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Guerneville: Sonoma's Gay Hub

Rainbow Cattle Company in Guerneville

Downtown Guerneville

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My first-ever visit to Guerneville was with a friend old enough to remember the town in what some might call it's "gay heyday" during the ’70s — a time when San Francisco was the gay Mecca and Guerneville was the gay escape from gay Mecca.

Though it was quiet on the evening of that first visit, my friend's wickedly funny recollections brought the town known as "Sonoma County's gay playground"  to life in vivid detail and put things into historical context for me. It was almost as if he had conjured up the mayhem of decades past with his tales of all the random and wild goings on that once took place in what now seemed to be a relatively sleepy corner of Sonoma County.

Those stories helped me understand Guerneville's long and storied history as one of the premiere gay getaways in the country. Not only is Guerneville blessedly close to San Francisco, there are those redwoods and sea of clothing optional resorts — The Highlands Resort, The Woods, and R3 — all just screaming for mischief-making. Hence explaining the slew of regular events ranging from Sonoma County Pride to Lazy Bear Weekend that return to Guerneville every year.

And then there are the bars. Still, after all these decades, Guerneville is the only nook in Sonoma to have a dedicated gay nightlife scene. In addition to the bars at resorts like Dawn Ranch and R3, there a few old faithfuls like McT's Bull Pen and Rainbow Cattle Company in town that draw a crowd particularly on weekends, holidays and during big events, which is more than can be found anywhere else in Sonoma .

That said, there can be no denying that Guerneville is changing. New eateries and wine shops are popping up alongside stalwarts like Pat's Restaurant and the 5 and 10 and they're bringing with them a new clientele that is something of a mixed bag.

Today's visitors to Guerneville are gay and they're straight, they're foodies and hippies, they're black and they're white and they're everything in between. And just as you might expect, the folks in Guerneville appear to be embracing the change with open arms just as they did all that "mayhem in the bushes" all of those decades ago.

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