Whether it's an art exhibit, chamber music, choral concert, readers theater, a book launch, or any other celebration of creativity, you'll find it at the Occidental Center for the Arts, in the Russian River Valley in western Sonoma County.
Housed in a former school building, the center includes an acoustically sound auditorium, with a professional stage, light, and sound board, and audience seating with great sight lines. There's also an art gallery and art classroom, and an amphitheater out back.
Visual and Literary Arts
The center's gallery hosts about eight shows a year, in a variety of media, both two- and three-dimensional, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and fabric arts.
The center also hosts book launches for local and regional authors about every other month. Readers Theater nights are held the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. And a variety of classes are offered, such as figure drawing or memoir writing.
Music — classical, folk, jazz, and other genres — fills the center's stage two to three times a month. The Redwood Arts Council calls the center home, presenting monthly world-class chamber music concerts from September to May. Also based at the center, the Occidental Community Choir — which creates, performs, and promotes choral music composed primarily by its members — presents concerts at the center twice a year, typically in May and December.
Each April, the center sponsors the annual Fool's Day Parade. It's a chance to dress up, and be a bit silly. People start gathering at noon, and at 1 p.m. they parade through town — ending, of course, at the Occidental Center for the Arts.
It's a distance of about five blocks. Typical participants include a marching band called the Hub Bub Club, a mechanical green caterpillar conveyance (filled with smiling children) known as the Lunapillar, stilt-walkers, llamas, people and their pets in silly costumes, and King of Fools Zero the Clown. After the parade, the center hosts an open microphone session and barbecue. It's a great time in a small town.
Things to do in Occidental
Even if you're not lucky enough to be in Occidental for the April Fool's celebrations, this small Russian River Valley town (pop. 1,115) is a great place to relax and explore. As the parade demonstrates, the arts center is in easy walking distance of "downtown," home to art galleries, gift shops, and renowned dining establishments.
Founded as a railroad saloon and boarding house in 1879, the Union Hotel and Restaurant is now a lovely Italian cafe, bakery, and pizzeria, complete with red-checkered tablecloths and run by the property owners since 1925. Negri's Original Italian Restaurant, with its vintage trattoria ambience, has been serving Italian classics since 1943. And a cozy Victorian home has been converted into a local hangout at Barley & Hops Tavern, which offers inspired tavern food with craft beers on tap and in bottles.
For a change of pace, try quick and tasty Mexican food at El Mariachi Mexican Café, or choose from the healthy and organic breakfast and lunch selections at Howard Station Café, in a restored Victorian home. You can also check out the fresh produce and other offerings at the Friday night Occidental Bohemian Farmers Market, June through October at Second and Main.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.