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Guerneville

Relax in this quirky redwood-shaded haven along the Russian River

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Not long ago, Guerneville was a sleepy forested hideaway best known for spectacular natural wonders like majestic redwood trees and the meandering Russian River. Today, the tiny town 90 miles/145 kilometers north of San Francisco remains one of Sonoma County’s natural jewels and a prime example of the region’s accepting West Coast vibe—but it’s also become a cutting-edge dining destination and burgeoning resort retreat.

Boon hotel + spa, for instance, is an intimate, eco-chic lodging run by local chef-entrepreneur and celebrity Crista Luedtke (she was named Triple Grand Champion on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show Guy’s Grocery Games). Her other local endeavors include farm-to-table bistro Boon eat + drink and the modern Mexican cantina El Barrio, which brings tequila, mezcal, and bourbon to wine country. Luedtke’s culinary empire also includes Big Bottom Market, famous for its biscuits (they’re an Oprah favorite), and the modern Bavarian beer hall Brot.

Despite the fancy food scene, you won’t find fancy attitudes: The town’s heart is still an eclectic mix of atmospheric but convivial taverns, so-tacky-they’re-fun souvenir shops, and quirky art galleries frequented by modern hippie-types looking to escape the big city.

There’s also plenty of flair from the drag queens and alt-lifestylers who’ve made Guerneville their home. For decades, the town has been the San Francisco Bay Area’s LGBTQ getaway, earning it the nickname “the Gay Riviera.” You can always find a party at the landmark Rainbow Cattle Co., where patrons have been living it up since 1979, or the Bar at the R3 Hotel, another longtime favorite.

For romantic lodgings to share with any partner, book a stay at the luxurious, Mission Revival-style Applewood Inn, or dine in its firelight-lit restaurant (the wine list is a stunner). For a down-to-earth stay, Highlands Resort’s wide array of homey cabins and suites provide an “unplugged” approach to relaxation. Just outside town is the Russian River location of Autocamp, a stylish collection of tricked-out Airstream trailers and posh canvas glamping tents. The luxuriously woodsy accommodations offer a photogenic mashup of Mother Nature and retro-chic, sure to blow up your Instagram account.

On summer days, kick back with the locals at Johnson's Beach, a slip of sand beneath Guerneville’s entryway bridge with rentable beach chairs, canoes, kayaks, and pedal boats. Or rent a canoe at Burke’s Canoe Trips—a local classic for decades—then zigzag down the easy-to-paddle Russian River. Any season is perfect for hiking or forest-bathing beneath the canopy of giant redwoods in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, or wandering trails through oak forests and meadows at adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area.

To see how down-to-earth Guerneville culture translates into wine, schedule a tasting of certified biodynamic vintages from mountainside Porter-Bass Winery, inhabited by winemaker and earth-child Luke Bass, along with his heritage chickens and adorable canines. Add some indulgence to your day with wine or champagne tasting at Korbel California Champagne, or follow country roads south towards Healdsburg, sampling acclaimed Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels at countless wineries along the way.

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