We the people of San Francisco are prepped and ready for even a sliver of hot weather, and there is no better way to take advantage of sun-drenched days than a lazy float down the Russian River.
In the olden days (i.e. before this global pandemic), #FloatTrip meant party on the water for you and all your friends, your swan and rainbow rafts all tied together so everyone could reach the cooler. These days, it's wise to keep the crew to your immediate household—don't worry, you can still pack the White Claw and crowd your feed with #summertime selfies.
This article has been updated to reflect new guidelines related to Covid-19 as well as limited hours and seating restrictions at restaurants and businesses surrounding the Russian River. It's a good idea to check the businesses' own websites before visiting to get the latest information, as well as the official guidelines of Sonoma County which still has a ban on large gatherings. Please wear your mask, practice social distancing, and be courteous of of the health of small communities when visiting.
With that said, here's how to plan your Russian River float trip.
What to Bring to the Russian River
Your float. Decide if you want to rent or buy a tube (keep reading for recommendations on local shops to hit up for gear). We strongly recommend one with a mesh bottom, headrest, and cup holder for maximum relaxation. However, if you want to bring your donut or unicorn-shaped floatie, nothing wrong with that. // A rope. Hooking your floats and coolers together is essential to keep the group in tact. // An electric pump. Bring a pump to inflate the tubes. // A cooler. Splurge for a floating cooler, or risk warm cider. // Food + drink. Bring plenty of snacks and beverages—including lots of fresh water (dehydration sucks). // River shoes. Many of the beaches are rocky so you may find these helpful. // A waterproof speaker. For your custom playlist, of course: #FloatTrip2019. // Sunscreen + hat + sunglasses. The sun is bright and shade is practically non-existent on the river. Apply sunscreen frequently. // Aloe. For later, when you realize you drank too much rosé and forgot to reapply that sunscreen. // Trash bags. Municipal trash service is not a thing here. Sonoma County's volunteer-run Clean River Alliance asks that you BYO trash bags and pack out your own garbage.
Once you have everything, it's time to roll out. Organize carpools with friends and leave early. The Russian River stretches more than 100 miles over Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The sweet spot for your float trip will be a section around the town of Guerneville.
Have a Pre-Float Snack in Guerneville
Have a hearty breakfast in downtown Guerneville before the adventures begin. You can also pick up some food or snacks for the trip. Some suggestions:
Located right on Main Street, the artsy Coffee Bazaar (14045 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville) serves up a variety of coffee drinks (try the Mexican mocha, made with Mexican hot chocolate and espresso) and breakfast options including egg sandwiches and fresh-baked quiche. Order online for curbside pickup. // Higher Ground Organic Espresso (16350 3rd St, Guerneville) is a low-key shop filled with eclectic books and artwork and serves up fresh organic coffee from Bean Smoke micro roaster out of Sonoma County. During the pandemic, they are serving through a takeout window at back and have limited outdoor seating. // At River Inn Grill (16141 Main St, Guerneville), you must try the Swedish pancakes with fruit filling. Located right on Main Street, this local breakfast spot is a favorite among locals. // If you are an Oprah fan or a biscuit fan, this is the place for you: Big Bottom Market (16228 Main St, Guerneville) is home to Oprah's favorite biscuits. Get them topped with gravy, mascarpone honey, or smoked salmon. (Pro tip: You can also buy their biscuit mix online!) // If you are a locally made goods connoisseur, head to The Farmhand (15025 River Road, Guerneville). The half deli, half market offers takeout box lunches with sandwiches, sides, cookies, and fresh fruit—gluten-free and vegan options are available.
Where to Get Russian River Float Gear
In need of a tube or any other gear from the list above? These stores have you covered.
King's Sport & Tackle (16258 Main St, Guerneville) rents canoes and kayaks but also sells anything you need for for the river, including inflatables. // Not only does Guerneville 5 & 10 (16252 Main St, Guerneville) sell inner tubes, they blow them up for you. Bonus! // At Soar Inflatables & Russian River Adventures (20 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg) you'll find inflatable rafts that come with a paddle if you want to go a bit further. Check their site for new Covid guidelines.
Russian River Float Routes
No matter where you end up going, make sure to start early (10-10:30 am is ideal) as parking is limited. If you caravanned to the river, park one car at the end of your route so you can shuttle people back when you're done.
Steelhead Beach to Mother's Beach
This is a roughly three-hour float. Steelhead has a large parking lot that runs down close to the launch point, making it easier to drop off tubes there.
Steelhead Beach to Sunset Beach
For a bit longer float than the last, add an hour or so to your trip by exiting at Sunset Beach instead of Mother's.
Mother's Beach to Sunset Beach
If you're looking for a short-and-sweet trip, perhaps with kids, this is one is just an hour long. You can hang out at Sunset Beach post-float.
Sunset Beach to Johnson's Beach
This float is more than six hours long. Just be prepared with a lot of sunscreen and water.
Vacation Beach to Monte Rio Beach
A solid 4.5-hour float, you can launch from Vacation Beach. Once at Monte Rio, you'll find a concession stand serving up cold drinks, ice cream, and lunch options, including a burger that may be one of the best in town. Another plus: plenty of parking here for your shuttle vehicle.
Best Restaurants Near the Russian River
You'll be starving post-float. Hit up these local spots for some great grub or a drink.
Grab a snack
This Art Deco-style Guerneville Bank Club (16290 Main St, Guerneville) has multiple vendors beneath one historic roof. Satisfy your sweet tooth with an organic milkshake from Nimble & Finn's or baked goods from Chile Pies—just be sure to pre-order for curbside pickup Thursday through Monday. You can also make a reservation for tasting at Inizi Wines on weekends.
If you need a real meal, don't miss Boon Eat + Drink (6248 Main St, Guerneville), a trendy farm-to-table California bistro where we always manage to spot someone we know from The City. The restaurant is currently offering takeout (call 707.869.0780) in addition to socially distanced seating in the outdoor garden. Indulge in dishes like mac-n-cheese with truffle breadcrumbs or a crispy pork bahn mi, or enjoy lighter options like the summer panzanella with tomatoes, corn, and ricotta or blistered padrons paired with stone fruit.
Get a Drink
For a cold brew, head to beloved beer haven Russian River Brewery (725 4th St, Santa Rosa), situated right along the river and open for outdoor seating as well as takeout during Covid-19 (find the latest updates here). The brewery has a huge selection of beers, including cult favorite Pliny the Elder, a well-balanced, limited supply double IPA, and the Blind Pig, a full-bodied, citrus forward IPA. Pair your brew with a pizza, a sandwich or the Pliny bites—mouth-watering beer bites filled with white cheddar and jalapeños. // If what you need is to kick back with some tapas and a beer, El Barrio (16230 Main St, Guerneville) is for you. This cute local bar from the Boon team has an all-around chill vibe, a focus on mezcal and tequila, and is open for limited outdoor seating on Fridays and Saturdays during the pandemic.