The Oaks at Ojai has been boosting its wellness profile for 36 years—and counting.

The Oaks at Ojai

Housed in a Spanish Mediterranean building in the heart of Ojai, a rustic and historic enclave near the Southern California coast, The Oaks at Ojai has deftly maintained a long-held reputation as the pioneering wellness retreat. Following a six-year-long renovation to modernize the facilities and simultaneously reunite the property with its 1917 origins, The Oaks now offers more cutting-edge fitness sessions and spa treatments than ever before. (Think: Aqua Zumba, intensive cycling excursions and arnica joint health massages.)

With 65% to 70% of The Oaks’ guests identified as repeat visitors, it’s clear that its founder and owner, former pro figure skater and high school physical education teacher Sheila Cluff, is doing something right. Cluff, enviably vivacious and fit at 77 years young, points to the scores of guests who credit The Oaks with spurring mega, and lasting, life changes. “We aim to send people home with ideas on how they can have a high-quality life,” Cluff explains. “It’s not about big roadblocks and dieting, it’s about asking oneself, ‘How do I want to feel and how do I want to look at this stage in my life?’ and making choices to reflect the answers.”

Cluff notes that when she started out in the industry, spa-goers had to choose between “fat farms” and “beauty spas.” “My idea with The Oaks was not to isolate people in a spa- and fitness-crazed vacuum for a week and then send them on their way—but rather, to demonstrate that making good choices is simply the way to live their lives,” she says. “It took a while to convince the general public that this was possible.”

A lot has changed since the 1970s, when offering massage services still raised eyebrows. Nowadays, staffers don’t labor to convince guests of the merits of a health-conscious lifestyle. “Marketing has become so much simpler now that the wellness movement has gone mainstream and facials are no longer seen as an exclusive pursuit of the vain,” laughs Cluff. With more than a dozen classes, renowned chefs on staff to cook guests healthy fare, and 20-plus treatment offerings, The Oaks and its founder focus on staying abreast of the latest developments in fitness, nutrition and spa.

But what sets this oasis that The Wall Street Journal dubbed “the teaching spa” apart from many other similar establishments is a willingness to look beyond one’s physical body, and provide everything from art walks to courses on real estate investment and even navigating family wills.

“You can’t separate what goes on above the neck to what’s happening below it,” Cluff says. “Body, mind and spirit all work together to make up a better quality of life. This is the idea behind our Mind-Body Awareness sessions [see sidebar, right]. In addition to performing healthy moves, you need to learn, mentally and physically, which muscles you’re working and how your efforts are progressing.”

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