Ojai Film Festival is a winner

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Lake Casitas in Ojai offers fishing, camping, bird watching and boating, as well as a water park for children.

The film festival business is on the rise with cinematic events taking place throughout California, from Palm Springs and Temecula to Santa Barbara and beyond. The sixth annual Ojai Film Festival that took place last month has already established an admirable reputation on several levels.

In her welcoming statement, festival Executive Director Maggie Cerminaro thanked the attendees for helping the festival’s efforts in its “ongoing evolution from a local arts event into a cultural institution of national stature.” The awards were presented on Saturday evening at the surrealistic Whitman residence, which was a show in itself. Under the twinkling stars in an enchanted forest, those recognized for their vision were honored in style.

Just spending a few days in Ojai-whether you visit for the film festival or to enjoy the cuisine, arts, shopping or country style inns-is more than a quick fix. This is an enticing destination luring visitors to linger.

I began my trip, I do in any venture to Ojai, with a meal at Boccali’s Pizza & Pasta, where the Roma tomatoes, squash, melons, basil and peppers are grown in the family garden and side orders such as broccoli in garlic butter and the eggplant Parmesan are so exquisitely fresh. The old screen door is a reminder of the days of rides in the country and a slower paced lifestyle that can still be enjoyed in Ojai

The Ranch House, resisting change, remains the place to enjoy “original” California cuisine. This magical garden style restaurant had cultivated an herb garden way before it became fashionable. And the bakery sells the marvelous breads so many locals and tourists have loved over the years.

Devoid of fast food outlets, parking ramps, strip malls and urban stress, Ojai is a haven for those who enjoy stunning sights such as the Pink Moment on the Topa Topa Mountains or the scenic joy of the recently opened Piedra Blanca Trailhead.

The natural beauty of the Ojai Valley is the source of an artistic energy permeating throughout the community, finding a home in at least 35 galleries from downtown to quiet roads. Primavera Gallery, located on the Arcade in the heart of Ojai, is known internationally for American crafts, It includes Steven Spiro’s magnificent wood furniture to Ulla Darni’s stunning stained-glass light fixtures (one hangs in the lobby of the Oaks at Ojai).

Nathan Larramendy Gallery on Signal Street exhibits new media and delves into the world of painting, sculpture and works on paper. On the other end of the spectrum, the works of legendary ceramicist Beatrice Wood can be viewed at the Human Arts Gallery.

For those who enjoy the spa experience, there are two Ojai spas featured in “100 Best Spas of the World.” They are The Oaks at Ojai and the Ojai Valley Inn. Sheila Cluff, owner of the Oaks, takes guests on a brisk walk (beginning at 7 a.m. rain or shine), guiding her flock to Cluff Vista Park and beyond for a look at the local flora, before the real fitness experience kicks in upon return with nonstop activities, from pool exercises classes to body awareness. The Ojai Valley Inn debuted its $70 million renovation in July. Set on 220 acres it is resplendent in the romantic Spanish Colonial style with its luxurious 31,000 sq. foot spa and 3,500 square foot spa penthouse (and a private elevator), bringing the total spa experience to a new level. For the ultimate in relaxation, reserve the Synchronized Massage ($235) in advance. This 50-minute massage performed by two therapists has a goal: to create a deep state of relaxation.

Whether you are inspired to spend a few days in Ojai anytime of year, there is something on the calendar, from the Ojai Certified Farmer’s Market to events at the Krotona School of Theosophy and, of course, the Ojai Valley Museum, where, starting Jan. 8, you can find out what’s under Lake Casitas in a new exhibit, “The Land Beneath the Lake.”

But for film buffs, it’s the Ojai Film Festival that is a worthwhile experience not only for the exposure to films, but for the sheer joy of being part of an energetic, creative community.

Coming up: The Ojai Music Festival’s “Holiday Home Look-In” at four Ojai Valley homes, Nov. 19 and 20. For tickets Call 805.646.2094 or www.ojaifestival.org for tickets.

Contacts:

€ Ojai Film Festival 805.640.1947 www.ojaifilmfestival.com

€ The Oaks at Ojai 800.753.6257 or

646.5573.805 www.oaksspa.com

€ The Ojai Valley Inn 805.646.1111 www.ojairesort.com

€ Boccali’s, 3277 Ojai-Santa Paula Rd. 805.646.6116

€ The Ranch House, 500 S. Lomita

805.646.2360 www.TheRanchHouse.com

Pamela Price is the co author of “Fun with the Family in Southern California” published by the Globe Pequot Press. She can be reached at pamprice@dc.rr.com.