Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman and more stars regularly find refuge in cozy, low-key Ojai, California

By Grace Gavilanes
June 11, 2018 04:01 PM

“Do celebrities ever actually relax on vacation?” 

It’s a question I regularly ask myself since my Instagram feed is almost always flooded with bikini-clad stars seductively posing in Ibiza with their supermodel friends not far behind. (That question and “How is North West feeling about her new cousins?” are my most pressing for Hollywood elites. But I digress.)

We’re so used to assuming celebrities find more joy in partying on yachts with Leonardo DiCaprio in St. Tropez than spending a few quiet days away from the chaos of their everyday lives in L.A. or N.Y.C. But a recent trip I took (on behalf of Ford to celebrate the arrival of their newest model, the Ford EcoSport) to one particular celeb hotspot in southern California gave me a window into where stars really go when they want to unwind. “Ojai is a really sleepy town Monday through Thursday,” local resident Brad Steward told me during my stay at the airstream hotel he co-owns with wife Shawn and Chet and Mellanie Hilgers, Caravan Outpost. “It’s like this little town in the valley. Friday through Sunday, it’s a suburb of L.A.”

Brad Steward

I traveled to Ojai – about two hours northwest of L.A. – in late March, expecting some sunshine, though I was greeted by sweater weather. “It’s our winter,” one local assured me of the weekend’s abnormally cloudy 40° weather. “This is the coldest it ever gets here.” But aside from the two days of less-than-ideal temperatures, Ojai still offers Instagrammably rustic charm, from its surrounding Topatopa Mountains to the locally sourced honey, wine, beer and kombucha flights sold at boutique, independently owned shops and breweries.

The air is also different. It was noticeably (unsurprisingly) cleaner than always-congested N.Y.C., probably due to the faint sage and lavender scents emerging from every corner. It was especially prominent on Horn Canyon’s hiking paths, a mere 15-minute drive from the center of town. You could just picture Gwyneth Paltrow, fresh from the spa, walking purposefully along the path and enjoying the view.

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A few hours in Ojai — which stays true to its Native American roots thanks to the focus on conserving its signature greenery (which took a hit following the December wildfires) and prevalent art community — is enough time for any visitor to become completely taken with its laid-back, nature-first vibe. It’s no surprise celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman and Jamie Dornan flock to the low-key town for a quick recharge or to settle down in a home of their own. (Reese Witherspoon even got married at her since-sold Ojai estate!)

Despite busy weekends, Steward says celebs can constantly be found at the Outpost — a homey camping site that boasts a semi-circle of 11 airstream trailers — as well as “just down the block”, where How I Met Your Mother alum Jason Segel lives. Recently, Chloë Grace Moretz rented out the space to celebrate her older brother Trevor’s birthday with their family. “She literally walked around in bunny slippers for like three days. And at the time, I think she was on the cover of Teen Vogue or something,” Steward recalled of Moretz’s stay at the Outpost. “We were just like, ‘This is pretty cool that she feels good to do that.'”

If you visit, Ojai offers other unexpectedly low-key places visitors will find celebs hanging out; keep your eyes open at Knead Baking Company, Beacon Coffee and Bart’s Books (an outdoor bookstore) for dressed-down A-list sightings. You’re bound to see a boldface name picking up some treats to go at one of Ojai’s most charming, celeb-friendly establishments, Kate’s Bread, which is an at-home bakery run by resident Kate Pepper. She bakes all day on Saturdays and sells those baked goods out of her home on Sundays only; fortunately, advance ordering is available and encouraged.

Splash (3)

Ojai isn’t just for singles looking for a restorative weekend, however. Families flock to Ojai for its school system, particularly Thacher School, a prestigious boarding school. Earning your kid a spot is competitive and calls for years of planning and schmoozing ahead of the official application process — and actors including Ewan McGregor and Diane Keaton have gone to great lengths to get their own kids into the school.

With the growing celebrity interest surrounding Ojai and its dreamy offerings, locals — for the most part — remain unfazed.

“No one cares about them,” a local teenager told me of Ojai residents’ reactions to seeing famous people around town while I was making a late-night ice cream run. “Everyone leaves them alone.”

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