The Oaks Spa at Ojai

When you check in at the front desk and are given a handwritten welcome note with a handmade lavender sachet for your car , you’ve just got to figure there’s even better to come.

Such was the case two weeks ago when I checked into the Oaks at Ojai in the heart of Ojai, California. Founded and still owned by the spritely Sheila Cluff, the Oaks touts itself as an” affordable fitness and weight loss destination spa.” After three days at this lovely place, though, I’d say it’s more fitness and amazing spa, with weight loss that happily happens along the way.

Ojai at dusk

For starters, nothing about Ojai is average. This is a beautiful town that, for decades, has attracted celebrity and royalty from all points of the globe. The city nestles in the Los Padres National forest and houses the largest number of private schools per capita in the world. Even the small shopping district is pristine and unique.

Fitness & Weight Loss But Not a “Fat Farm”

Shopping district at Ojai

While the Oaks at Ojai established itself back in the day when “fat farms” were all the rage, the Oaks is quite the opposite of that connotation. Friends all around me had raved about the Oaks as a “spa resort” and, frankly, that’s what I found. Unlike many spas I’ve visited, though, the Oaks provides all-inclusive packages that provide an average of 15 fitness classes each day as well as three calorie-conscious meals with nibbly snack and juicing breaks throughout the days. See my related article on The Oaks Chef Christine Denney’s phenomenal “spa cuisine (this is spa cuisine?)

280 grounds

Yes, the Oaks at Ojai is populated primarily by women, which was just fine by me. In fact, it proved one of the most enjoyable few days I’ve had in a long time as every single woman was genuinely interesting and fun. The Oaks attracts an erudite client – I was meeting women who travel all over the world, own large businesses or function at top levels of corporations, and have genuinely interesting stories to tell about their lives.

Shelia Cluff’s Fiesty Spirit Throughout

And let me put one other rumor to rest that seems to be prevalent with other “weight loss spas” – you are NOT locked in your rooms or searched for wine and cookies on a daily basis. In Founder Shelia’s opinion, if you want to stay on property the entire time and partake in the three daily meals, you’ll likely drop weight and reconfigure your metabolism in just a matter of days. If, on the other hand, you want to roam the charming town of Ojai, and pop into coffee shops, wine bars or lovely bistros, you’re more than welcome to do so.

Shelia Cluff leading stretches - Oaks at Ojai

“We’re about your life and your plan,” Shelia told me on an early morning’s brisk walk. “We’re just here to help you get back on the track that has you feeling better, physically and emotionally. Because that’s really what the joy in life is all about, right?”

An ice skating personality and fitness enthusiast who was credited for creating “aerobics” back in the 1950s,  Shelia came up with the idea of The Oaks in the 1970s after seeing too many friends trudge off to grim “fat farms.” With an idea to combine luxury Euro body treatments with fun exercise options and healthy, delicious food,  the Oaks was born when she bought into the boutique Spanish Mission style hotel in 1977.

A few years ago, Shelia’s daughter, Cathy Cluff, took over the primary management of the spa, but Shelia is still on the property just about every day. On my first morning there, I got up early to join the “brisk walk” crowd, and was pleased to find Shelia serving as the “caboose” to keep all the ducklings in line. I hung back to chat with her as we power walked (at a fair sprint), and had a most lovely time getting to know the 78-year-old wunderkind. What she has enthusiastically believed about fitness and weight loss all these years is still beautifully conveyed in every fine detail of the Oaks’ operation.

Fitness Classes For Every Make & Model

swim aerobics at Oaks at Ojai

I’ve written about the spa cuisine and spa treatments in attached articles, so I’ll take a moment to focus on the fitness classes here. The majority of classes are designed for any level of fitness, and the teachers are the kindest, most patient trainers I’ve seen in a long time. The variety in class offerings is extensive – pilates, stretching, ball classes, belly dancing, hi/lo aerobics, a bunch of water classes, weightlifting, zumba and even hula hoop fitness.

If that’s not enough, you have a “cardio hall” of equipment at your service at any time of day or night. And, The Oaks organizes morning walking programs as well as advanced hiking (which I did every morning and absolutely loved). Additionally, there are sign up sheets for horseback riding, kayaking, bike rides to the Ventura beach and more. There’s no way you can walk into the Oaks and claim you couldn’t find anything to do.

hiking with Oaks at Ojai friends

Each evening after dinner, special speakers are also brought in to help with the “mind body connection” of proper eating at home, self-esteem bolstering, cooking and nutritional classes and more.

Package Deals & Daily Specials

Although the all-inclusive program is the best way to go (because you’ve got to try the food, enjoy at least two spa treatments, and take in a couple fitness classes), The Oaks offers “Fitness Spa Days” and “A Day of Pampering,” a sort of day pass that attracts more locals, visiting parents to any of the private day schools, and guest at nearby resorts who aren’t interested in golfing all day. (They also offer a few Mother-Daughter weekends throughout the year, which is a great idea!)

The Oaks is a fantastic all-around great program for your better health. I loved my four days there (I luxuriated in one of their small cottages on property, which I’d highly recommend as an extra pampering gift to yourself). I came away with great new ways to cook, new friends from all over the country, and a newfound respect for Shelia and the entire staff of friendly folks here. Gift yourself or gift someone you love … or, better yet, take a girlfriend with you … for a really special (and, yes, affordable) time.

Reach The Oaks at (800) 753-6257 and check out all their programs at OakSpa.com
P.S. See also my separate entry on The Oaks at Ojai Spa.