Getaway to the Russian River

How to Spend a Day or a Weekend at the Russian River

Canoeing on the Russian River
Courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

The Russian River runs southward from northern California, turning west through Sonoma County toward the sea. The small towns on and near the river are some of the cutest in this part of California - and each has a distinct personality. Guerneville, the largest of the bunch, has a three-block-long main street, a historic bridge and offers the widest variety of places to stay.

You can plan your day trip or weekend getaway using the resources below.

Why Should You Go? Will You Like the Russian River?

  • The area is popular with wine and food lovers - and in contrast to wine-obsessed Napa, there are almost as many farm stands as tasting rooms along the wine region's back roads.
  • Nature lovers enjoy the outdoors along the Russian River, especially the redwood forest - and the Pacific Ocean isn't far away.
  • Bicyclists flock to the area for pleasant, mostly flat rides - but most of the roads have little or no shoulder and mixing with automobile traffic can be tough.
  • About.com's gay travel writer says: "Apart from Palm Springs, there's really no vacation community on the West Coast with a stronger gay and lesbian following than the Russian River."

    Best Time to Go to the Russian River

    Summer has its appeal when it's hot enough to get out and enjoy a day of water play, but the weather is best in spring and fall - and it's less crowded then, too.

    Don't Miss

    If you've only got a day, you can't go wrong with a walk in Armstrong Redwoods State Park (just north of Guerneville). It's less crowded than Muir Woods but just as beautiful, located in a similar forest of 300-foot-tall coastal redwoods. You'll find hiking trails for visitors of all abilities. You can also take a guided horseback trail ride if you like.

    5 More Great Things to Do at the Russian River

    Go for a Rambling Drive: Our favorite route follows CA Hwy 116 through the redwood forest, along the Russian River toward the ocean, then north along CA Hwy 1 through Bodega Bay and back inland. Lots of small side roads offer infinite variation, but try to take in Graton, where the main street looks like it came out of a movie set, home to a nice art gallery, antique shops and two terrific restaurants, Underwood's and the Willow Wood Market. Even smaller Freestone boasts one of the best bread bakeries anywhere, and Osmosis Spa - and is a popular destination despite its size.

    Take care to share the road respectfully with bicyclists, some of whom (it's sad to say) may not reciprocate.

    Water Play on the Russian River: Kayaking, canoeing, and swimming are popular in summer. Bring your canoe or kayak, rent one or take a guided tour from Burke's Canoe Trips or King's Sport.

    Go Wine Tasting: For the most part, Russian River wineries are less pretentious than their counterparts further inland. The wine appellation covers a lot of territories, and it's easy just to keep rambling up toward Healdsburg if you connect with Westside Road on the north side of the river, but instead of wearing yourself out, get away to Healdsburg on another trip. Pick up a map of the Russian River Wine Road at local businesses or on their website. We especially like sparkling wine maker Korbel for their great tour, historic property, and beautiful gardens.

    Bicycling: You can use Sonoma County Bike Trails to plan your route, or stop in a local bike shop for advice.

    Charles Schulz Museum: It's in Santa Rosa, on the way and an easy stop coming or going. A visit with good Ol' Charlie Brown and his creator is a must for fans of the Peanuts comic strip but better-suited to reading adults than small children.

    Annual Events You Should Know About

    Best Bites

    New places to eat are springing up, gradually improving the general level of cuisine in the area. Some of our favorites include the Applewood Inn near Guerneville, Underwood's and Willow Wood Market in Graton. Boon in downtown Guerneville offers some yummy food at very reasonable prices and serves a tasty Sunday brunch.

    Where to Stay

    Guerneville is the most central place to stay if you want to enjoy the Russian River area. We stayed at the West Sonoma Inn & Spa - read reviews and compare prices for it at Tripadvisor.

    Where Is the Russian River?

    The Russian River runs west through Sonoma County to the Pacific Ocean. The part of it covered on this page is centered around the town of Guerneville.