Ojai, California is a quaint little town nestled in the mountains a couple hours northwest of Los Angeles. It’s the sort of place one goes on a spiritual retreat or to attend an art’s festival. It has charming boutique hotels, charming shops, lovely restaurants, wonderful hiking. According to Wikipedia, it’s nickname is “Shangri-La.” It’s a perfectly lovely place.
You may be asking yourself why I’m telling you about Ojai. It sounds great and all, but this isn’t a travel blog. Why should you care about Ojai?
Because it is home to the largest outdoor bookstore in the United States (or at least that’s what the store’s website claims).
I was surprised to find Bart’s Books tucked away in a residential neighborhood a few blocks off the main drag in Ojai. Turns out, there’s a reason for that. Per the store’s website:
In 1964 Bart’s Books was little more than a sparkle in the eye of Richard Bartinsdale whose collection of books had gotten so overwhelming that he constructed a series of book cases along the sidewalk so that passersby could peruse the titles.
What do you do when your books start taking over your home? Make your home a bookstore.
Those bookcases are still there on the outside of the store.
Apparently the store operated on the honor system, with coffee cans left out for customers to leave their payment. And to this day, the external book shelves operate on the same system, at least after hours.
Rows upon rows upon rows of outdoor bookshelves with lovely little courtyards in the middle. Why did it never occur to me that outdoor spaces need books as much as indoor spaces do. Just look at that!
Speaking of indoor spaces, there’s a charming little house at the center of these outdoor shelves, reminding you that yes, this IS an actual home that was overtaken by books.
There are only two problems with this fabulous indoor/outdoor bookstore. 1) There are no bathrooms (ugh!) and 2) it’s an outdoor bookstore in a place where it can be 100 degrees in the middle of September.
I was a gross, sweaty, cranky person because of the heat, but I was surrounded by ALL THE BOOKS. It was a good day.