TV and old-fashioned, wood-burning stove type fireplace. The master bedroom boasted a king bed, television and the 2nd bedroom offered a queen bed. The rooms are connected via a Jack and Jill bathroom, with a shower/tub combo. The bungalow also featured a full-sized kitchen with stove, fridge, microwave, sink and dinner table. And out the side of the house, there was a large private patio area.

The accommodations were so comforting we considered going to the market, cooking a dinner and staying in all night. But then I remembered Azu Restaurant and Bar in downtown Ojai. More specifically, I remembered the incredible chile relleno I sampled on my last visit.

Led by Chef and owner Laurel Moore, Azu serves an exciting, eclectic menu of California, Spanish and Mexican inspired fare, with fresh local ingredients grown and hand-picked by Moore from local farms and her own garden. The menu is highlighted by an extensive tapas menu, numerous wines by the glass, and fresh homemade gelato.

Our dinner at Azu began with a fresh and tasty dish of ahi tuna ceviche and chips, with avocado, jicama, corn, lime, cilantro and onion. For the main course I experienced the goat cheese chili relleno, with pasilla chile, mushroom, arugula, roasted corn, capers, crema, spicy and tomato sauces. My friend went with the 8-ounce Angus grass-fed flat iron steak that is dry rubbed for 24 hours and grilled and sliced and served with tequila demi-glace sauce and cilantro pesto.

After dinner we strolled through artsy Ojai Village, admiring quaint shops and the majestic surrounding mountains of the spectacular Los Padres National Forest to the north. The Ojai Valley is world renowned for hiking, biking, bird watching and fishing. Ojai’s historic downtown charms locals and visitors with award-winning dining, wineries, art galleries, boutiques, and world-class golf courses. Ojai’s climate welcomes year-round festivals and cultural events, along with a long growing season producing the finest olives, citrus, and organic produce.

To sample some of the area’s olive oil, the next morning we visited the Ojai Olive Oil Company, a third-generation family owned and operated farm. Opened every day from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the farm boasts a grove of 150-year-old olive trees, and a tasting room where a variety of olive oil samples and lots of interesting info on how it is made is served up by a friendly staff. The resident experts are happy to discuss the history of olive oil, how olives are grown, how extra virgin olive oil is extracted, blended and bottled, and how to properly cook with olive oil.

The Blue Iguana Inn is located at 11794 N. Ventura Ave., Ojai, California  93023. For more info and reservations and to learn about current specials and packages, call (805) 646-5277 or visit: blueiguanainn.com. Azu Restaurant is at 457 E. Ojai Ave. For more info, call (805) 640-7987 or visit: azuojai.com. For more information on visiting Ojai, go to: ojaivisitors.com.

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