How to Spend a Weekend Eating, Floating and Lazing on the Russian River

Where to stay and what to do in Northern California’s favorite summer spot

August 1, 2023 6:10 am
Kayakers paddle up and down the Russian River on a California summer day.
Kayakers paddle up and down the Russian River on a California summer day
Getty Images

Summer has come to Northern California, which can only mean one thing: it’s time to head to the Russian River, a true gem of the region. Whether the goal is to escape into the woods, cool down on the water or explore the bohemian towns along the river, there is no shortage of ways to have fun. A weekend provides plenty of time to enjoy the best of the Russian River region, from the area’s largest town of Guerneville to the tiny communities beyond. While the river winds its way through much of Sonoma’s wine country, this guide will roughly focus on the section of the river between Forestville and Jenner, where the redwood-lined waters meet the Pacific.  Here is what you need to know when planning a weekend on the Russian River.

Where to Stay

More official hotels and inns are appearing along the river as it grows in popularity, but renting a cabin through Airbnb or VRBO is the classic way to go. Note that some rentals are located in private communities which don’t otherwise welcome visitors, and the listings may erroneously include members-only amenities — like private beach use — as part of the deal, when they are in fact for community members only. Rentals near public beaches like Johnson’s Beach, Monte Rio or Steelhead Beach are a safer bet. 

The recently renovated Ferns River Retreat is right on the beach in Monte Rio, and just up the road is the 11-room Inn on the Russian River for a more formal (but still totally charming) accommodation experience. Just across the river, the dog-friendly Boho Manor is a riverfront wonderland with a spa, gallery and regular events. In Guerneville, the chalets and cabins of Dawn Ranch embody the serene environment of the area with an upscale retreat that has easy access to Johnson’s Beach and the rest of the town’s offerings. And for a truly luxurious stay, book the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, the best place to begin a wine-filled weekend.  

SFO Has Six New Nonstop International Flights — Including to New Zealand’s South Island
United will be the only U.S. carrier to fly nonstop to Christchurch

What to See

Even aimlessly following the river from Highway 101 to Jenner is an excellent way to take in the Russian River, as vineyards give way to towering redwood forests before quickly transitioning to coastal foliage. Explore towns like Forestville, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Cazadero, Monte Rio, Duncans Mills and Jenner to see the unique variety of Russian River communities. Guerneville is the largest of them all, with several downtown blocks full of restaurants and shopping. Three miles north of town is Armstrong Woods, a redwood grove with easy hikes beneath the towering sequoias, which includes the 1,400-year-old Colonel Armstrong tree. Jenner provides more solid sights, with a length of Pacific Ocean beach often filled with sea lions. 

What to Do

Most Russian River summer activities focus on the water itself. Rent a canoe from Burke’s Canoe Trips to float from Forestville to Guerneville, though don’t be surprised if locals laugh if you flip the vessel (though they will probably also help you right it). You can also float on your own inflatables, but organizing your own pickup will be essential — don’t plan on a rideshare option to get back to your car. Head to Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville or the beach in Monte Rio to enjoy the water without changing locations. 

On land, take in local music at Cafe Aquatica in Jenner on the weekends (carpooling recommended), or peruse the cash-only live music lineup at the Rio Nido Roadhouse. Book a tee time at the Northwood Golf Club beneath the redwoods in Monte Rio, or head to Guerneville for the weekend flea market outside Safeway. And seeing as this is wine country, head to the Korbel Cellars for a tasting at one of the region’s most notable labels.  

Where to Eat

The only disappointment food-lovers might encounter during a Russian River weekend is not having enough time to eat absolutely everything, whether at long-standing pubs and diners or the newer restaurants showcasing upscale California cuisine. If you’re planning to spend a day on the beach, build a picnic lunch at Speer’s Market in Forestville, including an essential deli sandwich. To sample the old school eateries that have long served Russian River communities, don’t miss Carr’s Drive In in Forestville or the Russian River Pub, which was a highly local spot until their Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives appearance in 2020. 

River’s End in Jenner overlooks the ocean and is an elevated classic. It offers incredible views at sunset (not for nothing, their URL is, but the food they serve — from “Oysters Epiphany,” local oysters and sparkling wine, to an applewood-smoked filet mignon — is also a treat. Farmhouse Inn is renowned for their restaurant, one of the best examples of California cuisine in the area, so make sure to get reservations early. In Guerneville, book dinner at boon eat + drink, and Stumptown Brewery is the spot to go for beers and bar food. The La Fogatta taco truck also pulls up there daily. And in Monte Rio, the pizza at Fern’s Market is a hidden treasure.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.