Conejo Valley: California’s Other Side

It’s different. It’s unexpected. It’s the Conejo Valley (pronounced “koh-neh-ho”). Translated to “rabbit” in Spanish, this SoCal region in LA’s backyard is situated along U.S. 101’s well-known route between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, though it isn’t an extension of either.

By contrast, it’s a 180-degree escape from the hustle, and bustle of L.A. (the second largest metropolis in the US) and a distant cousin to the sophisticated haven of Santa Barbara (aka the American Riviera). Actually, Conejo Valley – comprised of the cities of Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills – is a 21st-century representation of life in the suburbs during simpler times.

Conejo Valley Lodging

Ensconced by groves of trees and nestled among rolling hills, Hyatt Regency Westlake is discreetly positioned within these two communities burrowed into the Santa Monica Mountains. The comfortable, welcoming hotel provides a prime-time hub for visitors to the area. Best described as refined yet relaxed, arriving guests will immediately admire the lobby’s impressive blue patina sculpture. Fresh fruit-infused water and a friendly front desk staff add to the personal touches. My check-in experience was enhanced by manager Triston Perez who, unbeknownst to me, transported my luggage to my room when a bellman was unavailable.

Inside the Hyatt Regency Westlake in Conejo Valley
Inside the Hyatt Regency Westlake Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

Highlights of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

Your intro to the region begins at its most significant site – the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. Situated on a hill overlooking endless miles of land in Simi Valley, the initial approach to this institute dedicated to the country’s 40th president is imposing. With 100,000 acres and millions of documents, photographs, films, and tapes, it represents the largest of the nation’s thirteen presidential libraries.

Not-to-be-missed inclusions are the burial spots of the president and first lady Nancy, a full-sized replica of the Oval Office, a duplication of Nancy’s Rose Garden, a portion of the Berlin Wall and, most impressively, the Boeing 707 aircraft used as Air Force One by President Reagan (in addition to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, H.W. Bush, Clinton and W. Bush).

Known as Operation Homeward Bound, Boeing disassembled the plane, transported the aircraft’s parts to the library and after construction of the massive pavilion in which it is now housed, re-assembled and restored the jet to today’s museum quality within the structure. Offering an opportunity to walk into the interior of the historic airplane, the first visual that greets visitors is the cockpit. Perfectly positioned to view the vastness of the surrounding terrain, it creates an impressive in-flight illusion.

Adding to the library’s appeal are temporary exhibits (current exhibit: An American Christmas Story upcoming exhibit: Auschwitz, Not Long Ago, Not Far Away) and an assortment of live events (examples: South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice).

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Conejo Valley
Inside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

Exploring the Natural Beauty of Thousand Oaks

Having derived its name from the area’s abundance of oak trees, Thousand Oaks has been committed to preserving its natural beauty since its inception, with more than one-third of its acreage designated protected open space. The result of this foresight is today’s 150 miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback trails that weave throughout the community.

The gentle sound of waterfalls, meandering of ducks and a duo of pictorial ponds set the mood of The Lakes at Thousand Oaks. Called “an outdoor lifestyle destination,” this dining and shopping promenade – which sits adjacent to the Bank of America Performing Arts Center – forms the heart of Thousand Oaks’ community.

A mild climate produces a gardening mecca, making a visit to the 33-acre Conejo Valley Botanic Garden almost obligatory. The garden serves as a regional get-into-nature getaway. Collections include the Australian Garden, Butterfly Garden, Desert Garden, Rare Fruit Orchard, the Trail of Trees and more.

For the best hands-on immersion into the fresh flower scene, however, a visit to XO Bloom is a must. Experience the flower bar and take a floral arranging class from one of the specialists onsite. Beginning with the participant’s individual selection of a vase and blooms, the lesson is all about fun – complete with a petal tossing photo at its conclusion to commemorate the event.

Conejo Valley California
The Lakes at Thousand Oaks Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

Experience the Vibe of Agoura Hills

While nearby Agoura Hills exudes the same nonchalant, neighborhood feel as its sister city, it is distinctive in its own right. At the apex of this community is Whizin Market Square, an assortment of unusual boutiques referred to as a “funky complex.”.

Anchored by The Canyon, an almost two-decades-old performance venue showcases everything from classical to comedy. The club sits alongside many eat, drink and be merry options. The Agoura Antique Mart, a self-described trendy and vintage marketplace brims with one-of-a-kind finds. Monica & Zen Handmade Jewelry features such original pieces as their copper/turquoise leaf earrings favored by comedian Lily Tomlin. Make a stop at Blue Table for a glass of wine or Tifa Chocolate & Gelato for dessert. And should you need a pamper-inspired pick me up, head for a mini facial (30 minutes) at Sugar Lemon Water, a skincare boutique.

Whizin Market Square in Conejo Valley
Whizin Market Square Cynthia Dial | Travel Squire

The Cuisine Scene of Conejo Valley

An impressive variety of eateries – all different, all great, complement Conejo Valley’s craft beer scene which features Tarantula Hill Brewing Company, Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie and more.

Graham Harris, owner/chef of Decker Kitchen, explains that his farm-to-table menu, which changes weekly, is reflective of his Italian/French background. Don’t miss the freshly baked bread – it requires a 24-hour fermentation process and is served with butter sprinkled with sea salt.

Cork Dork, a boutique wine bar (with a selection of locally produced beers, too), is dedicated to the perfect pairing of one’s beverage of choice with the freshest of foods. My pick: Baba’s Chicken – Petaluma poultry, couscous, harissa roasted carrots, preserved lemon, golden raisins, labneh, sabzi and walnuts.

A Mecca of Fun

The Conejo Valley is a mecca of fun. In 2022 it once again celebrated the Swedish American Central Association of Southern California’s 101st Midsummer Festival – a Scandinavian-focused food and folk-dancing festival. And there’s Conejo Valley Days – a once-a-year celebration of the region’s rich heritage.

Conejo Valley. Said to be where “L.A. ends and the Central Coast begins,” proves to be a region that deserves discovery.