Sunday, March 26, 2017

The City Escaped: Ojai

One thing that makes life in LA great is how easy it is to get away. A plethora of scenic destinations are just a short drive away.

Recently, I spent two days in Ojai for my cousin's birthday. A 90-minute drive from Hollywood leads to a tiny historic town nestled between orange groves. An enticing scent of orange blossoms fills the air, rolling mountains frame the sky, and positive cosmic energy aligns the chakras. (Ojai supposedly contains more spiritual retreats per capita than any other town in the USA.) Here's an itinerary for enjoying this Southern California oasis, based on how I spent my two days.

Hike to a Waterfall

Rose Valley Falls is a stunning two-tier 300-foot waterfall located in the Topatopa Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. The 0.8 miles round trip hike is so easy, it's really just a stroll. Rose Valley Falls is the tallest waterfall in the range, and due to Southern California's steady winter rains, it was turned all the way on.

A post shared by Channing Sargent (@channingsargent) on

Go Wine Tasting

Downtown Ojai contains a handful of wine tasting rooms, featuring wines from local vineyards. We stepped into The Casa Barranca Winery Tasting Room, located in downtown Ojai's shopping arcade. I entered with the intention to merely taste, but I exited with two bottles: a rose, and a cab. The Majestic Oak Vineyard Tasting Room offers a bewitching courtyard patio, as well as an indoor cellar. The Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room brings the ambience of a vineyard-side tasting room to Downtown Ojai, offering tastes from their extensive cellar.

Go Shopping

The town of Ojai was originally developed in 1874. After a fire destroyed the original western-style town in 1917, the new development matched the Colonial-Revival architecture that was popular at the time. The Spanish-style arcade on Ojai's main drag is a picturesque shopping destination, with independent boutiques and galleries that all cater to the area's artistic sensibilities. Checkout a walking map here.

A post shared by Harmony (@harmingknees) on

Drink from a Spring

Natural spring water abounds in Ojai. The community installed a pipe on Rice road called Windmill Spring where you can fill your bottles for a mere $25 donation. The clean, clear taste of the water will promptly turn you into a water snob, touting its healing, spiritual benefits.

Get Aligned at Arrow Heart Yoga

This tiny yoga studio on Roblar drive offers $5 drop-in flow classes that end with a resounding chime on a singing bowl. I left feeling aligned and refreshed, and wishing I lived close enough that Arrow Heart could be my regular yoga studio.

Be Inspired at Bookends Bookstore

Housed in an old chapel, this is the bookstore of your dreams. It even offers a community knitting project, where you can add your own rows to a scarf. Outside, in a large, grassy yard sits "Addendum," a 1961 Airstream that has been renovated into a bookshop of its own.

Find Stillness at Meditation Mount

The very journey to Meditation Mount is inspiring enough - it requires that you drive through miles of gorgeous orange groves. Five miles east of downtown Ojai, the center, founded in 1971, features a meditation garden with an east-facing overlook of the bluffs of the Topatopa Mountains.

A post shared by Channing Sargent (@channingsargent) on

Go Hiking

The Ventura River Valley Preserve contains several hiking trails that run riverside, and offer breathtaking views of the Ojai Valley.

My visit to Ojai was too brief. Should you go, plan to stay for three days, to experience it in full. If places can possess healing powers, Ojai is so potent, it might even be a cure for anything that ails you.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Architectural Class Divide: The Changing Nature of LA

When I moved in three years ago, my block contained mostly single-family homes. I loved the bedroom-community feeling of my street, tucked inside dense east Hollywood. My neighbors on either side came over and introduced themselves. The woman across the street brought me some homemade brownies. At night, my neighborhood, despite being just one block removed from two major streets, was remarkably quiet. I could sit in my little backyard and hear nothing but crickets and a breeze through the trees.

Old view from the south.

Old view from the north.

Last year, a developer bought two large craftsman homes on the west side of my block, tore them out and erected double four-plex condo complexes (eight units each) in their place. The atmosphere of my street changed significantly. The sunset used to stretch across the entire west view of the sky, uninterrupted save for the tall cypress in the middle of the block. Now, the complexes cut the sunset off midway across. As I no longer know everyone on my street, I'm less likely to walk outside in my pajamas and chat up my neighbor. Not only are there more cars on my street, due to more residents, but the developments actually removed two street spaces, to make way for wider driveways.

New view from the north, condos on the right.

Though my block had become more urbanized in the short time I've lived here, one block, directly to the west, remained untouched by development. The street, with its nearly matching craftsmans, was so perfect that movies and TV shows regularly shot there, for the post-war, cookie-cutter character.

Each home was well-maintained, their lawns always neatly mowed, flower gardens nicely designed and cared for.  The owners seemed to take great pride not just in their own homes, but in the curbside appeal of their whole block.

View of the perfect street.

On Friday afternoon, as I was driving home, I slammed on my brakes. Every single-family home on the east side of that street has been bulldozed. Their large lots now stand primed for one mega condominium complex.

The perfect street no more.

I hoped the owners of those homes received enormous amounts of money from the developer who must have bought them out.

I spoke with a man who lives directly across the street from the new construction zone.  He said he heard the impending condominium complex would have nearly a hundred units. He bought his house 20 years ago for $79,000. The homeowners who sold their properties told him they received $700,000 each. Apparently, the sum was enough to make them jump.  But I can't shake the question: at what expense?



With an ever-growing population, access to housing is an ever-present problem in Los Angeles. A single-family home can only house so many people.

As a city person, I'm not opposed to urban development. In fact, I prefer living in dense areas. But I also love LA's unique juxtaposition of urban and suburban (sometimes even rural, like with the old sheds and stables hidden inside the patchwork of Echo Park).

And of course, I loved my little, traditional suburban neighborhood in urban Hollywood. Soon, I fear all of Hollywood will be walled with mega housing complexes, while the traditional neighborhoods will only be found in affluent areas: Hancock Park, the Hollywood Hills.

Developers are, whether they know it or not, creating a distinct, architectural class divide in Los Angeles.

Fortunately (or not) for me, my property is too small for a developer to build upon. I know, because the real estate agent handling the sale of the complexes across the street told me so. Then he handed me his card and said, "call me if you decide to move."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The City Exposed: Western and Fountain on Foot

The distance from my home in East Hollywood to Malo in Silverlake, where I had dinner plans on Saturday night, is 2.6 miles. Too far to drive, by LA standards. But by walkable-city standards? Reasonable. So, I walked.

I haven't walked Los Angeles – I mean, really meandered, or, flaneured, to use the pompous term preferred by literature enthusiasts* – in longer than I can remember. At most, I walk to the market on my street corner, or from my car to, a few feet away, whatever destination I've pre-chosen.

A full-moon, significant for some sort of astrological event, according to my friends who know about such things, illuminated the streets.

Can you tell which light is the moon?

From a car window, the establishments of Western Avenue are almost unrecognizable as anything but a jumble of poorly-designed strip malls.

But on foot they loom, vibrating with detail and color.

 The flow of freeway traffic, observed on-foot from an overpass, is LA's version of The Seine.

A family street-food cart, serving arepas, tamales and pupusas.

*Flâneur (pronounced: [flɑnœʁ]), from the French noun flâneur, means "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer". Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The City Escaped: Skiing Utah

 I'm not just from Utah, I am of Utah. Utah is more than my home; it is my heart and hearth. I carry it in my blood, my skin, and my mind. Though I haven't lived there full-time in twenty years, I'm proud and grateful that my family still does. I can escape to its mountains whenever I need, which, the longer I'm gone, is more and more often.

During winter, I ache for snow. I need to see it out the windows, casting my indoor comfort into a warm perspective, as well as to be in it, gliding on it, falling into it.

I woke up on morning with an itch for a snowy mountain. Living in Los Angeles, I could hop in my car and drive to Big Bear Mountain (and I might, before winter is up). But, a two hour drive to a mountain with a peak base snow depth of 60 inches, versus a 1.5 hour flight to a mountain (Brighton Resort) with a peak base snow depth of 117 inches – the choice was clear.

So, I took booked a last-minute flight, mere hours away, with the sole purpose of skiing Utah.

I threw a few days' worth of clothes into my new Chariot Titanic hardcase.

It looks small, and it is, but it's roomier than you think – it can easily fit a pair of size 8 snowboard boots.

Right: I'm learning to snowboard. I've been skiing for 25 years, but I've now spent five full days over the past two years on a snowboard.

The transition has not been easy. On my last day boarding, just a few days ago, I finally figured out how to turn heel-side to toe-side. The breakthrough felt mountain-shaking.

However, I don't yet know if I'm regular-footed or goofy-footed. That is, do I lead with my left foot or my right foot? The few times I've surfed, I go goofy. When someone pushes me unexpectedly, I catch myself with my right foot (that's goofy). But, I'm pretty comfortable boarding with my left foot forward. An instructor with whom I took a lesson last year insisted I was regular.

Story of my life. I'm regular! I'm goofy. I'm regular. I'm goofy! I want to be accepted but I feel like an outcast. Some talent agents think I'm too average, others say I have too much quirk. I live in Los Angeles, but I keep one foot in Utah. Let's just say I'm two-footed.

Chariot Travelware Titanic Hardcase  ||  Barefoot Eco Outfitters Cabin Life Tee