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Ojai

May 29, 2008|Pauline OConnor

For HIS 1937 movie "Lost Horizon," director Frank Capra used Ojai as a stand-in for the mythical utopia Shangri-La. Seventy years later, this sleepy Ventura County town about 85 miles northwest of L.A. still makes a pretty convincing paradise, with its lavender- and orange blossom-scented air and magical "pink moment," the time at sunset when the surrounding Topa Topa Mountains are bathed in a rosy glow.

Most of Ojai's galleries and boutiques are located in and around its quaint downtown plaza. Built in the 1920s, it features Colonial Revival architecture, including a Spanish-style arcade and bell tower. Though a few chain stores have managed to get a toehold, the majority of businesses are owned by locals.

While this low-key spot is geared more toward spas and spiritual retreats than night life, it does boast several world-renowned cultural events, such as the annual Ojai Music Festival (pictured below, center). Highlights of this year's festival, happening next Thursday to June 8 at the Libbey Bowl, include the Ojai Festival Orchestra's performance of Antheil's "A Jazz Symphony," the U.S. premiere of Francois Narboni's "El Gran Masturbador" and live accompaniment of Charlie Chaplin's score to his film "Modern Times."

OUTDOOR BOOKSTORE

Bart's (302 W. Matiljia St., [805] 646-3755; www.barts booksojai.com), an alfresco used bookstore nestled under a 420-year-old oak tree, is known for its vast selection and after-hours honor system.

MAX RELAX

Among the myriad stress cures available at the super-deluxe Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (905 Country Club Road, [805] 646-1111; www .ojairesort.com), pictured above, are Kuyam -- a Moroccan mud treatment with guided meditation -- and a half- or full-day program called Camp Ojai, where kids ages 5 to 12 are diverted with art projects, a water slide and pony rides at the 220-acre spa's on-site ranch.

VINTAGE FUN

More than 40 wineries and microbreweries will be showcasing their select libations during the Ojai Wine Festival ([800] 648-4881; www.ojai winefestival.com) at Lake Casitas on June 8.

MAMA DADA

Ojai was once home to Beatrice Wood, a.k.a. "the Mama of Dada." Her former home, the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts (8560 Ojai-Santa Paula Road, [805] 646-3381; www.beatricewood.com), features exhibitions, workshops and performances.

LOCAL FLAVOR

Located in a century-old timber house, the French-Californian restaurant Auberge at Ojai (314 El Paseo Road, [805] 646-2288) has a spacious porch perfect for enjoying the spectacular sunsets and a menu that changes seasonally to take advantage of the local farmers markets.

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-- Pauline.OConnor@latimes.com

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