Guide to the Russian River Valley: Redwoods
This portion of our guide to the Russian River Valley follows the Russian River as it ventures into redwood country. On this leg of the trip, you'll pass through charming towns like Windsor, Forestville, Guerneville and Monte Rio, with plenty of options for wine tasting, golfing, swimming and hiking along the way.
Walk among ancient redwoods, paddle down the river in a kayak or canoe, and experience the spectacular majesty of a Sonoma County getaway.
Exploring the River's Twists and Turns
Our first stop along Eastside Road is the 300-acre Riverfront Regional Park, which stretches a mile along the river and can't be beat for classic Wine Country scenery: two beautiful lakes, a 15-acre grove of towering redwoods, and two former mining quarries turned crystal-clear fishing and kayaking lakes. And if your travel companions are in need of a snack stop, the redwood forest at the park entrance is home to a lovely group picnic area.
From here, you're just a few minutes west of downtown Windsor (pop. 26,801), a charismatic mini-metropolis designed with family- and pedestrian-friendly vibes in mind. The central hub of life in Windsor is The Town Green: a year-round gathering space for community events including summer movie nights, concerts, a seasonal farmers market, and the town's Pride festival.
Even when there's not an event going on, The Green is still the place to be if you're looking for things to do in Windsor. Its vast lawn is an excellent spot to stretch your legs after a day in the car, and a hodge-podge of cute local shops and restaurants invites you to stroll the surrounding streets along this town-square-style space.
The Westside and Eastside river roads connect through Wohler Road and the historic Wohler Bridge; a small regional park at the foot of the bridge provides a launch area for small craft (a short portage is required) and fishing access.
From the bridge, head southwest on Wohler Road, and take a right onto River Road. At the intersection with Mirabel Road you'll find Burke’s Canoe Trips, which offers canoe and kayak rentals with shuttle service, and riverside campsites.
Heading into Forestville
A left turn on Mirabel Road takes you into Forestville (pop. 3,293), a laid-back, slow-it-down kind of town where the people are friendly, the coffee shops roast their own beans, and your dining options run the gamut from haute to homestyle. Just outside of town, the Michelin-starred Farmhouse Inn presents an upscale farm-to-fork dining experience featuring an ever-changing list of fresh and seasonal local ingredients, plus a wine program featuring the finest Sonoma County wines.
When you've finished exploring Forestville, drive back up Mirabel Road and continue left on River Road. You can dip into the water at Steelhead Beach Regional Park or the Forestville River Access, which the locals call Mom's Beach because it's such a great place to take the kids, or anyone who wants to splash or swim, or catch some rays.
A little west on River Road you'll find Korbel Champagne Cellars, established in 1882 and presently one of the oldest and most sought-out Russian River winery destinations. Wine tastings and guided walking tours of the historical museum and cellar are offered seven days a week with limited availability, so plan ahead if you want to experience the full grandeur of this incredible winery. The property also features extensive gardens (including 250 varieties of antique roses and 1,000 other types of flowers) and a gourmet deli.
You'll find Rio Nido (pop. 522) nestled in a tight little valley just around a bend. Founded in 1908 by the Eagle Lodge of San Francisco, this tiny community includes the English Tudor-style Rio Nido Lodge at the Russian River, built in the 1920s; the family-friendly Rio Nido Roadhouse, which occupies a refurbished double-wide trailer; a public pool; a post office; a fire station; and numerous summer homes and cabins clinging to the canyon's hillsides.
The Town of Guerneville
Continuing along River Road brings you to the town of Guerneville (pop. 4,534), a popular escape for San Francisco Bay Area residents for more than a century: Visitors first started arriving by train in the 1870s, and by car starting in the 1940s. In the 1970s Guerneville became a welcoming resort area for Bay Area gays and lesbians, and it proudly remains one of the most popular destinations for LGBTQ+ getaways in Sonoma County.
Guerneville's small-but-mighty main street offers a highly eclectic (and sometimes eccentric) mix of art galleries, coffee shops, and upscale bistros sitting next to sporting goods stores and thrift stores, all just steps away from the Russian River. Dining options in Guerneville include everything from casual, family-friendly spaghetti joints to upscale delis, farm-to-table bistros, and contemporary "rustic cabin cuisine" eateries. Nearly every restaurant in town boasts an impressive wine list of Sonoma County staples; you can also go straight to the source with more than 50 wineries within a 20-minute drive of Guerneville.
The Russian River is a definite presence in Guerneville, which hugs its banks. Within walking distance of the downtown restaurants and shops, Johnson's Beach provides the main river access for splashing, swimming, and paddling in the water; canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, umbrellas, beach chairs, and more are available for rent.
With so many things to do in Guerneville, plan to spend at least one full day exploring the town and its surrounding area—or, if you've got the time, use our two-day Guerneville itinerary to really get a feel for this quirky Sonoma County town. No matter how long you're staying or what's on your agenda, you'll find plenty of perfectly suited places to stay in Guerneville.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Two miles north of downtown Guerneville you can walk among the ancient trees in the 805-acre Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, a living reminder of the magnificent forest that once covered this entire area. These majestic trees, with their reddish-brown bark and towering height, stand as a testament to the power and beauty of nature. As you wander in peaceful silence along the winding trails—sunlight filtering through the canopy in an ethereal, magical glow—you feel a sense of connection to something greater than yourself, and a sense of duty to preserve and sustain these ancient giants for future generations.
Driving through Armstrong Redwoods brings you to the 2.5-mile mountain road that serves as the entrance to Austin Creek State Recreation Area and Bullfrog Pond. The summit of this steep, narrow, winding roadway offers panoramic wilderness views. The recreation area includes open woodlands, rolling hills, and meadows, and its rugged topography creates a paradise for hiking or horseback riding.
Heading back into Guerneville, turn right on Highway 116 and drive through town to continue your journey toward the coast. This two-lane road closely follows the river's many twists and turns.
Tucked into a particularly wide bend where the waterway makes a large U-turn, you'll find the Northwood Golf Club, built in 1928 by famed golf architect Alister MacKenzie and ranked by Golf Magazine as the No. 3 nine-hole course in the United States.
Monte Rio: Vacation Wonderland
The golf course is on the eastern edge of the town of Monte Rio (pop. 1,152), where a 1950s-style neon sign proclaims "Welcome to Monte Rio Vacation Wonderland." This laid-back community stretches along both sides of the river, and includes a wonderful sandy beach, a historical bridge connecting the two sides of town, two hotels built in 1906, and a mural-decorated World War II-surplus Quonset hut that serves as the local movie theater.
There are a variety of restaurants around Monte Rio, and lodging ranges from quaint cottages to luxury bed-and-breakfast inns and historical small hotels. Pro tip: Use our guide to fun things to do in Monte Rio to get the most out of your visit.
As a potential side trip, consider exploring the 10-mile stretch of scenic two-lane roadway known as the Bohemian Highway, which heads south from Monte Rio to the small towns of Occidental and Freestone. Winding its way through towering redwoods, serene pastures, and rocky ravines, the Bohemian Highway is considered one the most scenic drives in California.
More to Explore: North and the Coast
There's more fun to be had, whether you want to soak up the sights and flavors of Russian River wineries or would rather stroll on the beach watching waves crash into massive sea rocks. Learn more about the North and Coast sections of the Russian River Valley itinerary.