Two words: Ojai, California. Once you hear them, you will notice them everywhere. And in our world of trending hashtags and algorithm-driven image feeds, it might not strike you as all that significant at first.
But then the contexts in which Ojai comes up – so wildly varied, so consistently rad – start to make you reconsider. Maybe you’re searching Donald Glover’s viral job listings, and notice that he’s based in Ojai. Or you’rereading Miranda July’s The First Bad Man. You’re watching Beef— there it is again?! Or perhaps you, as a colossal TOS nerd, are digging around in the Early Majority TOS and notice Ojai is the address for our U.S. HQ, which explains our posts from there.
Still, you remain skeptical. Is Ojai just another Instagram-blessed, trendy destination? Like a scientist noting how many times a certain study has been cited in footnotes, you start to keep score. You begin to weight your assessment by the relative coolness of the type of person you notice tends to have an Ojai story. Jamaican British entrepreneur, Sharmadean Reid (with whom we recently sat down in London for an incredible conversation) has an Ojai story. We met her through our friend Audrey Gelman, who also has an Ojai story. The list goes on and on, and you find yourself curious, even convinced.
But there’s more to come. Big wave surfers, the Malloy brothers, grew up there. If you watch the new documentary about Kris Thompkins, you’ll learn about her friend Rick Ridgeway, aka “the real Indiana Jones,” who settled there in the 70s in a home designed by the famed Black architect, Paul R. Williams, in the 20’s. Rick’s best friends with the guy who created Tiger King and owned NYCs legendary Area nightclub, Eric Goode, who also lives there. As does, Daniel Ash, the guitarist for Bauhaus and Love & Rockets. We could go on. . .
So, what gives that a town of 7,000 people, reachable only by driving halfway from LA to Santa Barbara and hanging a hard right from the beach up into the mountains, has attracted so many influential and extraordinary people?
We’re telling you straight: it’s an energy vortex.
Earth is beset by myriad powerful forces. It sounds poetic, but it’s nothing less than factual. We may often experience the Earth as static, but deep down we know it’s still buffeted by the same massive, unstable energies that formed it, eons ago. Ancient lore and science alike tell us that sometimes, in certain places, those forces converge.
Many call these certain locations on Earth energy vortexes. These locales have a concentrated and heightened level of spiritual or metaphysical energy because of their geology or history – or, in the case of Ojai, both. The town sits at the intersection of significant and complex fault systems, the criss-crossing lines and magnetic fields of which are believed to contribute to the effect. The Topa Topa mountains surrounding the Ojai Valley amplify this resonance or vibration affecting human consciousness. Watching those mountains turn bright pink as they reflect the sun setting over the Pacific only adds to the drama.
Other kinds of energy, many believe, are at play as well. Some believe that energy vortexes are created by the collective consciousness of people who lived there. The Chumash Native Americans, who occupied the region for thousands of years, believed that the valley was a place of great spiritual power and healing, and they conducted sacred ceremonies and rituals in the region. They believed that the mountains surrounding the valley were home to powerful spirits, whom they honored and respected in their daily lives.
Whether they were drawn to the vortex or not, there’s no disputing that the town became a center for spiritual seekers around the turn of the century. In the 20s, followers of the Theosophical Society founded the Krotona Institute of Theosophy there, a spiritual community that became a center for esoteric and mystical teachings. More famously, the philosopher and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti settled in Ojai in the 20s,— and his talks continued to attract LA rockers, as well as the Beatles and Bowie, well into the Sixties.
In the 30s, Hollywood made Ojai into its literal Shangri-La, when Frank Capra’s The Lost Horizon cast it as a remote valley said to be a paradise on Earth. The film depicts a group of people who find themselves stranded in a valley ruled by a wise and benevolent leader who has discovered the secret to eternal youth and happiness. Shot on location in Ojai, chosen for its natural beauty, the film found critical and commercial success, becoming a classic of American cinema. Its portrayal of a utopian society in a remote, idyllic location resonated with audiences at a time when the world was still recovering from the Great Depression and facing the looming threat of war.
And here we find clues for Ojai’s resonance today. Whether mythical or real, we naturally hunger for visions of utopia in the wake of social and economic upheaval. Ojai trended after the Great Depression and before the War. Seekers flocked there again during the upheaval of the Sixties. And they’re doing it again now.
We don’t need metaphysical geology to explain the pull of nature. We describe Ojai as a town, because of our bias toward culture. But it’s less a town than an atmosphere— one that’s created by a beautiful Valley filled with oranges and avocados, mountains that turn bright pink at sunset, a climate that beckons you outside always, a gateway to the sprawling Los Padres National forest, with waterfalls, hot springs, and hidden swimming holes.
This post’s title references an article from Conde Nast traveler, which, when published in 2014, was thought to mark Ojai end-times. It seemed the scene had been “grammed out,” and the town was doomed to become a hideous haven of hashtagging hipsters. But, now that article reads more like a prequel, than an epilogue. Turns out Instagram was actually doomed and Ojai was just beginning.
Now more than ever, the people creating culture understand the transformative and regenerative power of nature. And now, more than ever, nature needs the regenerative power of culture.
P.S. Keep Ojai beautiful by supporting the work of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.
P.P.S. If all this seems silly, we suggest you chase it with some Small Time Citrus.