Front CoverTravel

Travel Guide to Guerneville, California

With Lazy Bear Week just around the corner, taking place from July 29 through August 5, we thought it might be helpful to share this travel guide to Guerneville, California, where the event is held as published by our sister publication Vacationer.

Long a favorite LGBTQ+ vacation retreat, the tiny town of Guerneville, situated right on the Russian River, is only about 90 minutes from San Francisco, making it a perfect overnight or weekend trip for visitors to the city (as well as Bay Area residents). You can see why it’s retained such popularity, as the mellowness of “life along the river” and a longstanding LGBTQ+ presence combine with the surrounding natural beauty and the nearby glories of Sonoma County. 

In Guerneville, you’re just a stone’s throw away from the Russian River, redwoods, great dining, and quirky shopping – ­not to mention one of the prettiest stretches of coastline in the world and over 400 wineries. For more information on all the area has to offer, visit Sonoma County Tourism.

While most people drive up from San Francisco or Oakland, if you’re coming from most West Coast destinations, you can fly right into the Sonoma County Airport ­– technically the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport, named after this beloved Sonoma County resident – only twenty minutes from town.

Where to Stay

First, let’s settle in. Right in town, The R3 Hotel is party central whenever there’s a big event going on, and pretty damn fun even when there isn’t! The Stavrand, just minutes from “downtown,” has remodeled the former Applewood into a luxury retreat par excellence. Autocamp is the lodging of choice for Guerneville’s increasing hipster crowd, with a row of Airstream trailers overlooking seasonal Hulbert Creek. Boon Hotel + Spa is another great choice, founded (with her ex-wife) by local Crista Luedtke, who’s responsible for much of Guerneville’s recent revival. Vacation rentals, too, are a winning option, and you can find everything from a little cabin in the woods to a grand getaway overlooking the river at Russian River Vacation Homes.

Where to Eat

You’ll definitely want to eat at Boon Eat + Drink for an eclectic American menu and BROT for creative German food – both the creations of Luedtke, and a tribute to her talents as both chef and entrepreneur. Main Street Bistro has live music, pizza, pasta, burgers, and more, including the best jalapeño poppers in history! If you’re venturing into nearby towns, such as Jenner, be sure to check out River’s End for amazing ocean views as well as amazing food. In Petaluma, try Tortilla Real for super-fresh Mexican food, in Healdsburg, visit Valette for eponymous chef Dustin Valette’s culinary magic, and in Sebastopol, Blue Ridge Kitchen has an eclectic menu including their famous “drunken fried chicken” – need we say more? These are just a few of the many amazing places in this very food and wine-centric county.


The Russian River is, of course, the main draw here. Stroll along one of the town’s beaches, and you’ll probably want to get out there yourself. So rent a kayak from King’s Sport and Tackle on Main Street or arrange a trip with Burke’s Canoe Trips in nearby Forestville to spend some time gliding down the river. Also unmissable: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, on the edge of town, where you can admire close-up the amazing redwoods that are among the world’s oldest and tallest trees. Of course, Guerneville is not only right on the river, but just a 20-minute drive from the ocean, and the alluring stretch of the Pacific Coast is well worth a day trip.

While it’s nature that draws you in, it’s the wine that makes you stay. With over 400 wineries in the area (Sonoma County Vintners has a wealth of information), you can easily designate a driver and spend a whole vacation doing tastings! Right in downtown Guerneville, be sure to stop in Equality Vines; founded by Matt Grove and Jim Obergefell. In case you didn’t know, Jim was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage. And at Equality Vines, you can sample wines from some of the area’s best vineyards, with a portion of the sales supporting such organizations as Lambda Legal Defense, Puertas Abiertas, and LGBTQ Connection. Be sure to spend some time, too, just wandering around town, stopping in a gallery here, a thrift store there. Don’t miss the recently opened Books & Letters bookstore just off Main Street, and next-door Coffee Bazaar, a favorite local hangout.

Have a picnic at a local vineyard (Photo Credit: Sonoma County Tourism)
Have a picnic at a local vineyard (Photo Credit: Sonoma County Tourism)

Two LGBTQ+ events reign supreme in Guerneville. Usually held in October, Russian River Women’s Weekend includes Drag King shows, pool parties, and dance events making for a weekend of all-welcoming fun. Then there’s Lazy Bear Week in August, with pool parties, beach parties, coffee socials, game nights, and more pool parties filling the busy roster of fun. If the idea of LGBTQ+ friendliness and wine-drinking appeals to you, don’t miss Sonoma County’s leading celebration for queer wine lovers in July, the Gay Wine Weekend.

Lazy Bear Week (Photo Credit: Sonoma County Tourism)
Lazy Bear Week (Photo Credit: Sonoma County Tourism)


Main Street’s Rainbow Cattle Company is the premier LGBTQ+ bar in Sonoma County, as it has been for over 40 years, so be sure to stop in this down-home, welcoming, and amazingly fun place. Also pay a visit to El Barrio, a few doors down, where you’ll find, not surprisingly, a huge selection of tequila and mezcal in a comfy, living room-like setting. But then, you might just want to relax, stroll through town, or sit at your hotel, as night falls and about a million stars – remember what those are? – appear in the sky. That’s nightlife, Russian River style.

This article was originally published in our sister publication, Vacationer.

Latest Articles

Richard Rubin

Rich Rubin has been writing about travel for decades; his credits include such publications as Passport, Genre, Out & About, Travel & Leisure, Bride’s, Caribbean Travel & Life, Saveur, Garden Design, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and many more. He is now living the good life along the Russian River.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *