As you may have already gathered, I’m not a camping/sweat lodge type of girl. Oh No – I love a bit of eco-luxury as far as travel is concerned, however, I recently decided to get a grip on myself and try out a few getaways that might – oh horror of horrors, take me out of my comfort zone. Being “Ms Gorgeously Green,” I get teased relentlessly by family and friends, who clearly think I
should be totally at home in a remote jungle Yurt complete with a compost toilet – but that’s just not the “Gorgeously Green Way,” I keep telling them – with a heavy emphasis on the “gorgeous”.
Anyway, I had this big grand idea that we’d hire an bio-diesel RV and do a family road trip. Delving a little deeper and chatting to the lady at the RV company gave me very cold feet – small details such as the size of the bathroom, and the awful notion of having to empty sewage out of the tank, were extremely off-putting. By the time I decided that actually it really wasn’t for me, I’d riled up my daughter so much that I had to swiftly think of a plan B to avoid crashing disappointment. Here are 3 getaways that I planned, each of which were just a couple of hours from LA, were very reasonably priced, family friendly, and above all ECO-FRIENDLY. So if you live in LA, or you’re thinking of heading out West, check out my reviews:
I’ve always found the town of Ojai, which is about 1 1/2 hours drive North of Los Angeles, enchanting. Ojai’s charms are many. The community has long been known as a haven for artists, musicians and health enthusiasts. A village of about 8,000, Ojai is a vibrant place with so much natural beauty that it gained fame decades ago when the area was photographed to represent Shangri-La in the 1939 movie, The Lost Horizon. It’s filled with delightful shops, art galleries and a host of places to retreat from your crazy tech-infused life. Ojai invites you to walk its oak-shaded paths taking some time to drink in the serenity of it all.
The Chumash Indians are the first known residents of Ojai, and it is from their word ‘âhwaiâ’ meaning ‘moon’ that the name Ojai is derived. One of the oldest towns in Ventura County, Ojai was settled in the 1800s and incorporated as a city in 1921. Nestled in the Ojai Valley, the town is surrounded by peaks that give off a glow in the evening light known as the pink moment.
The perfect family destination is the Casa Ojai Inn, which is a beautifully renovated motel. I loved just about everything about this inn because it’s rooms, despite their “motel” price, are beautifully appointed, squeaky clean and just the perfect set up for a big old rowdy family. The aspect that was most impressive is their green agenda. The owner, Geoff Wells, has thought of just about everything to keep the inn as eco-friendly as possible. The first thing I noticed was that the room don’t smell like regular hotel rooms – this is because they use an ozone cleaning system, which eliminates any of the harsh chemicals, which are typically used in the hotel industry. He saves energy in just about every way possible and I even noticed that the tea that is served in the lobby is one of my favorites Zhena’s Gypsy Teas!
From your base at the motel, you can plan all kinds of low-impact and fun activities. I would recommend bringing or hiring bicycles for everyone, as it’s not necessary to use your car at all. The Inn is just blocks away from the actual village. The mountain hikes are incredible and you’re just miles away from the coast with breathtaking beaches.
If you find your princess coming on, or if you’re traveling with your partner and want something a little more romantic, the sister resort to the Casa Ojai Inn is the stunning Su Nido Inn. Su Nido was designed to be an oasis experience, an escape from the ordinary; hence the name, which means “your nest” in Spanish. Though in the heart of the colorful Ojai village, you’re still tucked away, with privacy assured. You can pamper yourself with the luxury: a feather bed, fine imported linens, and a cozy fireplace; soak up the fresh air and sunshine from your private patio/balcony or the body therapies by Molton Brown of London in your mosaic tub.
The great thing is that you can travel to Ojai any time of year. Spring is probably the choice time, as it’s not too hot, so perfect for hiking, although the summer months will allow you to catch a wave or two. Either way, the beautiful town of Ojai with it’s stunning farmer’s market, is a great vacation destination. Oh – one more thing, you have to visit The Farmer and The Cook Cafe – a 20 minute bike ride will take you to this eccentric cafe, where you can eat organic produce fresh from the fields. They have the best Chai Tea I’ve ever tasted.
In the same neck of the woods as Ojai, but a bit further up the coast past Santa Barbara (a 2 hours drive from LA), you’ll have to keep your eyes skinned to see the turn-off into El Capitan Canyon. This is camping at it’s most deluxe and frankly the only kind of camping that I think I can handle. Hard core campers are very cynical about El Capitan with it’s 300 -thread count sheets and cozy quilts – but there’s plenty of regular camp grounds in the surrounding areas, where they can enjoy the communal bathrooms with doors that don’t lock if they please!
Set on over 300 acres of the most gorgeous landscape and nestled in a rocky canyon, you get to choose from a very fancy tent or a cabin. They have a bunch of different configurations – some cabins come with 2 rooms, 3 rooms, bunk beds etc. When booking, see if you can get a cabin which overlooks the stream and near to the central dining area, as it’s fun to be in the middle of everything.
You park your car in a designated area near to the entrance of the canyon and then take a little golf cart up to your tent/cabin. I recommend going for at least 2 or 3 nights so you can really switch off. Cell phones and pads are frowned upon in the Canyon as this is a space for you to go back in time with your family. Kids rush around on bicycles or poke around the stream with sticks. Adults go for hikes into nearby canyons. In the summer months, there’s a swimming pool. or you may just choose to jump around in the ocean, which is minutes away.
At night, you can order a “campfire” meal that you cook on the pit outside your cabin. It’ll arrive on a bicycle with firewood and a smores kit! You can also cater yourself, which many do.
El Capitan Canyon is the perfect getaway for two or three families to do together, as it’s an environment where children can have the freedom to roam in groups, while the adults enjoy cocktails on their porch.
Every effort is taken to preserve this pristine environment and to that end, every detail at El Capitan Canyon is as eco as it gets.
This is the most recent of my getaways and is my second visit to the rustic and quite eccentric 29 Palms Motel. This is the spot to stay if you want to explore Joshua Tree National Park (an extraordinary desert-scape where the Mojave and Arizona deserts meet). The rock formations in this park are unique and absolutely beautiful – coupled with the bizarre-looking Joshua Trees, you feel although you are driving along the ocean floor with no water! I love this park – it has an intensely spiritual vibe. Taking a seat on one of the giant rocks gives new meaning to the concept of “getting grounded”.
The 29 Palms motel is nestled around an oasis of water and palm trees that was discovered over a hundred years ago. The motel is made up of a cluster of Adobe cottages, a main dining area with a small swimming pool and that’s that! It’s very rustic, so don’t expect anything fancy or modern. Many of the bathrooms have seen better days for sure, but if you can get over a bit of peeling paint, you’ll be fine. That being said, it’s spotlessly clean and quite charming. I would recommend visiting in the Spring as the winters can be bitingly cold and the summers way too hot to visit the park in comfort.
The little restaurant serves a decent steak or vegetarian dish, but is over-priced for what they serve, so look for alternatives in the area for dinner. They offer a picnic lunch to go, but I think you’re better off going to the cafe by the visitor’s center at the entrance to the park. Breakfast at 29 Palms is set out in the dining room free-of-charge: large baskets of home-baked sourdough bread, hard boiled eggs and warm porridge. There’s something quite wonderful about the simplicity of it all – not the kind of place that I was going to ask for an almond milk latte!
A night or two at 29 Palms would work well with a trip to Palm Springs, which is only about a half hour drive away. It also could be a fun pit-stop on the way or way back from Vegas. Either way, it’s a total one off.