48 Hours in Guerneville, California
Rustic and elegant, sophisticated and quirky, world renowned and so-tacky-it's-fun - all that and more describes the laid-back town of Guerneville in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley.
Still Gay-friendly and surrounded by acclaimed wineries, in recent years the town has gone through yet another rebirth, and is currently evolving into a foodie dining destination and flourishing resort area.
Founded in the 1850s, over the decades Guerneville has been a logging town, a late-19th-Century vacation destination for wealthy San Francisco families, a popular resort and concert venue from the 1930s through the 1960s, and a Gay-friendly recreational destination and the center of a burgeoning wine region from the 1970s on.
If you're able to spend time in this truly unique place, be prepared to eat well, drink well, and in general just have a good time relaxing in a small, funky, river town. Here's a suggested two-day itinerary for enjoying all that Guerneville has to offer, a little more than an hour's drive north of San Francisco.
From US 101 (the multi-lane freeway corridor running north-south through Sonoma County), take the River Road exit at the north end of the city of Santa Rosa. Follow River Road as it winds its way west along the river, all the way to Guerneville. It's easy-peasy.
Explore ‘Downtown’ Guerneville
Stretch your legs by checking out the wonderful — and wonderfully eclectic and old-fashioned — shops, galleries, and eateries that line Guerneville’s retro Main Street.
At the Guerneville 5 & 10, you’ll find candy brands and toys from your childhood, collectibles, camp supplies, greeting cards, and novelty items. The nonprofit, volunteer-run Forest to the Sea Nature Store features pottery, nature jewelry, outdoor accessories, and educational books, toys, and games; proceeds help promote, restore, and protect local state parks.
As you stroll, you’ll also find art galleries, clothing stores, antique shops, and more — so the best way to discover all that downtown Guerneville has to offer is to walk around and look.
When you’re ready to eat, head about a mile east on River Road to The Farmhand, a gourmet deli and market with a deck offering great river views. Their changing menu features delicious sandwiches like an apple-and-brie panini or a to-die-for Reuben, and house-made gourmet salads like kale and cucumber or Asian squash salad with Shitake mushrooms and scrambled tofu.
Or, if you’re ready to get a head start on an afternoon of wine tasting, head out to the Korbel Delicatessen & Market, one of the best kept secrets along the Russian River. Part of Korbel California Champagne Cellars on River Road, the deli offers gourmet sandwiches, handcrafted salads, and a large assortment of prepared, special items in the deli case. Eat on the gorgeous outdoor deck under majestic redwood trees.
If you ate lunch at this beautiful bubbly winery, then you’re in the perfect position to go wine tasting at Korbel California Champagne Cellars, the oldest continually operating champagne house in North America. Enjoy complimentary tastings of up to four of Korbel’s finest champagne and wine products. Free winery tours are offered year-round, and free tours of the winery’s amazing flowers gardens are available mid-April to mid-October.
On the River
If you’d rather spend the afternoon relaxing next to the river, head to Johnson’s Beach, which for the past century has been a favorite summer spot for Sonoma County locals and visitors alike. It offers a spacious stretch of pebble beach surrounded by majestic redwoods.
There’s a roped-off area for kids to swim, deeper water for more adventurous swimmers, a snack bar, and beer or wine at the Boathouse. You can rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or inner tube, as well as chairs, beach umbrellas, and other gear.
Settling in for the Night
Stay in one of 14 old miners’ cabins remodeled with understated design and affordable luxury at Boon Hotel + Spa, which also offers a vintage “lovebug” camper and three glamping tents. Enjoy snacks poolside at the saline pool and hot tub, or a massage in the onsite spa.
Settle into peaceful luxury at Applewood Inn & Spa, a secluded, romantic refuge for couples that’s sheltered under towering redwoods and surrounded by fruit orchards and gardens.
Spend the night in one of the adorable little cottages tucked under redwood trees at Fern Grove Cottages, or stay in the fully restored, eco-friendly, and exquisitely furnished 1906 farmhouse (with all the modern conveniences) at Sonoma Orchid Inn.
And that’s just a short list of the possibilities. For more ideas, read 10 Getaway Resorts and Lodges in the Russian River Area and check our listings of Guerneville Hotels & Lodging.
Time to Dine
And of course, there are also many, many options when you’re ready for dinner.
Boon Eat + Drink features seasonal menus using local ingredients, as crafted by chef and owner Christa Luedtke (she also help found the Big Bottom Market next door and owns Boon Hotel + Spa). The restaurant is sleek and urban-chic, with just 24 seats and a mural of dogs catching Frisbees, in honor of “Boon,” Luedtke’s rescue pup.
If you’d prefer Italian comfort food, try the fresh, farm-to-table pasta, salads, pizza, and more at Betty Spaghetti. At this casual, family-friendly eatery, most of the items are made in house, like the marinara sauce and the spicy sausages.
And a longtime local favorite, the Main Street Bistro & Piano Bar features classics like thick crust pizza, pot roast, lasagna, and meatball hoagies.
On The Town
If you ate dinner at Main Street Bistro, definitely stick around for the live acoustic music, with jazz, blues, folk, swing, or oldies presented almost every night, and open mic sessions twice a month. Or if you’re there on a weekend, enjoy their Cabaret Dinner Shows.
For great cocktails in a welcoming space, El Barrio (yet another creation by chef/entrepreneur Crista Luedtke) showcases artisanal handcrafted spirits like mescal, tequila, and bourbon. This modern Mexican cocktail lounge also offers regional Mexican cuisine on its short bar bites menu, like Chicken Tinga Tostadas and Chili-Braised Pork Tacos.
Opened in 1979, the Rainbow Cattle Company quickly earned a reputation as a party destination, providing carefree good times in a rustic setting. It serves a robust crowd of locals year-round, plus LGBT tourists from spring to fall.
Mc T’s Bullpen Sports Bar offers live music, DJs, dancing, game nights, karaoke, and pool tournaments; it bills itself as a “great local dive bar in Guerneville!”
Stumptown Brewery makes small batches of different beers on a rotating basis, and has several other regional beers on tap. Spirits are also available, as well as Pabst Blue Ribbon for domestic lager drinkers. Plus, there’s a classic pub menu, with items like garlic fries, burgers, brisket, and pulled pork sandwiches. (Note: This place is cash only, but there’s an ATM inside.)
For a quick morning bite, start your day at the Coffee Bazaar, a quirky little joint connected to a bookstore; this place has been serving coffee, homemade baked goods, and breakfast sandwiches for more than 30 years.
For a heartier morning meal, from the downtown area head west on Highway 116 slightly less than a mile to the Garden Grill. Choose from chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy, omelets, pancakes, and other old-fashioned diner food for breakfast (or barbecue and other items for lunch). The dining room is small, but there’s a gorgeous welcoming patio out back.
To the Trees
At the eastern end of downtown Guerneville, head north on Armstrong Woods Road until it ends in the quiet serenity and awesome beauty of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. As you stroll under this forest’s magnificent, soaring canopy, be sure to stop, tip your head back, and look up, up, up at the coast redwood trees, the world’s tallest living things. The self-guided Armstrong Nature Trail offers interpretive displays to help you learn all about redwoods, and the Discovery Trail offers an unusual feature you’ll want to try — a tree-hugging platform.
If you want more of a workout, take a trail leading into adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area, with 20 miles of trails on 5,700 acres of open woodlands, rolling hills, and meadows.
Or, glide your way through Armstrong Redwoods on a guided tour from Segway of Healdsburg, complete with a snack break or an optional catered lunch under the majestic redwoods.
And for a completely different perspective on redwood trees, it’s about a 10-mile drive south to Sonoma Canopy Tours in the nearby town of Occidental. Discover panoramic views while soaring above a redwood forest on a unique course of seven zip lines, two sky bridges, a magnificent spiral staircase, and a rappel back to the forest floor.
Discover "Rustic Cabin Cuisine" at Timberline Restaurant. This unique style of traditional comfort food with a contemporary Sonoma County flair features local flavors and locally-sourced ingredients, all hand prepared, for lunch or dinner. The dining room on the second floor includes seating by large panoramic windows with a view of downtown Guerneville.
Or, head about three miles west from Guerneville on Highway 116 to the neighboring town of Monte Rio, where the Northwood Restaurant and Bar also features a variety of comfort food at its best, in a redwood dining room or a spacious outdoor patio and bar. The restaurant is part of the Northwood Golf Club, with an enticing par 36 nine-hole course that’s flanked by redwood trees, making it one of the most scenic and challenging golf courses open to the public.
Also in Monte Rio, eat at the Rio Café & Grill, located on the deck of a historic World War II Quonset hut that’s covered with colorful giant murals of the region. Soak in the sun, river, and redwoods while you eat outdoors. Lunch includes a selection of salads, burgers, sausages, hot dogs, sandwiches, and both vegetarian and kid-sized options.
Perhaps you prefer something a bit more relaxing this afternoon — like a pampering massage, facial, or other treatments at A Touch of Heaven / Massage in the Redwoods, the spa at Applewood Inn, the spa at Boon Hotel + Spa, Cottages on River Road, or West Sonoma Inn & Spa.
Or, work out the kinks with a session at Riverbed Yoga. Located just off Guerneville’s Main Street, it offers drop-in rates for a variety of yoga styles and levels, as well as private sessions and intuitive readings.
On the River
If a more active afternoon on the river beckons, there are — as you might expect — plenty of options.
King’s Sport & Tackle on Main Street rents kayaks, standup paddleboards, and fishing rods. In addition to clothing, swimwear, footwear, inflatables, bike accessories, and camping gear, it stocks just about any type of fishing supplies you might need, from bait to fly rods and lines. It provides a free fishing map and current info, and offers guided fishing trips.
SUP Odyssey (about four miles east of Guerneville on River Road) provides standup paddleboard lessons, rentals, and self-guided 4.2-mile downriver trips (dogs welcome) with a shuttle ride back to your vehicle.
Russian River Adventures in the town of Healdsburg (about 18 miles east of Guerneville) offers easy self-guided rafting trips in inflatable canoes (full day trips are dog-friendly) on a secluded section of the Russian River, with a return shuttle ride from the take-out spot back to your car.
On Two Wheels
Cycling is a great way to slow down and really explore Guerneville and surrounding areas. Places like Autocamp Russian River and Boon Hotel + Spa provide a fleet of loaner bikes for their guests, making it easy to peddle around town.
You can hop on the West County Regional Trail in the nearby town of Forestville. This flat and paved 5.57-mile walking/biking trail runs from Forestville to Sebastopol, where it connects to the 8.47-mile Joe Rodota Trail to Santa Rosa.
For more options, read Guide to Cycling in Sonoma County.
More to Explore
Guerneville is a great jumping-off point for discovering Sonoma County. About eight miles west of Guerneville on Highway 116, tiny Duncans Mills offers Old West charm and a unique mix of antique and specialty shops, restaurants, and galleries. For details, read Three Things to Do in Duncans Mills.
Four miles farther west from Duncans Mills lies the Pacific Ocean and the spectacularly scenic Sonoma County coastline. For ideas about what to see and do, read Best Beaches on the Sonoma Coast, Discover Sonoma Coast State Park, and Where to Stay on the Pacific Coast with Stunning Ocean Views.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Henley.