Distance: 17-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 1730 ft
Occidental is an amazing cycling resource. Six roads head out of this little town, and each one of them is some degree of wonderful for riders. All 6 figure in a Bestrides route in one way or another. This route focuses on the roads to the east of town.
The roads between the towns of Occidental and Sebastopol all run through grand redwood forests and have charming, undulating contours. So you could just go wandering and ride any of them. But there’s a downside: the road surfaces are often terrible (Sonoma county cyclists take an odd pride in this), the roads are dangerously narrow, usually there is no shoulder (not a small shoulder—none), and the main arteries are heavily enough trafficked so as to be a pain if not an actual danger.
So what we want are routes on untrafficked back roads with good road surfaces. I’ve found two: this one and our Bohemian Highway loop (well, half of that one). This loop is entirely glass, and it spends most of its time on roads that see next to no cars—of the 6 roads it covers, only one may be uncomfortably busy. And every inch is beautiful to the eye and charming to ride. You’re about 2/3 in the woods and 1/3 riding by small farms and meadows, the farms are all cute, and there’s a general absence of vineyards, for which I am grateful. It racks up over 100 ft of gain per mile, yet there are no extended climbs, so you know it’s constantly rolling up and down—check that sawtooth elevation profile.
Begin in the town of Occidental, where our Coleman Valley Rd. ride and our Bohemian Highway ride start. It’s a famously charming little town, not yet totally touristified (for instance it still has a hardware store), with a couple of old, funky Italian hotel restaurants that are remarkably good and some other eateries with good reputations. Howard’s Station is a nice, simple restaurant with a short, unpretentious, and tasty menu. You immediately feel welcomed by the town because one side of the main street is a big free parking area without time limits. It’s a weekend destination for Santa Rosa-area residents looking for a small outing in good weather, so if you can ride on a weekday so much the better.
Ride out of town on Graton Rd. You are immediately in the midst of the Occidental riding experience: looming, cathedral-like redwoods, narrow lanes, no shoulder, some cars. This is the connector between Graton and Occidental, so it sees some traffic. I intentionally started later in the morning, to miss the morning work rush, and got passed by perhaps 6 cars.
Go R onto Green Hill Rd., largely car-free, then R onto Occidental Rd. Occidental is our only real risk of serious traffic, but if you’re after the morning rush and heading west (as you are) it shouldn’t be bad. Go R onto Jonive (“ho NEEV”) and prepare to experience serious cycling joy.
Jonive is one of my favorite roads anywhere. It (and Barnet Valley Rd., which follows) are all up and down, but never tiresomely so—just roller-coaster whoop-de-doos that will have you shouting. It’s all so pretty and perfect I find myself wondering what it’s like to live in that kind of idyllic beauty, but I’m not about to find out since apparently the average house on Jonive goes for around $3-4 mil.
Jonive dead-ends at the Bodega Highway, the busiest road in the area. Go L on it for about 30 ft. and go R onto Barnett Valley Rd., which is exactly like Jonive only slightly less joyful. Ride to the intersection of BVR and Burnside Rd. and turn around. You could continue on, on either BVR or Burnside, but the good road surface ends at the intersection.
When you get back to the meeting of Barnett Valley Rd. and Bodega Highway, you have a choice. You can re-ride Jonive, as I’ve mapped it, and it’s wonderful both ways, but if you have an aversion to out-and-backs you can go L onto Bodega for a busy but brief downhill run to Bohemian Highway and take BH back to Occidental. BH is more open, busier, and blander of contour than our route, but it too is very pretty and it has the advantage of passing the locally-famous Wild Flour Bread bakery, where you can stand in line with the other cyclists to buy one of their scones. I find the scones OK but not spectacular, but it’s part of the local scene, like eating at the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley.
Assuming you stick to our mapped route, ride Jonive back to Occidental Rd. and take Occidental Rd. back to Occidental. Again, you may run into a bit of traffic, but it should be midday now and you’re going the less-busy direction. Of course it’s beautiful.
Shortening the ride: You could ride just the loop, and it’s all very pretty, but it’s also the most trafficked part of the ride. I’d go the other way: ride Jonive Rd.>Barnett Valley Rd. as an out-and-back.
Adding miles: Occidental is the starting point for our Coleman Valley Rd. ride, whose road surface was atrocious the last time I did it, and our Bohemian Highway loop, which can get trafficky. Bohemian Highway takes you to Monte Rio on the Russian River, which is near our Sweetwater Springs Rd. ride and our Kings Ridge Rd. ride. Heading south, if you can endure one more short stretch of the Bodega Highway you’ll get to Valley Ford Freestone Rd., which takes you to all the riding around Tamales Bay and our Chileno Valley loop.
If you’re set up for rough road surfaces, you can happily explore the warren of little roads to the east of Jonive and Barnett Valley Rds.