Bodega | Freestone | Occidental

Posted By on Mar 16, 2014

When you last took a ride with the BackRoad Bitches, we were sweeping through the seaside town of Bodega Bay.  Well, we didn’t come all this way just to turn around and go home after a little shopping and a great lunch!

We pointed the car east and headed to the nearby town of Bodega, about a mile inland from Bodega Bay.  The town’s claim to fame (along with Bodega Bay) is that Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller of 1963, “The Birds”, was filmed here.

…you’ll never again look at crows or seagulls (or any bird, for that matter) in quite the same way.


The first place I wanted to scout out, as a huge Hitchcock film fan, was the 150-year-old Potter School, a schoolhouse featured in the movie.  If you’ve never seen the movie, just know that after you do, you’ll never again look at crows or seagulls (or any bird, for that matter) in quite the same way - I vividly remember the scene of terrified school children running from the school with flocks of crows in hot pursuit!  Vacant at the time of  the movie’s filming, it is currently a private residence.  Saint_Teresa_of_Avila_Church,_BodegaAmazingly, the structure still looks very much like it did in the film.  If you want to get a closer look and snap a photo, be mindful that it’s someone’s home and respect their request not to trespass on the property.

Standing literally back-to-back with the schoolhouse is the white-steepled hilltop church that was briefly featured in the film, and made famous when it was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1953. St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, built in 1861, is believed to be the oldest Catholic church in continuous use in Sonoma County.

The store has a fun collection of “The Birds” related memorabilia and artwork…

Bodega_021514_Country_Store_Birds_Painting2The Bodega Country Store (17160 Bodega Hwy.) is a great place to stop by if you want to pick up food to go.  It has a full service deli, complete with a selection of homemade soups, and dinner is available Thursday through Sunday.  The store also stocks fresh produce (some organic), locally made cheeses, and a range of household items you’d typically find in a small town’s general store.  We got a kick out of seeing the ominous looking blackbirds perched around the store sign, as well as the life-size figure of Alfred Hitchcock out front that you can’t miss.  Open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Hitchcock_Film-FestThe store has a fun collection of “The Birds” related memorabilia and artwork that’s worth checking out if you’re a movie buff.  While we were there, we noticed a poster advertising the 2nd Annual Hitchcock Film Fest to be held at the Bodega Harbour Yacht Club in Bodega Bay at the end of March.  The event is produced by the Bodega Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, with proceeds benefitting local schools.


…you’ll see beautiful pottery, handcrafted jewelry, watercolors, baskets…


A must-visit shop in Bodega is the Artisans’ Co-op (17135-A Bodega Hwy.), a quaint gallery that showcases the work of 40 artists from all over Sonoma County.  There you’ll see beautiful pottery, handcrafted jewelry, watercolors, baskets, whimsical sculptures, knitted accessories, and much more.  In the back of the store, they even have a section full of knitting yarns and supplies.  I spotted a display tree  with totally cute knitted gloves hanging all over it, and fell in love with a turquoise pair with a really cool cable-knit pattern.  They’re fingerless gloves that are so now.  You know the kind?  Fingerless so we can use our smart phones even in the freezing cold?  I mean, what bitch wants to miss out on texting and tweeting?  Of course, I had to get them… we love to support local artists and quench our own retail therapy needs while we’re at it!  This type of co-op gallery, with so many awesome things under one roof, makes it the perfect shopanista experience!  Open daily, from 11:00 to 5:00.

We applaud store owner Abby Killey for her dedication to supporting organic cotton farming…

Bodega_021514_Peruvian_Textiles_SignOne store in Bodega that Lou and I really wanted to check out while we were in town was the Organic Cotton Fabric Shop (17175 Bodega Hwy. #4), but it was closed the day of our visit. The store carries 100% certified organic cotton sheets, pillowcases, pillows, baby blankets and yard goods, as well as local wool products and yarn.   In addition, the shop sells woven scarves and bags, table runners and other items, all made from Peruvian textiles.  We applaud store owner Abby Killey for her dedication to supporting organic cotton farming, and for sourcing textiles from traditional weavers from nine villages in Peru, thereby helping ensure their work is sustained for future generations.

 …they’ll be happy to give you the 411 on the best surfing spots to check out.


We spotted another colorful looking surf shop, Northern Light Surf Shop (17191 Bodega Hwy.) and stopped in.  You know, there’s something about going into a surf shop that suddenly makes you feel like you’re on vacation.  This one had a nice selection of t-shirts (duh… of course!), hoodies, shorts, bikinis, sandals, and… oh yeah, surfboards.  I spotted a rack of high-quality, cool looking Northern Light logo sweatpants, but somehow I resisted trying them on. Also, we spotted a great looking fleece-lined hoodie that we both had our eye on. (Hafta say I’m havin’ a little non-buyer’s remorse.)  And they offer all kinds of rentals:  surfboards, body boards, skim boards, wetsuits, and accessories like booties and fins — and they’ll be happy to give you the 411 on the best surfing spots to check out.  Open 7 days a week from 10:00 to 6:00.

It’s a cool experience to meet a complete stranger, and immediately start to feel like you’ve known them for years…


Just down from the surf shop, we noticed a plain, no-frills sign for a store called Dressmaker (17175 Bodega Hwy.).  The storefront wasn’t the least bit flashy, and inside its front window was a sewing machine with a seamstress at work.  We didn’t really know what we might find inside, but we were intrigued, so we went in.  The showroom sells high quality custom made women’s clothes: a large collection of flowing silk blouses, natural fiber dresses, and colorful vests… all constructed to perfection and most with an Asian flair. The store proprietor, the dressmaker herself, had a special, almost other-worldly aura about her. She immediately made us feel welcome, and proceeded to tell us about the ways she’s conserving water at home. (California’s current drought is the hot topic on everyone’s mind right now.)  It’s a cool experience to meet a complete stranger, and immediately start to feel like you’ve known them for years, and that’s exactly how I felt.  We recommend stopping in and checking out her sewing artistry.

…we jumped in the car and headed towards Occidental on the Bohemian Highway.

Occidental hilss

By this time, a fine mist was starting to come down, so we jumped in the car and headed towards Occidental on the Bohemian Highway.  I told Lou that the name made me think of Queen’s song: Bohemian Rhapsody, and we went back and forth trading verses, singing (if you can call it that):  “I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango”….. Galileo, Galileo, Galileo figaro”….”Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me”… Okay, true confession, it was very frightening for us too!  That was it for our impromptu burst of singing, since we couldn’t remember any more of the words.

It’s amazing to think that this rural out-of-the-way location could attract as many customers as it does!


In short order, we hit the next town of Freestone! We’d heard great things about Wild Flour Bread (140 Bohemian Hwy.), so that was our first stop.  The bakery’s specialties are:  brick oven baked organic sourdough breads (lots of flavors), whipping cream scones, sticky buns, and biscotti.  The bakery makes up to 900 (wow!) loaves daily, and their baked goods are only sold there.  It’s amazing to think that this rural out-of-the-way location could attract as many customers as it does.  The day we visited, there was a long line of people waiting to get in… even so, it moved pretty quickly!  In business for 15 years, this place obviously figured out the recipe for success that keeps folks coming back.    We were in the market for their whipping cream scones; Lou went for a glazed Meyer lemon/strawberry flavor, and we each got a blueberry scone.  Gotta say, they’re some of the best scones we’ve ever tasted…. fresh, light and made with super fresh tasting fruit.  Freestone_021514_WildFlour_Garden1We also walked through their adjacent organic garden, where we saw lots of healthy-looking vegetables:  kale, spinach, chard, cabbage, artichokes, and fava beans.  One little tip: they don’t take debit or credit cards, so be sure to bring cash.  Store hours:  8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday through Monday – but be warned, the later you go, the more delectable items will be all sold out.

The spa gets one of our “bitch slap” high-fives for their green business practices…

Freestone’s Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary (209 Bohemian Hwy.) is a Japanese-style spa, perhaps best known for its unique healing treatment called the Cedar Enzyme Bath (it’s the only spa in the U.S. that offers it). The spa has an impressive menu of massage and organic skin care and facial treatments, as well as five special combo packages to choose from.  A cool optional add-on to any treatment, for an additional $20, is a sound-therapy session in what they call their Field of Hammocks.  Osmosis Day Spa FreestoneThe spa’s five acres include a serene award-winning Japanese meditation garden, four years in the making, designed by a renowned British horticulturist, Robert Ketchell. The spa gets one of our “bitch slap” high-fives for their green business practices; they recycle, compost, conserve water and energy, and use environment-friendly products. And it’s no surprise to find out that owner Michael Stusser is a founding member of the Green Spa Network.  One cool thing the spa has done is pair up with several nearby hotels and B&Bs – in Bodega Bay and Occidental — and offer overnight packages for those who’d like to enjoy the spa as well as take time to venture out and explore the surrounding area. Check out their website for detailed info… you can take a virtual tour of the spa to get a feel of the place before booking online.  Organic Spa magazine included it in their “Top 10 Organic Spa Awards” for 2013.  Lou and I have put it on our wish list for a future “pampered bitch” adventure. We’re always up for a relaxing me-time getaway and this looks like the perfect place!

…they are more than happy to offer you a taste, and the olive oils are there for sampling, too.

Freestone_021514_Cheese_Display2Up the road, a quarter mile at the most, we pulled into Freestone Artisan Cheese (380 Bohemian Hwy.), a cute little mustard-colored cottage that showcases a veritable treasure trove of locally made artisan cheeses and olive oils, along with an interesting assortment of gourmet miscellany: cookware, cookbooks, and specialty foods.  With such a bountiful display of artisan cheeses to choose from, they are more than happy to offer you a taste, and the olive oils are there for sampling, too.  Lou, who knows her way around the kitchen way more than I do, fell head-over-heels for this shop, and bought two colorful pieces of ovenware, and…. to add to her mounting collection …. a cookbook called “Vinaigrettes & Other Dressings”. We’re not that prone to gushing in public, but, here goes… we love, love, love this cool place!  Store hours: Thursday, noon to 6:00; Friday through Monday, 10:00 to 6:00.

 …what’s a little frizzy hair when you’re having fun?

Back on the road, we found the drive along the Bohemian Highway to Occidental to be ultra-picturesque… nature decked out in its finest. The mist had turned to light drizzle by the time we got to Occidental.  But, no biggie…. what’s a little frizzy hair when you’re having fun?


A little backstory: the town of Occidental,  founded in 1876, was a focal point for the growing timber industry back in the day, with six sawmills situated in the surrounding area. It was the last stop on the North Pacific Railroad, which connected Cazadero with Sausalito. Fast forward in time to the 1990s, when it was a focal point of the “neo-hippie” movement in Sonoma County.  According to Wikipedia, the town’s former notable residents include musician Mickey Hart, artist/author/musician Alicia Bay Laurel, and singer-songwriter Tom Waits. The town attracts visitors and cyclists from all over the Bay Area and beyond, and has managed over the years to maintain its unique small-town flavor and charm.  Not a Starbucks, IHOP or McDonald’s in sight.

…pottery… shelves and shelves of it, in styles and colors for every taste.


We found a fabulous store right off the bat:  Hand Goods (3627 Main St.), a shop that’s truly got staying power, in business since 1970.  We saw an amazing variety of items on display from local artists.  Lou and I were most impressed with their pottery… shelves and shelves of it, in styles and colors for every taste.  As you know by now, I love to support local artists when I visit a town, and ended up walking away with a gorgeous blue ceramic bowl (at a fantastic price), and a sage smudge stick, which the salesclerk instructed me on how to use.  We both agree that this store was a great find!  Open daily from 10:00 to 6:00.

An inviting apothecary full of high-quality organic herbal products …


In Occidental, our “Most Interesting Shop of the Day” award has to go to West County Herb Company (3641 Main Street), a unique and inviting apothecary full of high-quality organic herbal products and related wares, including candles, teas, soaps and creams. We loved chatting with Lisa Kurtz, the store’s proprietor, who is an awesome subject matter expert (SME for all you corporate geeks!) on everything herbal, having studied at the California School of Herbal Studies in Sonoma County. Lisa made us feel so welcome, offering us a cup of a warm tea that was a custom blend of nettles, spearmint and calendula.  It was so tasty that I asked her to fix me up a sack of the tea leaves to take home.  Lou and I had a fun time perusing the many glass jars of dried herbs that line the walls there.  Lisa also took us next door to her super nice meeting venue where she regularly invites guest speakers to come talk on the topic of herbs, and where she hosts classes, workshops, and performing arts events.  We could totally tell she has a passion for spreading an appreciation of herbs to the community.  Hours: Monday 11:00 to 5:00, and Thursday thru Saturday 11:00 to 5:00.

The store has a warm, cozy vibe to it and is elegantly staged.


We next stopped in at Verdigris (72 Main St.), a small shop that offers an array of hand-crafted lamps, locally sourced wood furniture, as well as antique collectibles.  The store has a warm, cozy vibe to it and is elegantly staged.  We were especially impressed with the unique artistry of the lamps on display. Open Thursday thru Monday.

..we both give it a major thumbs-up….Mama mia… simply delicious Italian food!

Occidental_021514_Negris_Lit2We’d be totally remiss if we didn’t give you the scoop on Negri’s, an iconic Italian family-run restaurant that’s been in business in Occidental since the 1940s.  Interesting piece of its history:  restaurant founder Joe Negri, Sr. (a native of Venice, Italy who immigrated to New York) started his cooking career at the Waldorf Astoria, where he caught the eye of actor Rudolph Valentino back in the day.  Valentino was so impressed with him that he hired him as his personal chef, eventually leading him to San Francisco.  The restaurant serves up classic Italian fare such as: minestrone soup, bruschetta, spaghetti, baked lasagna, ravioli, and chicken cacciatore, as well as steaks, seafood, and pizza… something for everyone on their expansive menu.  (I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.)  We stopped in around 2:00, and the place was totally jumping.  Adjacent to the dining room,  there’s a large, newly spiffed up bar that looks like a popular watering hole for visitors. We didn’t sit down for a meal this trip, but Lou and I had each dined there before, and we both give it a major thumbs-up…. Mama mia… simply delicious Italian food! And with its traditional red and white checkered tablecloths, you kind of feel like you’ve stepped into the old country.  Open Monday/Tuesday 4:00-8:30, Wednesday/Thursday/Sunday 11:00-8:30, and Friday/Saturday 11:00-9:00.

… it looks like they have killer desserts… apple tart tatin, orange crème brulee, and molten chocolate cake…

Occidental Bistro Des Copains 1

Another restaurant that we’ve heard good things about from locals is Bistro des Copains (3782 Bohemian Hwy.).  The cafe is open nightly for dinner, so we didn’t get to eat there this trip, but we did stop by to check out their posted menu, which looked fab, with entrees inspired by the food of Provence.  Owners Michel Augsburger and Cluney Stagg obviously have a passion for French cooking and have created an appealing menu to showcase their culinary talents. Entrees include: braised beef short ribs, pan-roasted duck, and grilled hanger steak (all listed in French on the menu).  And it looks like they have killer desserts, offering sweet temptations like: apple tart tatin, orange crème brulee, and molten chocolate cake, to name a few. Zagat gave it a good review, saying “this jewel in the woods is worth finding.”  No one will have to twist our arms to get us to take another trip to Occidental in the near future, and make a bee-line to this awesome sounding restaurant!  Open nightly from 5:00 to 9:00.

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