Agritourism Thrives in Ojai, California
Ojai, CA – Ojai, a southern California destination known for its tranquility, soothing spas, charming inns and artsy vibe, also has strong agricultural roots from a high producing olive oil farm to a working alpaca ranch. These family-run operations offer seasonal or year-round tours and experiences for visitors looking for a back-to-nature experience and a chance to explore off-the-beaten-path attractions in the Ojai Valley.
Ojai Olive Oil, Inc., operated by Asquith Family Farms, is positioned in a lovely, dramatic setting with trees more than a hundred years old. It’s a well established farm (in existence over 11 years) with a store and tasting room offering delicious, award-winning extra-virgin olive oil, pressed fresh and bottled in the grove. Free year-round Saturday tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (and group tours by appointment) cover the family history of the farm and the olive oil production process. Tours end at the tasting room, where visitors can sample and purchase a variety of olive oil and vinegars.
The annual olive harvest takes place between November and January at Asquith Family Farms, and all of the olives are picked by hand. State-of-the-art equipment is imported from Italy to produce the olive oils. The olives are processed within hours of coming off the trees, allowing for the fresh and delicious tasting olive oil. Visitors are welcome to bring a snack or lunch to enjoy at picnic tables located in the shade of the old Spanish trees onsite. Visitors can also sample Ojai Olive Oil products at the Ojai Farmers’ Market held every Sunday in Ojai Village.
El Paca Pastures, the Ojai Valley’s only working alpaca ranch, is also a destination ranch for visitors and tour groups. Relatively new to the Ojai Valley (launched June 2010), the ranch houses a dozen alpacas and a very overweight llama, Elaine. The alpacas are named for their personality — some with recognizable names such as Elton John, Elvira Mistress of the Dark and Ellie May Clampett – but all names start with ‘EL’ taken from the ‘El Paca’ title.
Besides having an opportunity to interact with the alpacas in the petting zoo, the ranch also contains an onsite ranch store, offering alpaca clothing including caps, mittens (made from the alpacas fleece), and shawls, many designed by local Ojai artists.
The ranch is a family-owned business run by Eric and Laurie Kreis who were introduced to alpacas at an auction and later purchased two for breeding. “The animals are quite amusing and some even do tricks,” stated Laurie Kreis. “The ranch is an experience, and we welcome visitors in and enjoy these magnificent animals,” she added. Admission is free with a $5 charge for parking. El Paca Pastures is open Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
New Oak Ranch, located against a dramatic backdrop in the upper Ojai Valley, is an active family farm producing eight varieties of quality lavender, Ojai Pixie tangerines, olives and walnuts. Owned and operated by Karen and Bill Evenden, the ranch is open for seasonal farm tours including its popular summer U-Pick Lavender (weekends, from mid-June through the end of July) and its fall U-Pick Walnuts. In addition to farm tours, New Oak Ranch also provides a wide array of products for purchase including Lavender Tomato Jam, Lavender Strawberry Jam, and Lavender skin and cooking products. These products are also sold in town at select stores.
In springtime, the delicious Ojai Pixie Tangerines can be enjoyed at Friend’s Ranch, offering orchard tours, Pixie sampling, and the chance to pick a bag of the fresh fruit to take home. On tour, visitors can learn how farmers grown the Pixies, visit the processing plant and also learn about Ojai’s farming history.
Old Creek Ranch Winery, run by John and Carmel Whitman, has been in operation for 31 years. The winery is located on the beautiful Old Creek Ranch which was part of a Spanish 22,000 acre land grant awarded to Don Fernando Tico, dating back to early California history. Today, the original winery still stands and produces many award-winning wines, focusing on the wines of Southern France, Spain and Italy. Winemaker, Michael Meagher, also produces and sells his own private label, Vino V Wines, available at the ranch.
The property consists of an 850-acre ranch and winery with fruit orchards. Five varieties of cherry trees, Japanese plum trees and peach trees line the entrance. The winery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tables are located on the patio and among the trees, creating a popular place for visitors to enjoy their picnic lunches along with wines purchased at the tasting room.
In town, locally produced Ojai wines can be sampled at Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room (open daily 12 to 5 p.m.), located in Ojai’s historic firehouse and at Casa Barranca Winery Tasting Room (open daily 12 to 6 p.m.) in the Ojai Arcade. Journey out to Ojai’s scenic East end, and sample some Boccali Vineyard wines at Boccali’s Restaurant. This family owned and operated winery produces 100% estate wines, made from fruit grown on the Boccali Ranch in the Upper Ojai Valley. Tastings are offered in the restaurant on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:30 to 5 p.m.
Visitors can also explore Ojai ranches and wineries by jeep or on special guided walking or bike tours. Trails By Potter offers the “Walk & Wine Tours” with stops at the Old Creek Ranch Winery ($90) or Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room ($95). The ‘Got Olive? Oil Tour’ consists of a 1.5 to 2 hour hike to the Ojai Olive Oil Ranch for tour and tasting ($110).
Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours provide an adventurous way to see Ojai’s backcountry with the many excursions offered year-round. The ‘All Around Ojai’ Tour is the perfect way to take in the history and flavors of Ojai, with stops at the Ojai Olive Company, the Secret Garden, Old Creek Ranch Winery and other off-road locations. The cost is $109 for adults and $99 for children, ages 6 to 16.
Ojai is an easy 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles and 50 minutes south of Santa Barbara. The closest airports are Santa Barbara (45 miles), Burbank (70 miles), and Los Angeles (85 miles).
For more information on Ojai’s farm and ranch tours, wine tasting, hotel specials and seasonal offerings, visit www.ojaivisitors.com or call the Ojai Visitors Bureau at 1-888-OJAI-NOW.