Russian River Getaway

Guerneville and others are rich in resorts, redwoods and rainbow flags.


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Spend time relaxing on the banks of the Russian River.

It’s easy to get away from the Bay Area for the day or the weekend; drive an hour or so up Highway 101, and you’re entering the Russian River resort area. The river, named by the Russians who founded Fort Ross in the 18th century, starts in Mendocino and heads pretty much straight south until it hits Healdsburg, where it makes a sharp turn toward the west, offering the verdant growth of the watershed and all the activities that go along with that. When you start to see vineyards, you’re getting close, and when you enter the redwoods, you’re there.

Although it’s a travel-industry cliché to say that a place offers something for every budget and traveler, along the Russian River, it’s true. If you’re feeling flush, stay at the Farmhouse Inn and Spa; elegant rooms will set you back several hundred if not thousand dollars, but the exquisite food and pampering are worth it. If you’re on a budget, bring camping gear; free and very inexpensive activities abound.

Start by choosing your weekend. As any local will tell you: Avoid July 4, when traffic slows to a crawl and everywhere is packed. Pick another time to enjoy wine festivals, gorgeous weather, and a range of cuisines from California-Mediterranean at any Guerneville bistro to burgers and a real mocha milkshake at Carr’s Drive-In in Forestville. Stroll Guerneville’s shops for art, jewelry, clothing, and books, or head west to Duncans Mills for art galleries and antiques. The region even offers a gentle nightlife, featuring live music at several taverns, and live theater if you time it right.

In Forestville’s tiny hardware store or Guerneville’s Rexall Drugs, you can buy whatever you forgot—whether it’s a flashlight, beach towel, or floaties for the kids. Guerneville has one of California’s highest-concentration LGBT populations, and many businesses fly the rainbow flag.

Kids will find plenty to do, too. A family hike at Armstrong Woods can be a simple 1-mile loop or a more rigorous climb through the hills. A round of miniature golf in Guerneville, an afternoon canoe run, then an evening at the Monte Rio movie theater—which is actually an old Quonset hut—will leave you with happy but zonked-out little ones.

Some beaches have lifeguards and canoes; some allow dogs; but beware: People drown in the Russian River every single year. So don’t swim or dive alone. And wear water socks or old shoes to protect yourself if you step on a sharp stick or rock. If you park along River Road or Highway 116, watch for traffic when you cross the road; these are highways and vehicles are going much faster than you’d think.

It’s a pleasure to drive through the Wine Country, with vineyards reflecting the seasons in summer-green or autumn-red; make a day-trip or a week out of your Russian River adventure and get to know your neighbors to the north.

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