Ojai is a tourism destination known for its boutique hotels, recreation opportunities, hiking, spiritual retreats and farmers' market of local organic agriculture. It also has small businesses specializing in local and ecologically friendly art, design, and home improvement—such as galleries and a solar power company. Chain stores (other than a few gas stations) are prohibited by Ojai city law to encourage local small business development and keep the town unique.
The origin of the name Ojai has historically been known as derived from an Indigenous word meaning nest, though the specific Indigenous nation is not identified. The city's self-styled nickname is "Shangri-La" referencing the natural environment of this health and spirituality-focused region as well as the mystical sanctuary of 1937 film adaption of James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon.
Ojai's culture is heavily focused on ecology, health and organic agriculture, walking/hiking, spirituality, music and local art.It is often seen as a hippie-friendly city, and many New Age shops exist. The benign climate has also fostered subcultures devoted to driving and exhibiting classic cars and there are several motorcycle clubs that regularly tour through Ojai as well. On July 8, 1999, former Apollo astronaut Pete Conrad, one of the twelve men who walked on the moon, died of injuries suffered from a motorcycle accident in Ojai.
The Ojai Music Festival (founded in 1947) is an annual festival of performances by some of the world's top musicians and composers, and occurs on the first weekend after Memorial Day. Notable appearances include Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Pierre Boulez, who was festival director in 2003. The outdoor bookshop Bart's Books, subject of news programs and documentaries, has been in Ojai since 1964. Ojai is home to the annual Ojai Playwrights Conference, a two-week playwrights festival that brings professional writers and actors from across the country to Ojai. The community is served by the Ojai Valley News, a weekly newspaper, the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide and the Ojai Quarterly, magazines published every 3 months. In July 2018 the Ojai City Council voted in favor of allowing adult use cannabis sales in the city. Sespe Creek Collective, which was Ventura County's first fully licensed medical dispensary opened its doors to adult use cannabis sales on August 14th, 2018.
The script for the movie Head was written in Ojai by The Monkees, Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson.
The town of Ojai and its surrounding area is home to many recreational activities. Los Padres National Forest borders the town on the north, and many back country areas within the forest are accessible from Highway 33, the major north–south highway through town. Matilija Creek is a spot to enjoy splashing under waterfalls, backpacking, and soaking in a hot spring. To the west, the Lake Casitas Recreation Area offers camping, picnicking, and hiking as well.
The valley has several public courts in downtown Libbey Park. There are also two major golf courses: the Soule Park Golf Course, and the noted Ojai Valley Inn Golf Course. The t
own completed a new park, Cluff Vista Park, in 2002, which contains several small themed regions of California native plants. Annually, in early April, the town hosts a bicycle race that draws professional and amateur teams from around the country. The "Garrett Lemire Memorial Grand Prix" began in 2004 as a tribute to a 22-year-old cyclist from Ojai who died racing his bicycle in Arizona the previous year. The race is held on a 1 mile (1.6 km) circuit that circumnavigates Libbey Bowl in the heart of downtown Ojai. Proceeds from event promote cycling safety and education in local schools. Also in April, "The Ojai" tennis tournament is held. It is the oldest tennis tournament west of the Mississippi River (founded in the 1887) and has been an early competition for many players who went on to earn one or more Grand Slam titles.
In early June, often coinciding with the Music Festival, the Ojai Wine Festival is held at Lake Casitas. Over 3,000 wine lovers sample the products of over 30 wineries. Proceeds go to charity.