Northern California's Best-Kept Secret
an Francisco is an incredible place to live. But one of our favorite things about the city, really, is how easy it is to escape the seven million folks who call the Bay Area home. Drive 20 minutes north, east, or south and you’ll find it impossible to avoid rolling hills, redwood forests, and bountiful vineyards. Got a few hours of driving time to spare? Well, that’s when things really get good.
For Huckberry’s annual summer camping trip, we teamed up with Hipcamp to test out their Land Share program, where private landowners can rent out their yurts, treehouses, and campsites to avid weekend warriors like ourselves. (Look into it. You won’t be sorry.)
So we headed three hours up Highway 1 to Oz Farm for a long weekend of swimming holes, late-night bonfires, and geodesic domes — the stuff of classic California, come to life.
If you think of San Francisco as the body of the infamous counterculture movement from the 1960s and 70s, then Mendocino County was (and maybe still is) its beating heart. And 130 miles north of the city, past Sea Ranch but south of Fort Bragg, you’ll come to the tiny town of Point Arena — a sleepy hamlet where the population hovers around 500 and the vast majority of shops and restaurants close around 10 pm. Head 15 minutes outside of town and you'll find Oz — today, a working organic farm and perfect spot for everything from work retreats to yoga classes to weddings. But yesterday? Old-school hippy commune.
Previously known as Village Oz, the farm began as an “ecotopian” cultural experiment in the early 1970s, founded and run by computer and science wizard Lawrence “Redwood” Kroll — yep, the “wizard of Oz,” who would later go on to become an esteemed science professor at San Francisco State University.
We’re a bit muddy on the exact details of what went on there (though this somewhat-NSFW graphic novel written by Kroll’s son might enlighten, if you’re interested and not at work), but judging by all the geodesic domes and meditation meadows, we can only assume it was all the typical stuff that comes to mind — free love. Ganja. Djembe circles. Organic vegetables. You know — Woodstock stuff. (Ask your parents. They were there.)
Over the years, the ownership of Oz trickled down through various hands until this past spring, when the farm’s 240 acres of redwood-filled property was bought by a cooperative of owners led by Dean Fernandez, our host for the weekend.
These days, not much has physically changed about Oz — it’s sprinkled through with many of the original geodesic domes, yurts, and cabins; the Garcia River, though lower than usual due to the drought, cuts through a mile of the property, dotting it with hangover-curing cold swimming holes; walking trails line the property, which is still planted with more than 50 varieties of heirloom apples and rows and rows of vegetables that the farm crew sells at nearby farmer’s markets every week (it's been certified organic since 1990). The farm has a pre-tech era vibe to it, the kind of place where dogs and kids can roam around and get dirty and no one cares.
Oz is the epitome of “off the grid” — no cell service, no Wi-Fi, no uploading every moment to Instagram. There are more outhouses than there are bathrooms, and what electricity exists is powered entirely by onsite wind and solar energy. In many ways, the original ethos of Oz — the idea of community, of food and energy that are good for you and good for the earth, of buying local, of living in the moment — are still alive here, watered down and distilled as the individual trends that make California, and Oz, such an amazing place to live.
Make no mistake — running a farm is hard work, and Fernandez and the rest of his 12-person team have big plans (think small music festivals, workshops and speaker series, and a timeline for rebuilding the burned-down barn) that will make the work even harder. But it’s worth it.
“We’re living our dream,” they tell us. “Every day, we wake up and we’re living our dream.” [H]
It might be a tiny town, but if you're bored in Point Arena, you're doing it wrong. Here are a few Huckberry-tested and -approved things to check out when you’re off the grid.
Point Arena Lighthouse
Standing 115 feet tall, this lighthouse is the tallest along the Pacific Coast and is situated on the piece of the continential United States that's closest to the Hawaiian Islands. This is the only Pacific west coast lighthouse of “significant height” that lets you walk to the top, so spring for the entrance fee and start climbing.
Stornetta Public Lands
Right next door to the lighthouse are the Stornetta BLM lands — 1,665 acres of open space crisscrossed with miles of coastal trails.
Bowling Ball Beach
Also known as Schooner Gulch Beach, this is stretch of classic Mendocino coastline. What makes it special? The group of large, bowling ball-esque boulders peppering the shore. (Pro tip? Go at low tide, when they’re not covered by water. We learned this the hard way.) Pack some extra layers and you've found the perfect spot to catch the sunset.
Franny’s Cup and Saucer
Also known as the cutest, tiniest bakery we ever did see. Bring cash or your checkbook (we told you this was off the grid) and pick up a box of sweet and savory pastries in the morning. Oh, and don’t forget about Donut Fridays — there’s a new flavor every week.
Point Arena Pier
Go on, cast a line — the fishing off this 330-foot pier is good (and scenic) year-round for lingcod, rockfish, and, if you’re lucky, salmon. The view is beautiful, there’s no fishing license required, and you’re bound to strike up a conversation with some locals; what’s not to like? When you’re done fishing, grab a bite to eat at the waterside Pier Chowder House & Tap Room.
Weren’t you just thinking you’d like to stay there?