When I was invited to Ojai for a weekend getaway, I started imagining how relaxing it would be to go with just my husband and then I felt guilty. I know that wanting an adult only escape makes me human, not a bad mother, but I still feel like I should want to be with my kid every chance I get. If you’re a parent, you know this conundrum. It’s finding relief when your kid is asleep and then spending your night scrolling through photos of them. But it’s been nonstop over here between work and childcare and stomach bugs, without any sort of break, so when my sister-in-law said she could come down for the weekend to stay with our little one while my husband and I snuck away to Ojai I was elated.
That lasted about 27 minutes. A wonderful side effect of becoming a parent is holding too much information in my brain and sometimes getting that information wrong: I got my dates mixed up. But another great trait I’ve gained from parenting? Flexibility. I quickly got myself psyched for a family adventure (note: not vacation) to Ojai, which, as it turns out, is a wonderful place for little ones, too.
We arrived at the “vibey” Caravan Outpost, a mini oasis glamping campground in the middle of town on Friday afternoon. Ten airstreams nestled amongst tropical plants and flowers face a common area featuring lawn games, a lounge area, complimentary bikes and big picnic tables. We stayed at Camp “LALA,” which featured the Airstream Pottery Barn special edition travel trailer. My fears of the space being too small for my 6’1” husband and rambunctious toddler were quickly put to rest. The 28-foot travel trailer was plenty big, largely thanks to well-designed storage, and certainly family-friendly. For a brief moment we entertained the idea of a minimalist life on the road in a souped-up camper. And then we remembered we have a toddler.
After our daughter explored every inch of the trailer (the fold out bed was her favorite – “this is my” bed!?) we set out for an early dinner at Boccali’s, a charming family-owned and operated Italian restaurant. Red and white umbrellas shaded green picnic tables where couples, friends and families were all enjoying an early dinner. We tried to enjoy ourselves, too, but our daughter decided that now was a great time to express her creativity (stickers all over the floor; crayons all over the table), control (she insisted on sitting on the patio wall parallel to the road) and sense of humor (playing keep away with a napkin dispenser is, apparently, hilarious). I was pretty sure we were ruining the evening for both couples on either side of us. But when one of them was getting up to leave, she turned to us and said, “Let me guess. Three years old?”
“Yes,” I laughed, nervously. “How did you know?”
“I raised three of them myself and now I have two grandkids,” she replied. I still wasn’t sure which way this conversation was going. “Well, you guys are doing a great job.” I sighed of relief and stopped fighting my daughter to stay sitting on the bench. “We parents don’t tell each other enough. I remember taking my kids out to restaurants was so stressful. You’re doing great,” she said. Then to our daughter, “You’re doing great, too.” After dinner, my husband grabbed some provisions from Westridge Market & Fine Foods across the street, a grocery store and deli with a great selection of fresh and prepared foods and drinks. Meanwhile, my daughter and I played corn hole and ladder toss as the sun set behind the palms.
Saturday morning, we walked down East Ojai Avenue to Libbey Park, a wonderful park that has something for everyone: tennis courts, picnic tables, fountain, Libbey Bowl music venue and best of all, a playground. I planned to get us treats from The Dutchess, a beautiful café/bakery-by-day and Burmese-restaurant-by-night, but an intimidating line deterred me. Fortunately, we got a taste on our way back to L.A. when I beat the rush to grab their spicy pickled chili cheddar scone and Insta-worthy Meyer lemon-lavender Bundt (but I honestly wanted to try everything in the display case). Instead, I grabbed us breakfast from nearby Love Social Café, a positive-vibes-only coffee shop with a cute outdoor patio. When I returned, I found my daughter gleefully sliding down “turf hill,” a green mound where kids “surf” on pieces of cardboard down a small hill. I even saw some parents get in on the fun.
She could’ve stayed all day, but my husband and I were itching to explore the rest of town. No Ojai trip is complete without a stop at Bart’s Books, a magical outdoor bookstore with new and used books for all ages and interests. We let our daughter choose one from the children’s section, which I realize is unfair, because I couldn’t even limit myself to one book. Next up was our reservation at Topa Mountain Winery, a beautiful family-friendly winery just west of downtown. Although we were the only ones with a toddler, other guests had babies in strollers and slings throughout the patio and garden. We enjoyed our picnic from Westridge Market with a wine flight, featuring a mix of red, white and rosé, which miraculously did not spill despite our daughter’s best efforts. This also meant we were nearing nap time. We would’ve loved to stay all day here, but, parenting. Another excuse to return when I can get my dates right and secure childcare.
My husband and daughter rested back at the trailer, while I snuck out to explore some of the eclectic, artsy shops of Ojai’s East End neighborhood. I browsed the impeccably curated clothes and homes goods at In The Field, unique vintage décor and accessories at Sam Roberts LA and fun thrift finds at 2nd HELPings Thrift Store. After we all recharged, it was time for round two at Libbey Park. This time, we strolled down Ojai Valley Trail, a tree-lined walking trail and bike path just behind the Outpost. As we crossed a bridge over a small stream, our daughter wrapped her arms around both of us and said, “I love you guys so much.” With those simple words, and her still small hands holding us tight, all the tantrums and struggles during this so-called vacation was absolutely worth it. I’m still plotting the next time I can return to Ojai without her, but I wouldn’t trade this family adventure for anything.
After the thirtieth slide down turf hill, our daughter was ready to rest her head, and my husband and I were ready to enjoy that parenting “magic hour” after the kids are asleep. Under a full moon shining through the palm trees, we cracked open a beer and got a little taste of vacation after all.
Nina Harada is Digital Editor of L.A. Parent.