Bisected by the river for which it's named and nestled amid groves of towering redwood trees, the Russian River Valley has for years been San Francisco's preeminent gay weekend getaway. It's a 75-minute drive to this peaceful swath of western Sonoma County that's anchored by the hip yet unpretentious river town of Guerneville, along with the nearby villages of Rio Nido and Monte Rio.
Accommodations in this online guide are locked in these three towns. Check out the Sonoma County Gay Hotels Guide for lodging recommendations elsewhere in this expansive county, which extends from the Pacific to Napa County. Keep in mind that the Sonoma towns of Forestville, Sebastopol, Occidental, and Jenner are all very close to the Russian River, so hotels in these communities are additional good bets if you plan to spend a lot of time in Guerneville.
About 10 or 15 years ago, the Russian River contained quite a few exclusively gay, sometimes clothing-optional resorts. Most of these... properties have broadened their market to welcome a mixed gay-straight crowd, and in general, the Russian River region has become more mixed, especially as a number of cool, even urbane, bars and bistros have turned Guerneville into a foodie hotspot. If you haven't visited the area in a while, you may be surprised to find that Guerneville has become quite trendy with San Francisco hipsters, although favorite long-running gay bars like Rainbow Cattle Company still thrive. And there are still tons of gay full-time and weekend residents and local business owners.
The accommodations landscape is pleasingly varied, with a mix of friendly gay-owned B&Bs and small resorts, plus both rustic and luxury cottage compounds and inns. Distinctive, independently operated properties are the norm - the Russian River Valley is almost entirely without chains.
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Not sure about whether the Applewood Inn, Restaurant, and Spa (13555 Hwy. 116, Guerneville, 707-869-9093), one of the most luxurious roosts in the Russian River, is a good fit for you? Check out this boutique resort's "Matchmaker" tool - just answer 10 yes-or-no question, and see how the inn's offerings align with your needs and interests. Personally, I could be happy for days on end at this 19-room inn surrounded by 6 acres towering shade trees and lush gardens. It's just a half-mile from downtown Guerneville on one of the main routes in the region, but this complex of ivy-covered, red tile-roofed Mission Revival-style buildings set around a charming courtyard is set well back from the road. Rooms are downright cushy, many with private balconies and terraces overlooking soaring redwoods; the swankiest suites have large hot tubs and gas fireplaces. There's an intimate, gorgeous full-service Spa Paradiso offering a variety of treatments; in-room massage can also... be arranged in several of the suites. Another big reason to stay here is the outstanding, and romantic, Applewood Restaurant, which is set in a handsome barn-like building with a pitched ceiling and large windows. Beautifully plated farm-to-fork cuisine with a Mediterranean bent is served, and there's a stellar wine list. The five-course tasting menu provides an especially enjoyable way to sample the exceptional cooking. Rates here are among the highest in the Guerneville area, but the charms are many, and included in the rates is one of the most fabulous full breakfasts (you dine at your own private table in the restaurant) in the region. The Applewood is particularly ideal for a special-occasion getaway, or even planning a destination gay wedding.
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Just under a mile from Guerneville's main drag up the peaceful country road that leads to Armstrong Redwoods Park, the hip and inviting Boon Hotel & Spa (14711 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville, 707-869-2721) opened in 2008. Part of a recent wave of more urbane and sophisticated, yet still entirely fun and playful, businesses that have opened in the area in recent years, the hotel is operated by chef and restaurateur Crista Luedtke, who also owns the similarly cool Boon Eat + Drink restaurant, El Barrio cocktail bar, and gorgeously stocked Big Bottom Market, all of which are located downtown along River Road. This terrific little hideaway has 14 rooms and suites decorated in a decidedly minimalist chic, with fine organic linens by Coyuchi, Malin + Goetz bath soaps and lotions, minibars stocked with thoughtfully curated treats, small refrigerators, iHome radios, and Scandinavian-inspired low-slung platform beds. Pets are welcome, and rooms lead to a terrace and saline... pool and hot tub as well as to a great little spa offering deep-tissue and Swedish massage, brightness facials, and other alluring treatments. In the morning, breakfast is brought right to your door on a tray. Boon Hotel strikes the perfect balance between low-keyed relaxation while offering plenty to keep busy, and the wonderfully friendly and helpful staff is happy to suggest fun activities in the area, from the best wineries nearby to canoeing and hiking.
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Nestled under tower pine trees a short walk up the hill from downtown and Coffee Bazaar cafe, the peaceful and picturesque Highlands Resort (14000 Woodland Dr., Guerneville, 707-869-0333) has been a favorite hideaway among LGBT visitors for more than 30 years. Helpful innkeeper Lynette McLean describes this 1930s compound of 16 cabins and cottages as "straight-friendly," - indeed, all are welcome, but this is definitely a longtime favorite with lesbian and gay guests. Amenities include a clothing-optional pool and sunning area; a guest lounge with TV/DVD, a grand piano, and games; a barbecue and picnic area; and free Wi-Fi. At this adult-oriented property, relaxation is key - only two of the larger, deluxe accommodations (the Pool Suite and Garden Suite) have TVs; you can bring along your four-legged friends, however, as a few cabins do allow pets. Set on 3 acres of leafy, wooded grounds, the resort is offers a nice mix of lodging options, from fairly compact and economical... cabins (in summer, there are also some tent-camping sites available) to rather plush but still warmly rustic suites with deep two-person soaking tubs and gas fireplaces. One interesting, on-the-cheap option is the shared-cabin room - you get your own room in a two-bedroom cabin, sharing a bath, deck, and sitting area with another guest you haven't met. Sounds like a fun way to meet new friends. Continental breakfast is included. And in summer, non-overnight guests can come and enjoy the pool during the day for $10 to $15, depending on the day.
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One of the stalwarts of the Russian River gay scene over the years, the former Russian River Resort, now known simply as the R3 Hotel (16390 4th St., 707-869-8399), is one of the few true gay resorts in Northern California. It's an adults-only property (although it's not clothing-optional here, guests still must be over 21 to be on property, unless they're simply dining in the restaurant), and the crowd is predominantly gay men, making this a very good option for guests looking to socialize and be in a lively, fun-loving environment. A big draw in staying at this 22-room resort is that it's home to scene-y pool and sunning decks, with bar and barbecue (this area is open late spring through early fall), a lively main bar, a piano bar, a game room, and the dishy and colorful Betty Spaghetti Restaurant, which has a popular weekday happy hour, a bottomless-champagne Sunday brunch, and all sorts of festive entertainment - gay comedy shows, drag shows, and more. The simple... and attractive rooms, some opening to lovely little terraces and others with cozy wood stoves, are reasonably priced, and the property is just a couple of blocks in from the main commercial drag in Guerneville. For social butterflies, especially during the summer months, this is very much the place to be.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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The gay-owned, nine-room Sonoma Orchid Inn (12850 River Rd., Guerneville, 707-869-4466) is a 10-minute drive east of downtown Guerneville, close to the handsome grounds and historic tasting room of Korbel Winery and closer to the famed Westside Road wineries and Healdburg than most other Russian River properties. Operated by friendly and professional innkeepers Brian Siewert and Dana Murphy, the property comprises a sunny yellow early-20th-century farmhouse (with six of the guest rooms) on 2 tree-shaded acres set back from the main road as well as an adjacent cottage with three rooms. Although all units have private bathrooms, they range greatly in size and price, making Sonoma Orchid a good choice for both economy-minded guests (the least expensive room is just $99) to those seeking genuine pampering (in which case you might want to book one of the larger rooms, with private exterior entrances, in the cottage). There's a hot tub, guest kitchen with tea/coffee service around the... clock, afternoon snacks, an impressive full breakfast served each morning, and plenty of other thoughtful touches; most rooms have satellite TV, and some have DVD players.