Sonoma County's Russian River Valley is multifaceted in its charm: a blend of Wine Country luxury, rural rusticity, campout party, and bohemian vibes all bundled into riverside enclaves and small towns bordering hillside vineyards.
Just two hours from San Francisco, Guerneville is a favorite destination in the region since it's accessible enough for a quick getaway but also feels far from it all. Its unique vibe stems from a mix of cultures. A logging town in the 1800s, Guerneville became a destination In the 1950s for well-to-do city folk who came to summer by the river. The hippies landed here in the 1970s, followed by the LGBTQ+ community who made it a party spot in the '80s.
In past 15 years, the place has become a draw for SF foodies and hipsters thanks to chef/hotelier Crista Luedtke, a pivotal character in town thanks to her growing mini-empire of stellar places to spend time, including her original venture here, Boon Hotel + Spa. Now, more than ever, Guerneville has it all.
Spring, aka whale and abalone season on the coast nearby, is a wonderful time to visit; you can also plan for wine tasting during Passport to Dry Creek Valley (April 23-24, 2022). Here's where to stay and what to eat, drink, and do while you're in Guerneville.
Where to Eat in Guerneville
Crista Luedtke's modern German restaurant Brot brings plenty of veggies to the table in addition to updated classics such as smoked and pickled herring, wursts, cured meats, spatzle, and schnitzel.
(Courtesy of Brot)
Guerneville has a great mix of old school and new school places to eat, with chef Luedtke behind most of the notable modern eateries.
Her newest is Brot (16218 Main St.), a modern German spot that nods to the proprietor's roots. With beer hall appeal in an updated setting, you’ll want to order one of everything—there are Bavarian pretzels, pickled herring, currywurst, and kebabs—but don’t miss the buckwheat spaetzle. Brot joins sister restaurant Boon Eat + Drink (16248 Main St.), which brought elevated farm-to-table fare to town when it opened back in 2009. If you're from SF, don't be surprised if you see someone you know sitting at the next table: The restaurant's sophisticated menu of seasonal, shareable dishes—burrata with citrus and pesto; truffle fries with homemade ketchup; Moroccan carrots with dukkah and yogurt—plus meaty and seafood entrees and local wines make this a perennial hot spot for weekenders.
Luedtke sold her partnership but remains a big supporter of Big Bottom Market (16228 Main St.), the famous home of Oprah's favorite biscuits, which originated from Luedtke’s grandma's recipe. The spot also serves really great sandwiches.
With a major renovation and artisan prowess to match, the Guerneville Bank Club(16290 Main St.) is one of the town's hubs. Duck in for a scoop at Nimble & Finn's Ice Cream, and pick up a bottle of local vino, as well craft beers and ciders, at The Wine Vault. The building is also home to the Russian River Historical Society, which puts on exhibits to do with the region's past, plus a fun photo booth located in the old vault.
A locals' favorite, Main Street Bistro(16280 Main St.) serves a huge menu that leans heavily toward pizzas and doubles as a piano bar popular for live jazz on Sundays.
Pat’s International(16236 Main St.) is a place you won't find anywhere else. A classic diner since 1940, Pat's is beloved for its made-to-order cinnamon sugar donuts and thick mugs of coffee but also serves Korean fried chicken sandwiches, a vegan hippie bowl, Mexican kombucha, and cocktails. Look out for the occasional ticketed dinner show complete with an hors d’oeuvres social hour, performance, and dessert.
Up for a pool party? The pool at Rio Nido Roadhouse (14540 Canyon Two Rd., Rio Nido) is open all summer and pops with live music, dancing, classic American food, and cookouts.
There are two coffee shops in Guerneville. The go-to is Coffee Bazaar (14045 Armstrong Woods Rd.), which acts as a community gathering space (like every good coffee joint should) with solid sandwiches, salads, pastries, and warming cups of joe. Formerly Higher Ground, Country Coffee Organic Espresso & Tea(16350 3rd St.) is tucked on a back street behind Main and pours interesting lattes, teas, and tonics.
Wine Tasting, Cocktails + Craft Beer in Guerneville
When it's time for a quality cocktail, mosey over to El Barrio for a concise menu of tequila, mezcal, and bourbon drinks.
(Courtesy of El Barrio)
There is much imbibing to be done in Guerneville whether you prefer to drink poolside, riverside, or barside.
El Barrio(16230 Main St.) is yet another Luedtke original—she was a founding partner when it opened in 2014 but sold it to a friend in 2021. This is Guerneville's go-to for mixology fans, with a menu of agave- and bourbon-centic cocktails (and excellent housemade corn chips con queso). Try the El Jardi with mezcal, cilantro, celery, and lime with a tajín-dusted rim.
As the name suggests, Rainbow Cattle Company(16220 Main St.), here since 1979, is Guerneville's mainstay gay bar with kind of a country twist, but the legendary party spot is welcoming to all. On Tuesday nights, proceeds support local charities. Across the street, McT’s Bull Pen(16246 Main St.) is a popular dive with 24 beers on tap and free live music. Beer lovers also like Stumptown Brewery (15045 River Rd.), a classic brewhouse with a large outdoor space overlooking the river.
Guerneville sits on the western edge of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) so, yeah, wine is definitely a thing up here. In town, you can stop for a tasting at Equality Vines(16215 Main St.), a unique operation that calls itself “the world’s first cause wine portfolio,” donating a percentage of its sales to nonprofits such as Lambda Legal and LGBTQ Connection. Plan to make a day trip to taste more wines of the region. Korbel(13250 River Rd.) is the oldest continually operating winery utilizing the Champagne method in North America. A variety of tasting flights will take you through their 10 different kinds of bubbly. You'll find a vastly different tasting experience at Porter-Bass(11750 Mays Canyon Rd.)—thinkunder a walnut tree with chickens and a cow nearby. Launched by a couple of East Coast transplants in 1980, this biodynamic vineyard and small production winery is one of the pioneers in the area, making memorable zins, pinots, and sauv blancs to this day.
Fun Things to Do in Guerneville
When you tire of the party at the pool or the beach, take a hike and find some peace in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
(Mariah Harkey, via Sonoma County)
All that eating and drinking begs for some balance, and there are outdoor adventures aplenty in and around Guerneville.
The river is an obvious place to start, and float trips here are basically summertime #goals. To plan yours, we've got a guide for that, too, just remember to be courteous of the residents and environment, and pack out your trash. Johnson's Beach(16215 First St.) is the most popular and closest stretch of sand to downtown and is a great launching point for a real deal swim, paddle, tubing, kayaking, or canoe trip. You can rent everything you might need for all of it here, including chairs and beach umbrellas.
If the redwoods are more your speed, venture into Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Rd.) for a variety of hiking trails, both leisurely and more advanced, and endless quiet awe amid some of the tallest, most ancient trees on the planet.
Art + Shopping
Guerneville is a town inhabited by many creatives, so there are art galleries galore. Just along Main Street you can pop into Douglas DeVivo's Blue Door Gallery(16359 Main St.), Russian River Art Gallery(16357 Main St.), Look Up Gallery(16290 Main St.), Lifvendahl Fine Art(16214 Main St.), HawkRider(16216 Main St.), Pop Culture Art Gallery(16212 Main St.), and Oli (16215 Main St.).
There's also some funky shopping to be had. Your first stop should be Rio Rio (16216 B Main St.), a wonderfully curated nook filled with vintage clothing and one-of-a-kind finds above Lifvendahl Fine Art. Sonoma Nesting Company(16151 Main St.) also has antique appeal and is a must-visit for truly unique and high quality art, heirlooms, furniture, and curiosities. Grab a souvenir at Guerneville 5 & 10(16252 Main St.), an eclectic mix of curios, candy, and everything in between.
Where to Stay in Guerneville
The revamped Stavrand Hotel is a thoughtful stay with guest rooms with tiled fireplaces and outdoor cedar hot tubs, a swimming pool, and onsite vegetable gardens and fruit orchards.
(Emma K. Morris)
The Russian River has never lacked for places to stay. It simply lacked for upscale places to stay...until lately.
Once again, local entrepreneur Crista Luedtke gets some credit for Guerneville's expanding accommodations. In 2008, she opened Boon Hotel + Spa(14711 Armstrong Woods Rd.), a collection of refreshed miners' cabins, glamping tents and a retro camper, all with hip midcentury modern vibes, clustered around a central swimming pool. This is an adults-only property but, named for a four-legged loved one, Boon does has dog-friendly accommodations.
Last summer, Luedtke and Basecamp Hotels founder Christian Strobel took over The Highlands (14000 Woodland Dr.), a historic stay in a wooded setting up the hill from Johnson’s Beach. Affordable standard rooms and cabins are available as well as stylish furnished tents at the new Coyote Camp. The property also has a heated pool.
The Highlands isn't the only Guerneville resort with a past enjoying a recent glow up. The Stavrand(13555 CA-116) is a lovely refurbished estate, full of Mission-style charm, that's home to one of the town's two registered historic landmarks. The inn also has a stellar onsite restaurant (for guests only) with free hot breakfast and fare driven by seasonal ingredients, many of which are grown in the gardens onsite. (You can read about our recent stay at the Stavrand, here.)
Sensing a trend? Yet another old property lately restored is Mine + Farm Inn(12850 River Rd.), an adults-only (but dog-friendly) modern B&B with organic food and updated touches in all nine rooms.
If you've never stayed in an Airstream, the super cool AutoCamp(12140 Old Cazadero Rd.), which now has six locations across the country including a new one in Joshua Tree, is a must-stay for a less conventional overnight.
On 15 acres along the banks of the Russian River, Dawn Ranch(16467 CA-116) is named for the two rare Dawn redwood trees that stand on the property and has cozy, pet-friendly cabins and a garden-to-table restaurant.
Right downtown is the R3 Hotel(16390 4th St.), an older, adults-only spot with a big pool scene, live music, and party-time atmosphere.