Downtown Occidental

The charming, bohemian community of Occidental is a great base for fun getaways in Northern California. Tucked into thick redwoods, the tiny town is only a few miles from both the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River, which allows you to decide in the morning how to spend your day.

Should you meander down the river in a canoe, stopping for a picnic? Hike a coastal bluff? Explore tidal pools in a secluded cove? Check out some of the fabulous wineries the Russian River is known for?

Or maybe you’re a cyclist. If so, get ready, because world-class biking terrain is all around you. From hard-dirt forest trails (delightfully muddy when it rains) to steep cliffs edging the ocean, there’s a bike path calling your name.

And if you want to go all out, aiming for cycling glory, pedal away on Occidental’s Coleman Valley Road. It’s so steep, challenging and filled with knockout views that it’s part of the yearly Levi’s Gran Fondo race, which attracts 7,000 or so enthusiastic cyclists.

Gardeners love visiting the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, which is open for guided tours on weekends. The Center maintains a 70-acre Wildlands Preserve, a cultivation area that produces a diverse range of beneficial plants and trees, and also grows food crops of special genetic, cultural and/or historic importance. You can take classes, see a performance in the Chautauqua Series, or attend one of the occasional plant sales.

Another plant-lovers’ attraction: the lush, three-acre Western Hills Garden, known for its exotic flowering plants and glimpses of wildlife. Founded in 1960, it was a destination for gardeners from around the world for decades (the New York Times called it the ‘Tiffany’s of plants’). New owners have recently revitalized the place, and Saturday tours are again being offered, by appointment only, beginning in February 2013.

Adventure-lovers will enjoy ‘canopy cruising’ or zip-lining, flying from tree to tree above the earth on ziplines. Sonoma Canopy Tours will have you soaring through the world’s tallest trees, the Redwood. No matter how many times you do this, you’ll consider it the adventure of a lifetime.

Other great recreational ideas in Occidental include hiking, fishing (both river and ocean), road-tripping, and horseback riding.

Or you can just spend the day becoming part of the scene in the friendly, two-block-long town, crowded with eateries, java joints, and shops of all kinds. Enjoy a gargantuan breakfast at Howard Station Cafe, or family-style Italian dining at Negri’s Italian Dinners & Joe’s Bar or the Union Hotel.

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