Inn at Occidental

Occidental, Napa & Sonoma, United States Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
Expect a warm welcome at this heritage inn in the heart of Sonoma County, just 90 minutes north of San Francisco
Sonoma County is one of our favourite places in California. We love it for its laid-back gourmet lifestyle and bucolic environs. But we had not explored Occidental before. An atmospheric autumnal journey through fog-wreathed redwoods brought us along the aptly-named Bohemian Highway into this quaint town of clapboard-cute buildings.

Occidental was founded during the logging boom of the 1870s and the Inn at Occidental dates from the town's earliest years. First a family home then a bottling company and shopfront, it is now a welcoming old-fashioned inn styled with vintage games, heirlooms and folk art. Local photographs and paintings hang throughout. The colourful living room has a big fireplace and 1870s parquet flooring; the original cellar is now the kitchen and breakfast room, which has an adjacent patio for delicious alfresco breakfasts. Read the paper on the wraparound front veranda with morning coffee; relax with a book in the English courtyard garden complete with fountain and 22 species of roses.

With 16 playfully themed rooms and suites, plus a 2-bedroomed self-catering cottage, you'll find accommodation to suit, whether for a private romantic getaway or with the whole family. Tempting though it is to curl up in front of your fireplace or soak in your spa bath, there's so much to do on the doorstep - and Jerry and his team are eager to share their wealth of insider knowledge on the delights of Wine Country.

Highs

  • Cosy, convivial feel: there's an all-hours help-yourself tea and coffee station, plus plenty of books and games, and complimentary wine and cheese on offer daily at 5pm
  • A strategically-placed getaway: you feel off the beaten track, yet are within 15 minutes drive of the coast, wineries, gourmet restaurants, spas and gorgeous scenery for canoeing, hiking, riding or ballooning
  • Luxurious rooms with Frette linens, Aveda toiletries, romantic fireplaces; all but 4 have spa baths complete with rubber duckies
  • Winning touches include handmade quilts, four-poster beds, colourful artwork and quirky memorabilia, from vintage pinball machines to Humpty Dumpty dolls
  • Helpful, friendly staff led by owners Jerry and Tina, who can point you in any direction you need. There's also a useful directory in your room

Lows

  • Only breakfast is served, but there are several restaurants within walking distance and a wider choice within a 10-minute drive
  • Not for lovers of contemporary muted minimalism; the Inn is a cornucopia of objets and whimsy
  • Rooms and common areas are 'refreshed' over the winter months one at a time, so you could find some wear and tear in fabrics and fittings depending on when your room was last upgraded
  • No pool or gym facilities

Best time to go

Sonoma County is a year-round destination, although in truth, not at its best in the winter when the much-needed rains can fall, although the Gray Whales are best sighted in late winter. Spring and autumn are delightful - the latter features Harvest Bounty celebrations in every direction (Sonoma is big on gourmet delights, especially wine). Summer can be very busy so best to book ahead for the choice restaurants and activities.

Our top tips

Sonoma County can get crowded in the summer months so if you are able to travel later in autumn or earlier in the spring, you'll be rewarded with no crowds and better prices, and the weather is usually lovely. Book one of the rooms or suites with a spa bath for ultimate relaxation.

Great for...

Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Spa
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Inn
  • 17
  • Breakfast only (+ walk to restaurants)
  • 2 years and over welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room: Folk Art

Rooms

The 16 themed rooms and suites are divided between the original dwelling (once named Heart's Desire for the brick heart on the exterior chimney) and the newer Courtyard Wing at the end of the garden.

All are decorated in keeping with their theme, and each has a beautifully stitched quilt. So the top-floor Marbles Suite (where we stayed) has a collection of antique marbles; across the hallway the Ivory Room features a collection of 19th-century Japanese ivory miniatures.

The Quilt Room has a former tailor's sign - a giant pair of scissors - on its wall, along with folk-art lamps and a quilt wall-hanging above the queen bed. Tiffany is ideal for honeymooners with a 4-poster canopy bed, double shower, private balcony and mahogany loveseat.

On the ground floor, green-walled Leaf Umbrella, named for a prime example of Victorian glasswork, has a canopy bed from which you hear the fountain bubbling. Further along the corridor, the Cut Glass Suite has a private patio with a full-sized hot tub, and is named for its collection of English 19th-century glass bottles.

The Courtyard Rooms are uniform in size, with private entrances and balconies, mini-fridges and two-person spa baths. Inside, they are every bit as colourful and whimsical as the themed rooms. For example, Folk Art has hand-cast croquet wickets above the fireplace along with a handmade Humpty-Dumpty doll. Kitchen Cupboard is adorned with heirloom gadgets such as a waffle iron, an electric marshmallow toaster and an oversized cheese grater. Sonoma Lodge has an unusual birchwood 4-poster, while fishing nets and rods hang above the spa bath.

Uniquely, all feature a fireplace, as well as air-conditioning, heaters and radio/CDs. Beds are comfy with down duvets and overstuffed mattresses; bathrooms have robes, Frette towels and Aveda toiletries. Six rooms can be made up as twins. All but four have indulgent spa baths, with signature yellow ducks. Televisions can be placed in all rooms on request (the Inn is fully cabled with Comcast).

For families or a group of friends wanting more privacy, the 2-bedroom Sonoma Cottage just along the street has a fully equipped kitchen, dining room with table for 12, and a double-height, green-walled living room with a sofabed, TV/DVD and antique musical intruments. The two king-/twin-bedded rooms, each with an ensuite shower and tub, have nautical or playful references, including a vintage pinball machine and porthole-shaped windows.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fireplace
  • Hairdryer
  • Phone
  • Radio
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Breakfast, the only meal available, is served in the basement wine cellar. The Inn prides itself on its Sonoma Harvest breakfast, which consists of freshly baked pastries, house-blended granola and local fruit. A daily changing hot dish is served next: perhaps pecan caramel French toast, or apple sour cream waffles, maybe lemon ricotta pancakes or smoked salmon hash with poached egg and hollandaise sauce. There's freshly ground coffee and a choice of juices too.

For other meals you'll need to head out, though a picnic lunch basket is available with a little notice if you want to go on a hike. Between 5 and 6 every day, complimentary local wine and cheese is served in the living room: a convivial occasion where guests mingle and swap stories. You can also order champagne & chocolates, or a wine and cheese platter, in-room at any time.

If you're staying in Sonoma Cottage, the kitchen is fully equipped for self-catering with a gas stove, fridge-freezer, dishwasher, coffee maker, microwave, toaster and all crockery, cutlery and pots and pans. A large selection of spices, salt, pepper, oil, coffee and tea is supplied. For groceries, the Bohemian Market offers natural foods, a wonderful deli, local veggies and everything else from wines to curry powder. Gonnella Market stocks name-brand groceries. Both of these are one block away. The Farmer's Market is every Friday through May-October.

The lack of a restaurant on the premises is no hardship - this is gourmand Sonoma County! Occidental is famed for its Italian eateries (harking back to the its origins as a sawmill worked by Italian lumberjacks), from the cheerful large servings on checked tablecloths with the obligatory candles in wine bottles at the Union Hotel a block away, to the family-favourite Negri's, which has been an institution for nearly a century.

Also within walking distance is excellent French cuisine at Zagat-rated Bistro des Copains, and Mexican at El Mariachi. A short drive away are more good choices: Sebastopol's K & L Bistro is Michelin Bib-recommended (denoting good value for under US$40/head), while an actual Michelin star was bestowed on Applewood Inn and Restaurant in Guerneville. 'Roadside' restaurant zazu towards Santa Rosa is known for its 'playful Americana' meets rustic Northern Italian; Underwood Bar and Bistro has a great emphasis on wine and small plates.

If you want to cast your net wider for a special treat, check out the terrific Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg, or the two-Michelin starred Cyrus also in Healdsburg - about 25 minutes away.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Picnic lunches
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • At the Inn: enjoy an in-room aromatherapy massage, chill out fireside in the living room or on the veranda with a good book, or simply relax by the fountain in the garden; there's yoga in Occidental itself

  • Wonderful Wineries: you're close to wine country with dozens of wineries and tasting rooms (and great restaurants) to choose from. The nearest wine region - Russian River - is famed for its cool climate varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

  • Beautiful Beers: if you prefer the grain to the grape, look no further than the Barley and Hops Tavern in town, which makes full use of the craft breweries nearby and serves tasty pub grub

  • Canoe the Russian River: take a leisurely 10-mile canoe trip from Forestville to Guerneville. stopping for a picnic or swim off a river beach en route. A shuttle bus takes you back upriver to be reunited with your car

  • Spa County: Sonoma is renowned for its spas and well-being centres, so check one out - the Inn recommends the Japanese-themed Osmosis, which offers Enzyme Baths and massages, 5 minutes away

  • Coastal Capers: Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed The Birds, is excellent for birding, sailing and fishing trips (I saw Turnstones and Surfbirds on the cliffs when there last); there are great beaches along the Pacific coast (the nearest is about 10 miles away; we like Goat Rock Beach near Jenner); take a 3-hour boat trip to look for Gray Whales in season (Dec-March)

  • Aerial Adventure: explore the delights of Sonoma county from a hot air balloon, or from a slightly lower elevation by ziplining through the redwoods - there's a canopy tour outfit in Occidental

  • Back to Nature: hike or horse-ride through local redwood forests - Armstrong Woods State Park outside Guerneville is worth exploring; look out for deer and feral cats

  • Antiques and Art Galleries: Petaluma and Sebastopol are both good for antiques - we bought some lovely watercolours. There are also plenty of artisanal handcrafts for sale in Occidental and further afield

  • Get on your Bike: cycling is a serious hobby in the Bay Area counties, and the Inn has a '10 Great Sonoma County Rides' sheet

  • Get on the Green: plenty of golf courses hereabouts - the nearest is the Northwood Golf Course in Monte Rio

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Horse-riding
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Kayaking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Sailing
  • Shopping / markets
  • Well being
  • Whalewatching
  • Wildlife
  • Wine tasting
  • Yoga

Kids

Children over 2 are made very welcome at the Inn and will be very intrigued by the vintage toys and dolls which form part of the decor. But note that younger exuberant kids and the extensive knick-knacks and antiques may not be an ideal match. Children under 2 are accepted in special circumstances and only if the Cottage and Tiffany are available. There are heaps of activities in the area for families to enjoy including beachcombing, fishing, canoeing the Russian River, and ziplining.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Families are usually placed in the 2-bedroomed Sonoma Cottage, which can accommodate 6 as it has a double sofabed. The Marbles Suite also has a sofabed. Tiffany and Sandwich Glass can also host a third person on a rollaway bed.

Kids Activities nearby:

The 400-acre wildlife sanctuary, Safari West in Santa Rosa, about 30 minutes' drive, is a great day out for families. Visits are by appointment only: you are driven by the park's naturalists through herds of African native animals.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
9/
Overall

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