Tucked away in western Sonoma County, the tiny community of Occidental was founded in 1876 as the last stop on the North Pacific Coast Railroad, and it soon became a popular vacation destination. In 1879, a railroad saloon and boarding house, the Union Hotel and Restaurant, was constructed; it’s now a popular Italian cafe, bakery, and pizzeria. And Occidental's famous Negri’s Italian Dinners & Joe’s Bar, with its vintage trattoria ambience, has been serving Italian classics since 1943. Occidental is also home to restaurants that feature Mexican, American, Mediterranean/pizza, and pub grub menus.
Here are five fun things to do on a visit to Occidental:
Browse “Downtown” Occidental
It’s just two blocks long, but Main Street will keep you occupied for hours exploring art galleries that feature area artists or boutiques filled with local crafts and New Age crystals. Don’t miss picturesque, 140-year-old Occidental Community Church (3637 Church St., Occidental, 707-874-3501), which calls itself “the little country church with a big heart.” Want to sit a spell? Hunker down in a friendly café and watch small town life unfold.
Visit the “Tiffany’s of Plants"
The lushly-beautiful three-acre Western Hills Garden (formerly the Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery) has long been known for its rare and exotic flowering plants, along with glimpses of wildlife that finds shelter here. Founded in 1959, the garden was a destination for plant-lovers and gardeners from around the world for decades (the New York Times once called it the “Tiffany’s of plants”). A few years ago, suffering from a quick succession of owners, the garden fell into neglect, but it’s been significantly restored under new ownership and is open for public tours and plant sales on Tuesday and Thursday ($10 per person, by appointment). 16250 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental, 707-872-5463
Fly Through a Redwood Canopy
Adventure-lovers will enjoy “canopy cruising” or zip-lining, flying from tree to tree above the earth. Sonoma Canopy Tours provides everything you need for this high-flyin’ adventure. Wearing a comfortable, specially-designed harness, you’ll zip on cables from one aerial platform to the next, taking in breathtaking views as you go — and you’ll even “fly” into an old growth redwood forest where trees are more than 700 years old. The 2½-hour guided tour features seven zip lines, two sky bridges, a majestic spiral staircase, a rappel…and the unparalleled beauty of California’s coastal redwoods. 6250 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 888-494-7868
Take in a World-Class Musical Performance
Occidental may be tiny, but when it comes to music this little place can compete with the best. For more than 30 years, Occidental’s Redwood Arts Council has brought amazing talent to its yearly chamber music series, including the Kronos String Quartet, the San Francisco Saxophone Quartet, Richie Cole, Bonnie Hampton, and many others (the performance season runs from September into April). And there’s more. The Occidental Community Choir—made up of local singers, composers and musicians—has been around for 34 years, producing great musical at certain times of the year. Both groups perform at the Occidental Center for the Arts (4008 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-9392), a lively venue for the performing and visual arts. For more details, read Enjoy the Arts with Casual Style at Occidental Center for the Arts.
Enjoy the Arts in an Ecological Setting
There are countless reasons to visit the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, an 80-acre wildlands preserve, organic nursery and research center where a great deal goes on. OAEC isn’t open to drop-in visitors, but you’re welcome to sign up for a tour, take classes, enjoy a musical or theatrical performance in the Chautauqua Series, and attend other public events. In addition, the seasonal plant sales are popular with organic gardeners. OAEC is one of the few nurseries in the Bay Area that is completely California Certified Organic (C.C.O.F.), including all ornamentals, potting mixes, amendments and foliar sprays. 15290 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental, 707-874-1557