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Monte Rio: Rio Theater

Anytime you visit the small hamlet of Monte Rio, nestled along Sonoma County's Russian River, a jaunt to the one-of-a-kind Rio Theater movie house (20396 Bohemian Highway, Monte Rio, 707-865-0913) is a must.

ith its great sandy swimming beach on the Russian River, kayak and canoe rentals, fabulous views, and laid-back atmosphere, Monte Rio has long been a popular resort. The big arching, 1950s-style sign that greets visitors says it all: “Welcome to Monte Rio, Vacation Wonderland.”

Summertime visitors spend their time swimming, boating, fishing, walking, biking, and having picnics on the beach. They might take a day trip up the coast or go wine tasting along the Russian River, and they’re bound to enjoy the area’s excellent cafés and restaurants.

Winter has its own magical charm, with foggy mornings and clear days accompanied by the scent of wood-burning fireplaces. Road trips, when crisp winter air makes the views seem extra-special, are unforgettable, and you’ll often have hiking trails to yourselves.

But whatever time of year you come to Monte Rio, you can't miss the Rio Theater. Built inside a surplus World War II Quonset hut, it has operated since 1950. The false-front entrance holds a 1950-ish marquee, and the Quonset’s sides display giant murals of the region. The interior walls contain murals, too, hand-painted by local artists and depicting scenes from the area’s history.

Draped from the auditorium ceiling is what is probably the largest piece of the 1976 Running Fence in existence. An environmental art piece by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the 18-foot-high Running Fence – made from 165,000 yards of white nylon fabric hanging from steel cables – ran for 24.5 miles, from Highway 101 in Cotati until descending into the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay. It existed for only two weeks.

But back to the Rio Theater …

Most people rave about the good snacks and food, including real butter on the popcorn (or you can opt for a great-tasting yeast sprinkle), hot apple cider, veggie dogs, dogs with hot kraut, and much more. 

At the far end of the Quonset hut , you'll find The Rio Café Take Two (20396 Bohemian Highway, Monte Rio, 707-865-4190), offering a variety of grilled options and American comfort food for breakfast and lunch. Be sure to leave room for the homemade ice cream (the Meyers lemon flavor is a local favorite).

In 2013 a Kickstarter campaign raised the money needed to convert the theater from film to digital projection, ensuring that it can continue screening movies into the foreseeable future. After the kickstarter campaign, a group of friends came together formally to buy the theater.

The movie house periodically shows classic and cult movies (including its annual Rocky Horror Picture Show event), and locally relevant documentaries. It also hosts the occasional live performance, as well as private events like birthdays and weddings. 

So if you’re in or around Monte Rio, check this place out.

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