If you’re a left coaster looking for an easy-to-get-to, centrally-located, respite from hedge fund investment pressures, digital tech geniuses, or the commercial entertainment industry, look no further than just 75 miles (or 1½ hours) north of San Francisco. It’s worth traveling just a little farther north to reach the area many native Californians call “a little slice of heaven-on-earth.” A small, quaint and picturesque town called Guerneville is the gateway to a whole ‘nother level of relaxing, comfortable and slower paced California that will definitely cool your jets. Welcome to the Russian River Valley!
Although Guerneville is only considered the gateway to this wonderful hidden valley that meanders up the Russian River for over a hundred miles, the Russian River Valley wineries actually extend both southerly and easterly beyond the banks of the riverbed and include some of the finest California vintners.
There’s actually 130 wineries and associate wineries in the area – including, Russian Hill, Korbel Champaign, Martinelli, Gallo, Lennox, Francis Ford Coppola and a host of others – almost all of which offer tastings and tours. If you do more tasting than touring, you may need to hire a car and driver for these winding roads are filled with outdoor enthusiasts including bicyclists.
RussianRiverTravel.com has a complete section dedicated to touring this glorious winemaking countryside on bicycles, and this link will give you more information with maps, tours and groups, as well as where you can rent bicycles for a day or a week.
The Armstrong Redwoods State Park is just 15 miles north of Guerneville on highway 116. The stately and magnificent Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the coastal redwood, is the tallest living thing on our planet! These remarkable trees live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200-250 feet tall. Some trees survive for over 2,000 years and tower above 350 feet. Coastal redwoods are classified as temperate rainforests and they need wet and mild climates to survive.
The Parson Jones Tree is the tallest tree in the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, measuring more than 310 feet in height. This is longer than the length of an entire football field. The Parson Jones Tree is about a 1/10th mile walk from the park entrance. Now the oldest tree in the park is The Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be over 1,400 years old. It is named after a lumberman who chose to preserve this portion of the park in the 1870s. It’s a half-mile walk from the park entrance.
Antiquing is also pretty amazing here in the Russian River Valley. In Guerneville, the delightful Sonoma Nesting Company offers as eclectic a selection of vintage goods and collectibles as you will find anywhere. Continue to historic Duncans Mills, and you find abundant collections of antiques and collectibles, including Thistledown Antiques, Antiquarian and Jim and Willie’s Antiques & Collectibles. Every Labor Day weekend, this charming community is host to antique dealers and enthusiasts from near and far at their annual Antiques Faire.
Now, my editor seems to remember the area smelling of apples during her visit to the region years ago with her family. Perhaps she toured the orchards or the Russian River Valley as opposed to the wineries? One possibility – it might have been more towards Sebastopol in the lower RRV area, where the famous One-A-Day Ratzlaff Orchards are located and so highly (5-star) recommended for touring by yelp.com. Or it could be any one of the 100+ orchards listed in the Sonoma County Farm Trails Guide included in the websites section below. One man’s wine is another man’s cider!
Food and shelter for all tastes and requirements are available throughout the various communities within the Russian River Valley in a wide range of prices and amenities.
Russian River Inns have gained public and media attention for the quality and diversity of Wine Country accommodations. Applewood Inn’s elegance and on-site restaurant are balanced by the comfortably casual atmosphere at Santa Nella House.
The cozy Fern Grove Cottages’ proximity to the banks of the Russian River is complemented by the historic Raford Inn’s placement just outside the town of Healdsburg. Case Ranch Inn is a Victorian farmhouse built around 1894, now lovingly restored, and is a registered Sonoma County historical landmark.
Elegant bed and breakfast inns like the Sonoma Orchid Inn, next to Korbel Winery, in Guerneville is a special experience for Russian River/Sonoma Wine Country travelers. All Russian River Innkeepers share a dedication to each guest in true Sonoma County fashion: genuine friendliness, warmth and exquisite hospitality.
Activities in this little patch of heaven are in abundance for all – antiquing, swimming, canoeing, fishing, rafting, wine-tasting, camping, hiking nature trails in State Parks with awesome Coastal Redwoods – truly the Russian River Valley has it all.
Available at amazon.com. Click on the title to view.
A Wine Journey Along the Russian River
by Steve Heimoff
Tales of the Russian River: Stumptown Stories (American Chronicles/History Press)
by John C. Schubert with foreword by Valerie Munthe
The Russian River
by Simone Wilson
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