What to Do at the Russian River
Drive to the general Guerneville area, get in the water. But should you want to spread your activities out a bit, I have some ideas. My friends and I have multiple river trips etched into memory, especially in the summer months when we take every excuse to escape the fog for some sunshine. Here are a couple ways to round out a Russian River road trip.
You know who always knows about great swimming holes? Teenagers. I asked a young dude at the health food store by the Safeway for suggestions years back and have a couple standbys now. Basically, if you’re coming from Guerneville head toward Monte Rio and take a left at the bridge. You’ll find secret beaches on both sides – keep your eyes peeled for water access hidden between houses. Beyond the bridge you’ll want to take the first right past the little store, and follow that road to a place where you see lots of parked cars (there’s a woodsy community park right at the entrance). If you’re looking for more concrete directions, the beach next to Hilton Park Family Campground has some deep water for swimming in, although it can get a bit crowded.
How can you go wrong with a brewery run by one of the dudes behind Zeitgeist? Stumptown is an awesome river dive with a killer classic rock vibe, BBQ oysters on occasion, a back deck for sunning yourself, and a view of the river.
Most river times mean BBQing at whatever house someone’s rented, or grubbing snacks in the sand for hours. But for those craving something different, my buddy Nicole Grant Kriege recommends a Korean pop-up called Hi Five.
A summer swimcation isn’t complete without the help of ice cream. Flavors Unlimited is my jam, with custom blended flavors and an old-fashioned ice-cream-shop-meets-hot-dog-stand vibe.
Burke’s is the old standby for Russian River entertainment. Rent a canoe, drop in your cooler, and spend the afternoon floating down the river at your own pace, stopping at various beaches along the way. Expect to do a fair amount of paddling, as it takes some work to avoid crashing into the foliage along the banks. But after a long day in the sun, Burke’s staff picks you up and brings you back by bus to the starting point.
Most folks I know rent houses and pack people into them – pretty much the best way to go. You can find good homes on Airbnb and VRBO. I have camped a couple times along the river, but found that many of the campgrounds tend to be little more than expensive patches of dirt. Another option is The River View Garden Resort, which is a funky hotel run by a friendly family with a big, broad lawn. For something a little more romantic, the Rio Villa Beach Resort is cozy and awesome. And speaking of romance, River’s End in nearby Jenner is a spectacular spot. Get there before sunset and grab a drink on the outdoor deck, where you can watch both the ocean and the river.
There are great wineries in Napa, but when it comes to wine tasting, Napa can get crowded and expensive. Westside Road stretches from Guerneville to Healdsburg and is packed with great spots to sip vino. The winding road between them is a gorgeous trip on its own. Arista has an especially scenic garden connected to its tasting room. Check out Wine Road for the full list of wineries.
No weekend on the river is complete for me without a drive out to the small town of Freestone, along the Bohemian Highway, for some sweet treats. Freestone’s Wild Flour Bread is hands down one of the best bakeries I’ve ever been to. Arrive too late in the afternoon and some of its more popular sticky breads and scones will be sold out. And the garden is the perfect place for a little stroll once you’ve had your fill of treats.
What did I miss? Add your suggestions in the comments section below so we can keep growing this Russian River list.