When it’s time to get away from day-to-day life, the Russian River is where to go to enjoy wine, dining, kayaking, redwoods, beaches, and more.
The moment you take your first breath as you roll into town of Guerneville, the biggest town along the river greets you with the fresh scent of Redwood trees. It’s only 75 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge but it feels like its hundreds of miles away with the beautiful vineyards surrounding it, the river running straight through, and the cute little storefronts on the 3 block stretch of downtown.
Guerneville is in the heart of the Russian River Resort area which runs from a few miles west of Santa Rosa, CA to the the coastal town of Jenner. The length of the lower Russian River area is only about 30 miles and includes the towns of Forestville, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio, Duncan’s Mills, and Jenner. The area has hundreds of wineries, lots of beaches, hiking trails, good restaurants, and abundant options for places to stay and things to do.
Anyone can enjoy a visit to the Russian River because there is plenty to do for all types of visitors from adults, to kids, teens, to foodies, winos, beach lovers, hikers, and relaxers. Use this guide to plan your weekend or week-long getaway to the Russian River.
Best Time to go to the Russian River
Summer is best is if you like it hot and don’t mind the crowds. You can spend the whole day on the water and won’t catch a chill, but some wineries will be too hot for sitting outside. Spring and Fall have perfect weather for hiking and wineries, and the crowds are less intense. Winter is Steelhead season so it’s the best time to visit if you want to go fishing. Winter can be very wet and rainy, but it’s also the most affordable time of year to visit. If you are looking cozy up with a book while sipping wine and watching the rain outside then winter is where it’s at.
Things To Do
Spend a Day or Three Playing on the Russian River
There is no wrong way to enjoy the Russian River. There are several beaches to choose from along the river. But you can’t go wrong with Johnson’s Beach. Johnsons is conveniently located in the middle of downtown Guerneville. It’s a lovely beach for relaxing in the sun and for kayak rentals. If you have little ones they will enjoy the shallow warm water and abundant river rocks for collecting. Johnsons is a little bougie with umbrella rentals and a snack shack with good food and beer. After your day at Johnson’s simply walk up the road to grab dinner in downtown Guerneville.
If you want more action on the river you can go tubing or paddling. You can rent tubes from R2T2 or Johnson’s, string everyone together, and float very slowly down the river. The river has temporary dams in the summer so there is very little current. But this makes it easy to take an out and back kayak or stand up paddle board adventure, even with a kid sitting on the watercraft with you. Burke’s Canoe trips in Forestville offers one way Canoe rentals and a bus to pick you up. It’s a full day of fantastic memory-making!
The ultimate way to enjoy the Russian River is from your own private dock which you can enjoy when renting a vacation home like ours, called Lucky Bend Lookout. The dock is like your own private beach minus the crowds, and you can go back and forth between the house to get snacks and drinks as you please.
Guerneville is on the outskirts of the Russian River Valley, a distinct wine-growing region in Sonoma County best known for its cooler weather wines such as chardonnay and pinot noir. It’s also very close the Sonoma Coast AVA and Dry Creek AVA so no matter which type of wine you prefer, you are less than an hour’s drive from the best Sonoma County wineries. For more information on the hundreds of wineries nearby, check out Wineroad.
Russian River Vineyards in Forestville specializes in Pinot Noir among other wines and has a beautiful and relaxing outdoor space with plenty of shade under the redwood trees. If you are hungry, they have a delicious food menu. This winery is also one of many kid friendly wineries in the area with plenty of space for the kids to roam. Another awesome feature of this winery is that it can be accessed via the West County Regional Trail which means you could bicycle, scooter or walk to this winery. There is a bike rental place nearby at Russian River Cycle Service.
Bricoleur Vineyards is also in the Russian River AVA. They are known for their wine and food pairings and beautiful outdoor space with gardens and a huge koi pond. They will give you food to feed the fish which is quite a delight. Their bocce courts are reservable which could be fun for the whole family.
Truett Hurst Winery is a little farther inland and located in the Dry Creek AVA, so think Zinfandel and Cabernet when you go tasting there. Like many other Sonoma County wineries, there is a beautiful outdoor space perfect for picnicking. Located next to Dry Creek, you may be able to see Steelhead swimming. Don’t forget to feed the friendly goats at the back of the property! A nice bonus with Truett Hurst is that they share a parking lot with VML winery so you could hit up both wineries with one trip.
The Russian River is an incredibly beautiful area with thousands of acres of open space, regional parks, and state parks. The hiking trails in the Russian River area are abundant so you can easily pair a hike with a winery or a farm visit in the area.
The most popular and most beautiful hiking spot is Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve which is nearly as beautiful as Muir Woods National Monument but doesn’t have the huge crowds. It is adjacent to Austin Creek State Recreation Area so they share a trail network that ranges from easy to strenuous, with majestic Redwood Trees and inspirational vistas. Sonoma Coast State Park also offers a variety of trails to enjoy. The park is a collection of redwoods, coastal bluffs, coastal prairie, tidepools, and vistas that stretch for 45 miles from Bodega Bay at the south end, all the way up to Fort Ross at the north end. The rocky shoreline next to the town of Jenner rivals the beauty of Big Sur. For more ideas on easy, moderate, and challenging hikes in the area take a look at our blog posts that feature the best trails.
Where to Eat & Drink
The Russian River area has some great restaurants, all with a casual atmosphere and a variety of cuisine styles. Farm-to-table restaurants are very popular in this area since Sonoma County has a lot of small organic farms.
Boon Eat & Drink in downtown Gurneville is a small restaurant with a seasonal back garden patio where they grow some of their ingredients. Open Wednesday through Sunday, they serve organic, California cuisine. The flash fried brussles sprouts are not to be missed!
The Oxbow is another restaurant with a lovely garden patio and a good spot for brunch. The menu has a good variety of items, but you don’t want to miss their chicken and waffles. For dinner they offer casual California Cuisine.
Main Street Bistro Cabaret & Piano Bar just a few doors down from Boon has an enormous menu that is a mix of classy American and Italian food. They offer live music several days per week, which is great fun for adults and kids alike.
For a quick yummy bite or takeout there is always the Guerneville Taco Truck, located in the Safeway parking lot. The taco truck is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Try the burrito that has french fries inside or get a burger if you aren’t in a burrito mood.
The best ice cream in the area is from Nimble & Finn at the old bank building in downtown Guerneville. It’s homemade, with unique flavors and simply delicious.
For a classy casual bar experience check out El Barrio. They specialize in mezcal but have other options as well. If you are even a little bit hungry go ahead and order the queso dip; you will not regret it.
The newest bar in the area is a bit east of Guerneville at the Rio Nido Lodge. They make generously sized artisan cocktails and also have a food menu and a gift shop. Take your cocktail out back to hang out under the majestic redwoods and enjoy a game of bocce.
Where to Relax
Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary located in Occidental is the most popular, most unique, and most beautiful spa in the area. They are famous for their Cedar Enzyme Bath, rejuvenating massages, organic facials, and Zen-inspired meditation gardens. Be sure to book your appointment several weeks ahead.
West Sonoma Inn & Spa is located in Guerneville on over 6 acres, adjacent to a hundred acre vineyard. They offer a wide variety of massages, body treatments, and facials.
Boon Hotel & Spa also in Guerneville offers a wide menu of massage services. Lay out at the pool for up to 2 hours either before or after your spa service and fix yourself a cocktail at their honor bar.
Where to Stay
Part of the charm of visiting the Russian River is the absence of major hotel chains. Guests who come for a visit get to enjoy the unique and sometimes quirky accommodations. From campgrounds to vacation rentals and historic boutique hotels you will definitely find the right lodging for your stay.
The selection of vacation rentals at the Russian River is positively enormous but the best houses book up to a year in advance. If you want to stay on the river and snag a house with a private dock, then it’s best to plan well in advance. Full disclosure, the author of this article is the owner of the best vacation rental in Guerneville, Lucky Bend Lookout. It’s a cozy 3 bedroom family friendly cabin in the redwood forest with a private dock. The decor is modern yet playful, and the house has everything a family needs for the perfect getaway on the Russian River. If Lucky Bend Lookout is sold out, then check out Russian River Getaways for some other great vacation rental options.
Casini Ranch Family Campground in Duncan’s Mills is a river lover’s paradise. It’s about 10 miles downriver from Guerneville and in a beautiful location that is also close to the ocean. When you stay at Casini Ranch you swim, float, and paddle all day. There are a few restaurants and cafe’s nearby so you don’t have to cook all of your meals at the campground.
Johnson’s Beach in downtown Guerneville also has a campground. Since it is in town you would never have to use your car when staying there. It’s right at the beach on the Russian River, and walking distance to Safeway and downtown Guerneville.
The Rio Nido Lodge is a newly renovated historic hotel in the hamlet of Rio Nido, a few miles upriver from Guerneville. The rooms are cleverly decorated, and the property has additional amenities including a restaurant, bar, and bocce courts. It’s next door to the Rio Nido Roadhouse which has the only publicly available swimming pool in the area.
Autocamp in Guerneville is a glamping resort with airstreams and glamping tents. They have a general store, fire pits, and a cozy clubhouse.
How to Get to the Russian River
It’s less than two hours drive (75 miles) from San Francisco to the Russian River. The nearest major airports are San Francisco (SFO) and Oakland (OAK). If you want ultimate convenience you can fly to the local George Schultz Airport in Santa Rosa (STS) which is serviced by a few major airlines.
A car is essential for getting around the Russian River area, but that’s not a bad thing because the drive from the Bay Area is so beautiful. Why race up to Sonoma County from the airport when you can take your time and explore the beautiful countryside on the way?
The best stops along the way are the Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint, Sausalito, Muir Woods National Monument, Stinson Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Valley Ford Creamery, Wildflower Bakery, Bodega Bay, and Sonoma Canopy Tours zip-lines. There are several wineries and breweries along the way too!
Download our Guides
For a deeper dive into the best activities for families along the Russian River you can sign up for our Guide to the Top 3 Family Adventures Along the Russian River and our Kid Friendly Wineries Map.