A Local’s Guide to Occidental

Kory Vanderpool marches in the Fool's Parade in Occidental, California, on Saturday, April 2, 2016. (Alvin Jornada
Kory Vanderpool marches in the Fool’s Parade in Occidental, California, on Saturday, April 2, 2016. (Alvin Jornada)

In Occidental, California the world moves more slowly. Just 1,371 folks live here, scattered across 5 square miles. In this quiet hamlet tucked amid towering redwoods, many homes don’t have cable service, and the busiest time of year is Christmas, for the annual Holiday Crafts Faire.

Yet, as resident Gail Cohen well knows, one thing is sure to stir up a fuss: Calling anyone who lives in Occidental “average” or “typical.” In this bucolic nook 8 miles west of Sebastopol, them’s near-fightin’ words.

Gail Cohen, with her dogs Dorje and Bandit, stops to talk with Clay Lynch, with his dog Batboy, on the Union Hotel steps.
Gail Cohen, with her dogs Dorje and Bandit, stops to talk with Clay Lynch, with his dog Batboy, on the Union Hotel steps.

“We’re all a little bit off-center,” Cohen said cheerfully. “There is no one type here, and that is exactly why people come to live out here. It ranges from artists to lawyers, to vineyard owners and marijuana growers. The rich, the poor, liberals and the right-wingers — we’re all together.”

The number of restaurants per capita is outweighed only by the quality of those restaurants. Top-notch destinations draw visitors from all over: The classic pasta palaces Union Hotel and Negri’s Original Occidental, the hip Barley and Hops Tavern, the pet-friendly Howard Station Cafe, the beloved dive El Mariachi Cafe, and the chic Hazel restaurant.

Here are some insider spots in Occidental you’ll love…

Barley and Hops Tavern in Occidental. May 16, 2016. (Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat) Erik Castro
Barley and Hops Tavern in Occidental. (Erik Castro)

Barley and Hops Tavern: This groovy spot is the work of owners Noah and Mirjam Bolmer. They craft their own Warped Brewing Co. beers, send out big, addictive German pretzels sloppy with mustard, and drape their signature Double Occidental burger with cheese and homemade pickles. Come for free live music Thursdays through Saturdays. 3688 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-9037, barleyandhops.net

Smokey Sebastopol burger with bacon, cheddar and in-house made barbecue sauce at Barley and Hops Tavern in Occidental. May 16, 2016. (Photo: Erik Castro
Smokey Sebastopol burger with bacon, cheddar and in-house made barbecue sauce at Barley and Hops Tavern in Occidental. (Erik Castro)

Bohème & Bodega Rancho Cellar Door: Vineyards surround Occidental, yet tasting rooms are scarce. Kurt Beitler’s charming clapboard-trimmed tasting salon specializes in his wines from the Occidental, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast regions. 3625 Main St., Occidental, 707-874-3218, bohemewines.com

Bohemian Market: Besides the wide array of organic and health foods such as Sea of Change Trading Co. seaweed products of Windsor, this well-stocked grocery offers a deli and butcher case with local seafood and meats. 3691 Main St., Occidental, 707-874-3312, bohofoods.com

The Bohemian Market, in Occidental, features locally grown produce and a popular deli. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat) Occidental Sonoma Mag Christopher Chung
The Bohemian Market, in Occidental, features locally grown produce and a popular deli. (Christopher Chung)

El Mariachi Cafe: This ultra-casual Mexican joint looks like it used to be a trailer home, but the food is first rate. The al pastor burrito a la diabla is extra good, fiery and stuffed with lots of creamy avocado. 3595 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-2752

Hand Goods: “Very fine selections of gifts from local artists,” Cohen said. “Local pottery, hand knits, jewelry, and cards you won’t find anywhere else.” 3627 Main St., Occidental, 707-874-2161, handgoods.net

Hazel: Jim and Michele Wimborough opened this stylish restaurant in the former Bistro de Copains cottage, drawing crowds from Day One. 3782 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707- 874-6003, restauranthazel.com

JB1022_HAZEL_003_752948
Pepperoni pizza with jalape–o at Hazel in Occidental. (John Burgess)
JB1022_HAZEL_002_752949
Owner/chefs Jim and Michele Wimborough at Hazel in Occidental. (John Burgess)

Howard Station Cafe: Sit on the porch of the Victorian home with your pooch and people-watch the eclectic mix of diners (there’s even a Fido-friendly menu). Heart-shaped, homemade buttermilk biscuits, organic eggs, and daily chalkboard specials such as grilled portobello, beet and goat cheese salad, are on the menu. 3611 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-2838, howardstationcafe.com

Howard's Cafe is a popular spot in Occidental. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat) Occidental Sonoma Mag Christopher Chung
Howard’s Cafe is a popular spot in Occidental. (Christopher Chung)

Mad Hatter Toys: Kids of all ages find fun here, browsing the cluttered treasure-chest array of board games, wacky figurines and wind sculptures. 3692 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-3200

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center: Cohen scopes out this educational preserve and organic farm for three annual plant sales that include many unusual varieties of heirloom vegetables, flowers and culinary/medicinal herbs. 15290 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental, 707-874-1557, oaec.org

Occidental
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center.
Garden manager Doug Gosling was one of the original members of the Sowing Circle intentional community who bought the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center near Occidental in 1994. John Burgess
Garden manager Doug Gosling was one of the original members of the Sowing Circle intentional community who bought the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center near Occidental in 1994. (John Burgess)

Occidental Center for the Arts: A gem for its exhibition art gallery, live music, theater and community gatherings that include writing workshops. It’s also home to the Occidental Community Choir, which presents holiday concerts this year on Dec. 5, 11 and 12. 3850 Doris Murphy Court, Occidental, 707-874-9392, occidentalcenterforthearts.org

Musicians play in a drum circle at the Occidental Center for the Arts after the Fool's Parade in Occidental, California, on Saturday, April 2, 2016. (Alvin Jornada
Musicians play in a drum circle at the Occidental Center for the Arts after the Fool’s Parade in Occidental, California, on Saturday, April 2, 2016. (Alvin Jornada)

Such Fine Things: Owner and Occidental Community Choir artist-in-residence Teresa Tudury is “a quirky musician and storyteller with a penchant for cowboy-inspired things,” Cohen said. “It’s our Occidental. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.” 3597 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 415-515-3361

The Union Hotel, in Occidental. (Christopher Chung)
The Union Hotel, in Occidental. (Christopher Chung)

Union Hotel: “A great mix of locals and tourists,” Cohen said of the former railroad saloon and boarding house built in 1879. “It’s a great place to watch sports over Italian food and drink.” Tables are set with candle-dripped Chianti bottles, and the must-order family meal includes minestrone soup, green salad, antipasto, sourdough bread, and an entrée of your choice (go for the overstuffed ravioli). This is the community gathering spot during the holidays, too: The annual Christmas caroling and cookie giveaway night with hot cider is Dec. 22. 3731 Main St., Occidental, 707-874-3555, unionhoteloccidental.com

The old clock at the Union Hotel in Occidental. (Christopher Chung)
The old clock at the Union Hotel in Occidental. (Christopher Chung)

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