With sea cliffs to the west and the heart of wine country to the east, the former California lumber town turned summer vacation destination of Guerneville provides an abundance of tourist opportunities. Follow the river and a rugged tree line to the Main Street lined with mom and pop stores, like the Guerneville 5 & 10, artist studios and lively gay bars. Cool off sipping champagne in a nearby champagne cellar, swimming in the Russian River, or strolling through the Redwoods. Culinary options vary from the more traditional pub eats at Stumptown, to locally grown and organic bistro fare at Boon Eat + Drink to Asian fusion at the new diner-turned-Korean-pop-up called Hi-Five. Guerneville’s endearing eccentricity and openly gay and hate-free atmosphere welcome visitors both gay and straight.
Russian River As the 110-mile river nears its end at the Pacific Ocean, opportunities are created for swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, or inner tubing. Launch your vessel of choice from one of the many rental agencies on River Road, which offer pick-up at the end of your route. Set off to see wildlife, drift lazily downstream or sunbathe on a secluded beach. After you leave the canoe behind, a drive along the river will reveal beach access away from the crowds, or head to Johnson’s Beach to see and be seen.
Johnson’s Beach (16241 First St.) Just a short walk from Guerneville’s downtown is one of the most populated beaches on the Russian River. A stand serves burgers, ice cream and cold beer and rents umbrellas and beach chairs, advisable on the pebble beach. Kayaks rent quickly, but canoes and paddle boats are easier to secure. Johnson’s Beach also offers a resort with camping and cabin-type rooms built in the 1920s.
Korbel Champagne Cellars (13250 River Rd.) In the 1880s, after experimenting with several grape varieties, the Korbels invited a European winemaker to the vineyard who started using the French method of producing champagne, called méthode champenoise. This is a yearlong process where the champagne is fermented inside the same bottle from which it is served. Less than two decades later Korbel was an internationally known label and continues to be popular today. Tours of the gardens and winery operate daily and the wine shop offers complimentary tasting.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Rd.) A few miles from Guerneville lies the entrance to nearly 2 square miles of redwoods, known as Armstrong Woods. A short hike from the entrance features the oldest tree in the park, Colonel Armstrong, at 1,400 years old. Drive in to the park for $8 per vehicle or hike in from the parking lot for free. Camping is not allowed within the park but campsites are available at adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area, accessible through Armstrong Woods.
Stumptown Brewery (15045 River Rd.) Find a spot to park among the motorcycles and grab a picnic table on the deck overlooking the river. Perfect for an after-river beverage, the bar hosts several of its own brews, such as Rat Bastard Pale Ale and Bootlegger IPA, and a selection of local beer.
Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.