A former mortgage broker-turned-hotelier, high-profile chef, and serial entrepreneur—Crista Luedtke is proof positive that anything is possible with hard work and imagination. Over the past decade, Luedtke played a transformative role in the cultural scene of Guerneville. Today, it’s nearly impossible to visit the Sonoma County vacation destination without eating, drinking, or staying at one of Luedtke’s creations.
Born and raised in Wisconsin and Arizona, Luedtke first fell in love with Guerneville after moving to San Francisco in 1999. On weekends, she would escape her corporate life by camping in the redwoods and floating down the Russian River. After the 2008 market crash, Luedtke decided to leave her job and move to wine country and create something all her own. Motivation (plus some pocket cash from a house sold at the top of the market) led her to purchase Retreat Resort, which she reimagined as Boon Hotel + Spa.
Luedtke explains that at the time Guerneville was known primarily as an LGBTQ+-friendly summer spot. She says, “I knew it could be so much more than a seasonal destination… if I build it.”
Following the success of Boon Hotel—a chic and whimsical resort/glamping escape—Luedtke went on to open the farm-to-table bistro Boon Eat + Drink, Big Bottom Market (which she has since sold), modern German restaurant Brot, and the Mexican-inspired cocktail bar El Barrio. Luedtke also appears as both a chef and judge on Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games and has been featured in the award-winning documentary Empire on Main Street. Continuing to expand her empire, Luedtke has plans to open a second hotel this summer in Guerneville.
Despite Luedtke’s obvious work ethic, she also knows how to unwind. “For me, a day on the Russian River is packing a picnic with a bottle of wine, jumping in my kayak, and paddling until we need a break. We’ll have a little picnic on a beach somewhere, spend some time swimming and soaking up the sun before paddling back,” she says.
When Luedtke’s not on the river—or at one of her own properties—you can find her enjoying a casual meal and “great wings'' at The Russian River Pub, satisfying her mid-century modern addiction at Rio Rio and Sonoma Nesting Company, or hiking through the redwoods or along the coast with her partner and their two dogs.
“What I love most about Guerneville is that it has all these things right here,” she says. “We’re 20 minutes from the coast, we’re on the river, there are world-class wineries—it all just makes sense.”
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
For a town with a population of only 5,000-plus residents, there’s no shortage of things to do. Read on for a few of Luedtke’s favorite spots.
Nostalgic gifts: “The Guerneville 5&10 is a favorite without a doubt. You really feel transported in time. I would go there to buy a fun gag gift like a whoopee cushion, old-time candies, or a board game. It’s great for all ages. You’ll have the happiest kid when you walk in there and a giggling adult when you leave.”
Satisfy a sweet tooth: “One-hundred percent, you have to visit my folks at Chile Pies Baking Co. and Nimble and Finn’s in the Guerneville Bank Club. It’s a pie and ice cream shop. They have a lavender-honeycomb ice cream that I love and the most delicious coconut-chocolate vegan ice cream—a go-to in our house because my partner doesn’t do a lot of dairy. If we are going to go for pie, anything that has berries in it. That’s my weakness.”
Favorite hiking trail: “The Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve has a number of trails to choose from depending on your interest and ability. My favorite is the East Ridge to Pool Ridge Loop. It’s well worth the uphill effort when you get to the vistas at the top. If it’s clear, you can see to the ocean, but otherwise, you’ll get these beautiful clouds that look like islands.”
Best nightlife: “The Rainbow Cattle Company and The R3 are where things light up at night. There’s often karaoke and a good high-energy music mix at both of those spots. Expect dancing and at least one if not two bachelorette groups.”
Favorite sandwiches: “The Farmhand is right on the river. In fact, you can kayak there, lodge your boat, and climb up to get sandwiches. I love their Italian sandwich. I get it pressed on the panini. It’s just so good. Their Reuben is also quite nice.”