Just a 90-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, woodsy Guerneville in Sonoma County exudes a summer-camp vibe at its fun-seeking zone on the Russian River. Long a magnet for the Bay Area’s LGBTQ community and fringe-seeking renegades, Guerneville today has morphed into the mainstream, attracting outdoor adventurers, foodies, and vacationers of every ilk.
Nature lovers must visit Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, where magnificent redwoods were saved from the saw by an 1870s lumber magnate. Colonel James Armstrong came to realize that the redwood forest was not an inexhaustible supply of timber, and he set aside this atmospheric grove for public enjoyment. Wind your way through 30-story-high redwoods and pay your respects to the Colonel, a 1,400-year-old behemoth tree. Crane your neck to glimpse the top of the 310-foot-tall Parson Jones Tree, the grove’s tallest redwood.
Once you catch redwood fever, you’ll want to spend the night under the trees. At AutoCamp Russian River, sleep in a custom Airstream trailer or a fancy canvas tent, and meet your neighbors in the mid-century modern clubhouse. Catch a ride into town to sample Guerneville’s carefree, anything-goes nightlife. Dress down, not up, for rowdy fun at the honky-tonk Rainbow Cattle Company, a beloved Main Street institution where the party has been raging since 1979. The more refined El Barrio showcases handcrafted artisanal tequilas, mescal, and bourbons served with small-plate Mexican cuisine. For a memorable dinner, book a table at Boon eat + drink, a much-lauded bistro that serves up seasonal Sonoma ingredients in a sleek setting. And since breakfast matters, start your day at Big Bottom Market, where the sweet and savory biscuits are dependably flakey, granting them raves from Oprah and legions of fans.
Do as San Franciscan urbanites have done for more than 150 years and dip into the river at Johnson’s Beach. The resort has roped-off areas for kids, deeper water for more adventurous swimmers, and there’s beer and wine at the Boathouse. Sun too hot? Rent a chair and a beach umbrella and plop down with a book, or float down the placid river in a kayak, canoe, or inner tube.
Many visitors never leave downtown, but it’s worth the 10-minute drive to tour Korbel Champagne Cellars. North America’s oldest continually operating champagne house was founded in 1882 by the Korbel brothers, who created effervescent wines using the traditional méthode champenoise. A 50-minute tour gives you the chance to taste dry-to-sweet champagnes and see fabulous flower gardens.