Finding Om in Ojai

A New Age California town has old-school soul  

WORDS Jacquelyne Froeber
Abril / Mayo 2019

Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte leaves the steam room at the spa because she’s uncomfortable with the nakedness? That’s totally me. It’s not that I’m a “never nude.” I just don’t find the spa relaxing. Any part of it. Massages, body wraps, something called a blood facial … I’m good.

So when my friends say “Spa day!” like it’s one of Oprah’s favorite things, I’ll find any excuse to not go (water the cactus; feed the kids I don’t have; a Too Cute marathon). But my friend Trisha is a sly little minx: She planned a girls trip to Ojai, California, and distracted me from its spa-centric ways with the town’s meditative lure.

It turns out that the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, where we would be staying, has a coveted Somadome — the holy grail of meditation via a cocoonlike pod with specialized “healing” lights; there are only seven in the U.S. Ojai also has an entire mountaintop dedicated to the craft, the aptly named “Meditation Mount.” If I were going to hone in on my inner peace, this would be the place to do it. And my friends can get their seaweed wraps or whatever.

If you’ve heard of Ojai, you’re familiar with the buzzwords: healing, New Age and vegans. The reputation started in the late 1800s, when people with respiratory problems migrated here for the hot springs and Mediterranean-like weather to aid their illnesses. Through the years, the healing connotation that’s associated with the town has stayed, and Ojai has kept its spiritual, health-destination vibe.

Pulling up to the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, the emerald golf course spans off to the east as we follow the road to our rooms. Trisha and I lower our voices to whispers as we agree on a meeting time to head to the spa. My suite is quiet too. I’m surrounded by soft hues of blue and gray; 300-count, Egyptian-cotton sheets on the bed; a deep soaking tub; and sweeping views of the golf course from the Spanish-tiled patio.

Our friend Pam, a frequent meditator, is joining me for the Somadome. We find her in front of the spa by tables with signs that read “Freedom Zone: Free from cellphones, pets, smoking & disquieting conversation.” I’m pretty sure whatever comes out of my mouth is “disquieting,” but we are welcomed in, shown to our lockers and given the rundown of the 31,000-square-foot spa (two pools; a sauna; an artist cottage and an apothecary; and upstairs treatment rooms outfitted in mosaic tiles and marble).

Per the research I did before the visit, I know I can keep my clothing on for the Somadome, but I put my feet in the warm slippers provided to me — I’m not an animal — and find the therapist. Step one: Choose verbal or nonverbal meditation. Step two: Decide on one of five session options. I go with nonverbal and a session titled “Success,” partly because the therapist suggested it, and who doesn’t want to be successful?

We make our way to the Somadome, a white, egg-shaped contraption that reminds me of a George Foreman Grill for humans. Once I’m seated in the egg, I find a tablet programmed to my path of meditative success. The therapist starts the program, the top of the dome is closed and the light show begins. Blue, green and purple lights illuminate the interior in waves. The idea is that the lights will help regulate melatonin and cortisol hormones, which have been linked to wellness.

After my session, Pam goes in: She picks the verbal option and the “Manifest” session, said to be best when starting a journey and setting intentions. While Pam says she enjoyed the light aspect — it was unique — she said it didn’t really get her in the meditative mood either.

So we call Trisha’s friend Kat, who swears by the Somadome. She, like myself, was finding it hard to relax and be in the moment for meditation. “The Somadome forces you to turn off, and that had lasting effects for me,” she says. “It definitely improved my practice.”

Proof that meditation is different for everyone. Maybe I would find more inspiration at Meditation Mount.

After a short drive, Trisha and I follow the perfectly manicured path into the International Garden of Peace. The rock-lined trail meanders past the yellow, orange and purple bird of paradise flowers and lush green space. We find a bench engraved with “Joy Is a Special Wisdom” overlooking the town. Under the shade of a small tree, we straighten our posture, clear our minds and close our eyes. We breathe.

Time passes, and I eventually open my eyes to find the landscape around us bathed in a rosy hue. I interrupt Trisha’s zenful state; the scene is too beautiful to miss. She laughs and says we are witnessing the “pink moment”: Ojai is one of the few towns in the world where its location in the valley, lined up with an east-west mountain range, casts multiple brilliant colors at sunset.

I then remember what Kat said about her experience with the Somadome and feeling like she finally slowed down. Our moment in the garden has done that for me.

Find Your Chill Factor


Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
This five-diamond resort offers daily meditation classes. Rates start at $309.

Su Nido Inn
Cozy suites surround a courtyard (very Melrose Place), and on-site yoga is available. Rates start at $200.

The Lavender Inn
Ojai’s 1874 schoolhouse is now a beautiful B&B and day spa. Rates start at $135.

Bart’s Books
Readers can browse through hundreds of new and classic titles while getting some vitamin D at the largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the country. 

Take a seat in the tasting room for a flight of local vino from the Ojai Alisal Vineyard.

Farmer and the Cook
Try this organic, vegan-friendly Mexican café with house-made corn tamales, sopas and a recipe for hot sauce that is slap-your-vegetables spicy.

Dining in the living room of what feels like your favorite grandmother’s home, the house-made pasta is exceptional: pappardelle with slow-roasted boar, oxtail ravioli and lamb-sausage risotto with Parmesan fondue.


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