Guerneville, situated in the Russian River resort area, is a wonderful town from which to discover this idyllic region with its soaring redwoods. Be active or relax — you win either way. The area has been a getaway destination since 1877 when it was first connected to San Francisco via railway. Even though the region was spared by the recent horrific fires, all of wine country needs your support.
Make plans to go now when it’s much quieter, or wait until the weather warms up. When my husband and I visited recently, water sports weren’t on the agenda, but the solitude of the beach beckoned for a long walk. Now is the time to take advantage of all The River (as the locals call it) has to offer.
The Applewood Inn Restaurant Spa, a romantic hideaway just off Highway 116, offers a much-needed respite from the daily grind. Its secluded location boasts luxe accommodations, a heated pool, a sensuous spa, towering redwoods, and farm-fresh ingredients at dinner and a gourmet breakfast. It’s also recognized by Sonoma County as historical landmark #129 for Belden House, the original building on the property dating from 1922 (the same year the bridge leading to Guerneville was constructed).
Sonoma County is all about sustainability and Applewood Inn is no exception. Solar energy predominates, and there is lots of composting, organic crops, fruit trees (some original Gravensteins from the early 1800s), fresh-laid eggs for breakfast, and honey bees — all on a six acre farm (707-869-9093, applewoodinn.com).
PLAY & SHOP
Guerneville is a magnet for artists year-round. Visitors can share the passion and creativity at the First Friday Art Walk, when you can tour the galleries, meet the artists, and enjoy genuine local flavor in venues as the Russian River Art Gallery (therussianriverartgallery.com), Blue Door Gallery (facebook.com/TheBlueDoorGallery/), and the Kuhr-Norris Studio and Gallery (sites.google.com/site/kuhrnorrisstudiogallery), among others. Also explore tasting rooms and merchants who stay open from 3–8 p.m. for this monthly event (sonomacounty.com/blog/first-friday-nights-light-guerneville).
Shopping in the antique and assorted collectibles stores along Main Street is part of the allure. Check out the Sonoma Nesting Company (707-869-3434, sonomanesting.com) and the 5 & 10 (707-869-3404, guerneville5and10.com).
The outdoors is a draw even during the rainy time of the year. Head north out of town about 10 minutes to Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve. Hike the trails, savor the serenity of the majestic Redwoods, and — weather-permitting — have a picnic (707-869-2015, parks.ca.gov).
The cool climate of the Russian River AVA favors Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the early 1800s, Russian settlers from Ft. Ross ventured south and planted some of the first vines in Sonoma (hence the name of the river). Today find lush wines, including those at Korbel, minutes from Guerneville’s center.
Started by three brothers in 1882, Korbel now produces over a million cases annually. The time-honored tradition of méthode champenoise is the guiding principle of their California champagne production today. The grounds of the winery are spectacular — from the heavenly roses in season to the historic buildings made of handmade bricks and wood milled by the family. The property includes a railway stop that opened in 1876. There’s even a turret — a replica of a tower at a prison in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) where one of the Korbel siblings was incarcerated during the 19th century.
The bustling tasting room features a variety of delicious bubbles. Try these California champagnes: Natural, Brut, Brut Rosé, and the Brut made from organic grapes (707-824-7000, korbel.com).
Located minutes southwest of Guerneville in Monte Rio, the Northwood Golf Club is a 9-hole gem. Designed in 1928 by the legendary Alister MacKenzie, this one-of-a-kind layout unfolds along The River and under 150-foot redwoods (707-865-1116, northwoodgolf.com).
If you visit during the warm weather, the Russian River is hopping and Johnson’s Beach is the place to be. Choose your vehicle of pleasure and in minutes you can be tubing, kayaking or canoeing. Swimming and fishing are options, too. Or claim your spot and spread out a blanket for the day (707-869-2022, johnsonsbeach.com).
After a day discovering the area, unwind at the Applewood Spa. A Signature Swedish Massage eases muscle tension and stress. For variety, add aromatherapy or warm river rocks (707-869-9093, applewoodinn.com/applewooddayspa.html#sthash.L1k6gLu2.dpbs).
Find lunch (or stock up if a picnic is in the cards) at the Big Bottom Market on Main. Their trendy space blends the look and feel of a farmers market with an upscale deli. Everything is local, artisanal, sustainable, and combines the best of cheeses, wines, breads, prepared foods, and more. Savor the curried chicken salad by itself (with currants, cashews, and garlic aioli) or incorporated into the Colonel Armstrong sandwich on a warm brioche. Be sure you take home their honey and frozen specialty biscuits (707-604-7295, bigbottommarket.com).
Stumptown Brewery is the place to laze away the afternoon or get down at dinner. You are guaranteed good food, brews, music, and friendly people — all right down by The River. It’s a laid-back, casual place with a huge outdoor deck that is the perfect location to take in the scene. The BBQ pulled pork sandwich is a must, as well as handcrafted beers such as the Rat Bastard Pale Ale and Blimey the Wanker. Don’t miss the annual Beer Revival and BBQ Cook-off in August (707-869-0705, stumptown.com).
The restaurant at the Applewood Inn is closed for the season, reopening in spring, 2018. Other restaurants in town include the Seaside Metal Oyster Bar (seasidemetal.com/). Expect the same kind of shellfish, oysters, and happy hour specials as you get at Bar Crudo, its sister restaurant in San Francisco. Boon Eat + Drink offers Sonoma County ingredients, Russian River wines, and micro-brews from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties (eatatboon.com/).
Guerneville Tourism: sonomacounty.com/cities/Guerneville
Russian River Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center: russianriver.com
The Russian River Valley Wine Growers Association: rrvw.org
Sonoma County Tourism: sonomacounty.com