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January 18, 2017

Prius Camping in Ojai

The start of the year always means the beginning of new adventures. This past weekend we kicked off what we hope to be a more adventurous year, with camping in our Prius in the mountains of Ojai, California. (Pronounced "Oh-Hi")

What do you mean by "camp in a Prius"? Well, thanks to Dan's research, we used a product called the Habitent. It's a tent that fits over the hatchback of the Prius, allowing you to camp in the back of your car with the seats folded down. It's an economical AND comfortable way to enjoy nature.

But more on that later.

We left Saturday morning and headed for Ojai, which is only an hour and a half drive from Los Angeles.  We went back and forth between Sierra National Forest, Big Bear Lake or Ojai and finally chose Ojai mainly because it was the safest drive for a Prius with no icy/snowy roads. Safety first. Ojai is a delightful town tucked away in the Ojai valley surrounded by hills and mountains. The main street is lined with lovely art galleries, new age shops, and plenty of restaurants. Outside of town are numerous hiking trails and scenic overlooks. The perfect LA weekend getaway.

Naturally we had NO reservations for a campground, so we had to wing it. We read about a campground called Dennison Park on the blog Left Coast Contessa and decided to take our chances and go there first to see if there were any available campsites.  When we arrived, we were relieved to find that the park was mostly empty, with only 3 other families camping. Dennison Park is a serene place with breathtaking views of Ojai Valley below. Located right off the main road, the 20 campsites are surrounded by large shade trees allowing you to feel as if you are out in the middle of the woods. It costs $21.00 a night, payable via cash in a dropbox onsite, or online at the County of Ventura reservation website. There were no showers, but there were clean toilets and running water!

Since it was midday when we arrived, we weren't quite ready to set up camp so we left the park and headed into the charming little town of Ojai. We read that there were several wine tasting rooms, so that was on the top of our priority list for the rest of the day. That and food, obviously.

The first stop was Majestic Oak Vineyard. This tasting room opened just last summer, and is found right off of the main road. They have the cutest outdoor courtyard with wooden furniture and bright red pillows, surrounded by succulents, trees, and string lights. It was only $15 for 5 wine tastings, sampling 2 of their whites and 3 reds. The service was also amazing, offering us tips for our stay in town. Will definitely be back.

Next stop was food since we skipped lunch and it was nearly dinner time. We chose a little spot called Hip Vegan Cafe since we were craving salads. It did not disappoint! It's a minimalist counter-serve cafe with large outdoor seating areas of wooden picnic tables, succulents, modern wall art and rustic charm. We ordered 'Ray's Reuben' and the 'Black Bean Bowl' as well as a Hot Chai Tea and Vietnamese Coffee (SJ & Dan tip - make sure to order this Vietnamese Coffee which comes out drip style, and is one of the better coffees that we've ever had). All delicious, fresh and super filling.

We planned on visiting another wine tasting room, but the sun was starting to set and we wanted to get our campsite setup before nightfall. Speaking of the sunset, Ojai is known for something called the Pink Moment. We were lucky enough to witness this beautiful sight without even realizing what was happening. The "pink moment" is a term coined by locals, a phenomenon where the sky and surrounding mountains take on a soft pink glow at dusk. We were walking back to our car when we noticed it. Unfortunately I was so taken aback, that we were only able to snap one mediocre photo. Don't let it deceive you, it's a beautiful sight and one that we intend to see again.

On the drive back to Dennison Park, we stopped at the official Ojai Valley overlook to watch the remainder of the sunset.

Back at the campsite, it was time to set up the Prius Habitent ($99.99 on for the very first time. We had very little sunlight left and NO idea what we were doing. Off to a great start! Luckily, the park had full service so we were able to pull up a YouTube video to see how to install the tent. Surprisingly, it was VERY easy and only took us 10 minutes to figure out. So far so good.

In order to sleep in the Prius comfortably, we bought two single inflatable 'sleeping pads' (Klymit Static V2 Inflatable Sleeping Pad - $55 each on Amazon) to lay side-by-side with the seats folded down, with sleeping bags, our favorite warm blanket ($89.99 on West Elm), with pillows on top. We also used two cheap large storage bins from Wal-Mart ($6.49/each - 56 quart measuring 23"x16 1/4"x 12 3/8") to hold all of our camping equipment, food, etc. These fit snugly on the floor behind the two front seats to fill in the gap, once you adjust the front seats all the way forward and folded the rear seats down flat. We then used the two front seats to hold our overnight bags. One thing we will get for next time is two small 28 quart storage bins, to create a complete flat surface from the trunk to the front seats without the dip where our heads lie. The setup took around 30 minutes total, not bad at all.

One of the main perks of camping in the Prius is how spacious the inside is. Because the habitent fits over the hatchback, the sleeping length gets extended, which is perfect for Dan who is 6'2. You can also leave the Prius running all night in full engine mode, so you are able to charge your phone and control the AC/Heat as needed. Leaving the car off with the hatch open can actually leave you with a dead car battery, as various signal lights on the dash stay on overnight alerting you of an open trunk, so leave that Prius running! Since the car is running on the hybrid engine/battery throughout the night, the Prius engine would kick in every hour for a minute or two to quickly charge the hybrid battery. Surprisingly, this only used $1 worth of gas each night and almost no car fumes. One of the many reasons the Prius is a great car.

Another nifty gadget we used during the camping trip was the Moto Insta-Share Projector. This is one of the Moto mods available for the Moto Z Force line of phones. If you happen to have this innovative phone (Dan loves), then we highly recommend the projector mod. We were able to stream The Office and project it on the interior roof of the car, linking it with our Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker. We had a little theater right in our Prius!

When we woke up we opened the screen door and were blown away by the most beautiful view!

Now that it was daylight, we were able to see the Habitent all set up. It may look goofy, but it's an ingenious product and we were very happy with it!

We brought a little bit of food with us from Trader Joe's, so were were able to make a small breakfast consisting of PB+J sandwiches, fruit, and green smoothies. We laid down a blanket and enjoyed breakfast picnic style, overlooking the surrounding mountains and valley. A perfect morning.

Hiking Rose Valley Falls
One downside of camping out of your car is that you have to completely tear down the campsite each day if you plan on leaving. However, this didn't take too long, then we were on our way to hike! But before we started the hike, I was already hungry so we stopped for a second breakfast at a local cafe, Ojai Coffee Roasting Co, for the most delicious Lox bagels.

The drive up to Rose Valley Falls  took about 40 minutes but was worth every minute - the route is absolutely stunning. The winding roads up the mountain overlook Rose Valley and we stopped several times on the way up for photos. Since no one was around to ask to take photos of us, we used the GorillaPod Magnetic Tripod that came with a bluetooth remote.  Highly recommend if you hate bugging strangers for photos!

Rose Valley Falls in an easy hike that's only 1 mile but ends in a lovely waterfall surrounded by the forest. The hike starts at a campground and then you simple follow the creek to the waterfall. We stayed for a bit, climbing around the rocks and logs, taking photos along the way. The temperature dropped 10 degrees once you reached the waterfalls so I was glad I brought my jacket. The waterfall itself was surrounded by moss and textured rocks. It felt like we were in the PNW.

The first glimpse of the waterfall

After the hike we stopped by another wine tasting room on the way back to our campsite, The Ojai Vineyard. This one is right off the main street in town as well and has the cutest entrance. Wine tasting here is also $15 for 5.  However, if you purchase 2 bottles of wine, then one tasting is waived. So we did that. Two more bottles added to our ever growing collection of California wine!

Post wine, we were hungry and planned on grabbing dinner at a local restaurant but then we remembered we packed our own bottles of wine and a selection of nibbles to go with it. So we headed back to the campsite, watched the sunset, and munched on charcuterie, cheese, hummus and chips while sipping on wine. Another perfect evening.

The next morning, after lounging in the Prius overlooking the view for the last time, we packed up and began the journey home. 

We decided to take the route along the coastline since we weren't in a hurry and it only added another hour to our drive. The route on the PCH starts at Ventura and goes through Oxnard, Point Mugu State Park, and Malibu before you get to Santa Monica. The PCH is our favorite road in California. It's the most scenic road that hugs the coastline.

We stopped in Malibu for a late lunch/early dinner at a local favorite called Malibu Seafood, set right off of Highway 1, across the street from the Pacific. This place always has a line, no matter what time of day it is, but it sure does have fresh and delicious seafood fare! We ordered a grilled red trout with a baked potato and green salad. We also ordered the Manhattan clam chowder since it was on special. 

After a pretty drive home, it was nice to be able to finally shower but we already missed the amazing views from the weekend. Our first camping trip of 2017 was a delightful success and can't wait for many more to come throughout the year!

If you have any camping recommendations for us, we would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels,


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