Around 70 miles north of Los Angeles and 20 minutes east of the beaches of Ventura County, Ojai (pronounced “Oh, hi!”) is a bohemian community shaded by the Topa Topa mountains and graced with spectacular pink sunsets. Its residents include Terence Stamp, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton. Film director Frank Capra used this town of spas and ranches as the location for Shangri-La in his 1937 film Lost Horizon.
Ojai’s most celebrated landmark is Bart’s Books, a small warren of courtyards that make up America’s largest independently owned outdoor bookshop, modelled after the book stalls that line the Seine in Paris. Bart’s was established in 1964 by Richard Bartinsdale, an LA bookseller who moved to Ojai for the quiet life. His collection of books soon grew so big that he began selling the surplus from bookcases on the pavement, which passers-by could pay for by leaving a few dimes in a coffee tin. That honesty system survives to this day, while inside, book-lovers can easily spend hours perusing the packed aisles.
In 1969 Bartinsdale moved to his hometown in Indiana, where he died in 1983. But 50 years after it opened, his bookshop lives on. In an interview with the Ojai Quarterly, Paxton described it as “a sacred place. I can’t imagine Ojai without Bart’s”.