Happy Wanderer: Guerneville is Epicenter of Hot Russian River Culinary Scene

Old fashioned Guerneville 5 & 10 in downtown Guerneville. Photo by Ginny Prior


It’s the trifecta of topography — the redwoods, the river and the ocean. Add 130 wineries to the mix (from the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area), and Guerneville comes up as the perfect setting for a culinary adventure.

Having never received my invitation to Bohemian Grove, I launched out with friends recently to explore food, wine and fun near a town that had been underwater just weeks before. Guerneville wasn’t going to let an unruly river dampen her spirit. Restaurants and shops, tasting rooms and hotels were open and welcoming — the first thing we noticed when we arrived.

Downtown Guerneville reflects old and new. Some stores, like the famed Guerneville 5 & 10, are historic. Others, like Sonoma Nesting Co., reflect a new kind of pioneer spirit. And Boon Eat + Drink, El Barrio Bar, Big Bottom Market and Brot are hot new entries on a Main Street that is going after a broader demographic than its “bread-and-butter” gay community.

“From the ‘80s to the early 2000s it was kind of like the Palm Springs of the north,” says business owner and visionary Crista Luedtke, “It’s completely shifted and changed.”

It’s not surprising. Who wouldn’t want to dine in a region considered the Bay Area’s bread basket?

“The restaurants in Sonoma County have cultivated these amazing relationships with the gardens,” says Joe Bartolomei, co-owner (and fifth-generation farmer) of the Michelin-rated Farmhouse Inn Restaurant in nearby Forestville. “In the farm today and on the table today, it’s our ethics, and we’re not unique. There are so many amazing restaurants in the area.”

Though some may argue, the most luscious fruit grows on the vine. Here again the Russian River AVA stands out with its internationally-acclaimed pinot noir and refined chardonnay. A visit to four family-owned wineries on Westside Road let us tour the wine cave at Thomas George Estates and enjoy the coastal influences on wines at Gary Farrell Winery, Moshin Vineyards and Porter Creek Vineyards.

For even more active wine enthusiasts, the $35 Wine Road Tasting Pass (wineroad.com) includes over 70 wineries. A word of advice — call Jersey Tom (jerseytomwinetours.com) if you’re going to taste enough to do these wines justice.

Lest I forget, there is kayaking — big-time kayaking where the river meets the ocean in nearby Jenner. Suki Waters (yes, she’s a kayak guide with the last name Waters) is the owner of Watertreks (watertreks.com) and can take you on an insider’s paddle to Goat Rock Beach and the island where her ancestors lived in Sonoma Coast State Park. There’s still an old dairy there today.

Thinking about it, I’m happy my invitation to Bohemian Grove never came. Instead of an exhausting political discussion with the Kissingers, I sat under stars at the Sonoma Orchid Inn in a hot tub surrounded by redwoods. I kayaked near otters and sea lions. And I enjoyed the fruits of a region that is known around the world for its food and wine. Consider this your invitation. The river, the redwoods and the ocean are calling.

Ginny Prior can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and at ginnyprior.com. Email her at ginnyprior@hotmail.com.


Get summer deals on a green-certified gourmet bed-and-breakfast inn in the redwoods at sonomaorchidinn.com. For more information on lodging, food, wine and activities, visit the Russian River Chamber of Commerce online at russianriver.com or at their Guerneville or Korbel Champagne Cellars Visitor Centers.


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