6 Fun Things To Do in Occidental, California
Set midway along the Bohemian Highway, the cozy town of Occidental delights with big charm along with plenty of ways to unwind and soak up some nature.
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. It became a popular vacation destination soon after it was established and — as a stop on the scenic Bohemian Highway — it's keeping that legacy going to this day.
Here are some fun things to do in Occidental, California.
1. Browse "Downtown" Occidental
Though only two blocks long, Main Street Occidental will keep you occupied for hours exploring local artist galleries and boutiques where you can find everything from New Age crystals to handmade crafts. At Hand Goods, delight in the colorful patterns of hand-woven rugs, buttery wooden bowls carved from sustainably harvested materials, and sparkling jewelry made from natural gemstones. Boho Bungalow is the place to go for artisan-made home fragrances and candles; you can even take a candle-making class and have your masterpieces shipped back home. Meanwhile, Galleria's offerings run the gamut from home decor and skincare to children's books and jewelry, all from both local and international artisans.
And don't miss the town's original butcher — Panizzera Meat Co. — which has served Occidental for more than 100 years. Find the fixings for a relaxing dinner at your vacation rental, or ship a gift box back home. On Thursday evenings in summer, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m, the Occidental Community Farmers Market offers prepared foods, fresh produce, crafts, music, and more at the southern end of town.
2. Visit the Tiffany & Co. of Plants
Disconnect from the digital world and immerse yourself in natural beauty as you stroll the three-acre grounds of Western Hills Garden, what The New York Times once wrote about in an article called "If Tiffany Sold Plants." Nestled among the rich red trunks of sky-yearning redwood trees, this Sonoma County eden is brimming with a kaleidoscope of blooms, some of which are very rare. Take in the floral fireworks of azaleas and rhododendrons, with colors ranging from sunshine yellow to bright fuchsia. Or look for the turquoise petals of blue Puya — offset by blazing orange stamens — as you wander paths lined with succulents, magnolias, and hundreds of other members of the plant kingdom. (Visits are by appointment only, so book ahead.)
3. Fly Through a California Redwood Forest
Adventure-lovers and nature-lovers alike will enjoy canopy cruising with the guides of Sonoma Zipline Adventures. You’ll be outfitted with everything you need for this high-flying adventure, including specially designed harnesses, safety instructions, and guides who are known for keeping the fun and forest trivia coming. Zip through California redwoods one tree at a time, taking in breathtaking bird's-eye views as you go. You'll even fly into an old-growth redwood forest where trees are more than 700 years old. The guided tours feature seven zip lines, two sky bridges, a majestic spiral staircase, rappelling, and the unparalleled beauty of California's coastal redwoods.
For even more fun, book the Tree House stay and eco-tour to spend the night in the treetops and be treated to gourmet meals, a guided nature hike, and, of course, plenty of ziplining.
4. Take in a World-Class Musical Performance
Occidental may be small, but when it comes to music this little place can compete with bigger cities — but has the benefit of venues that provide an intimate vibe. 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 May). And the long-standing Occidental Community Choir — made up of local singers, composers, and musicians — puts on concerts throughout the year. Sit back and let the sweet sounds of both groups stir your emotions to the core at the Occidental Center for the Arts.
5. Enjoy the Arts in an Ecological Setting
Make your way to Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (OAEC) to explore an 80-acre wildlands preserve, organic nursery, and research center. April through October, you can join a guided tour at 1 p.m. every first and third Sunday to learn about the center’s gardens and orchards, as well as their intentional community and programs. (Call ahead to request accessibility accommodations.)
Check the calendar for lively musical or theatrical performances that are put on as part of OAEC’s Chautauqua Series, as well as garden volunteer days, plant sales, and courses like permaculture design certification.
6. Treat Yourself at Occidental Restaurants
Homemade from home-grown and locally sourced ingredients, the pasta dishes at Negri’s Original Italian Restaurant are some of the freshest you’ll find. Indulge in creamy polenta with meatballs, rigatoni made with spicy sausage and burrata — both local — and, atop a nest of angel hair, prawns sauteed in red-chili cream sauce. Known for friendly service, low prices, and stand-out burritos — particularly the carne asada and al pastor — El Mariachi Mexican Cafe is a locally loved treasure.
At Howard Station Cafe, find everything from hollandaise-kissed Benedicts and hearty burgers to brown-rice scrambles and fresh juices — all served in a former train station. Speaking of reimagined buildings, Occidental Union Hotel was once a boarding house and railroad saloon. Its restaurant has been serving inspired Italian fare since 1879, so you’ll get a side of history along with your bruschetta, minestrone, and pizza.