Russian River gears up for summer season
by Ed Walsh
"It's gays meet hippies meet rednecks and we all get along," Guerneville resident and former Triple-R manager Leslie Sachrison told the Bay Area Reporter earlier this month. Sachrison was referring to the eclectic population of the Russian River area where very different people have carved out a very welcoming, safe, and gay-friendly community for decades.
The Russian River area, just a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, has a long history of being one of the Bay Area's favorite getaways. But by the 1960s it went out of fashion as a vacation destination and the tourism-dependent region fell onto hard times. In 1977, Philadelphia businessman Peter Pender bought out the old Murphy's resort in downtown Guerneville and turned it into the gay resort, Fife's. Other gay businesses followed ushering a renaissance on the river. While the river doesn't boast the wild party scene that it did in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it's still a great gay-friendly getaway.
Highlands and the Woods are the only two gay resorts in Guerneville but you will find LGBTs integrated in most resorts, bed and breakfast inns, and hotels throughout the Russian River area. And if you are not ready to commit to an overnight stay, both the Highlands and the Woods sell day passes.
The Woods is one of the more upscale resorts in the Russian River area but with bargain rates that start at $75. The resort is perfectly situated in downtown Guerneville. The rooms are impeccably maintained with modern furnishings and high-end toiletries. The Woods clientele is predominately gay male and the pool is clothing optional. The 19-unit property offers a full range of options from suites with full kitchens to smaller "bunkhouse" rooms. Free Wi-Fi is included.
The Highlands Resort is officially "straight friendly" but the owners estimate that about 98 percent of the guests are LGBT. This rustic resort in the middle of a redwood grove is on a hill just a five-minute walk from the heart of downtown Guerneville. Amenities include a clothing optional pool and hot tub. Free Wi-Fi and a continental breakfast are also included. Rates are as low as $65 for a shared cabin with a private locked bedroom. Rates in the spacious king cabin with a two-person soaking tub start at $180. You can also camp on the property for $20 weekdays and $25 weekends.
The Boon Resort and Spa, along Armstrong Woods Road, just a half-mile from downtown Guerneville, is owned by business and life partners, Crista Luedtke and Jill McCall. The couple also own the popular Boon Restaurant in downtown Guerneville and plan to soon open Big Bottom Market and Deli, also in downtown. (Take your mind out of the gutter. Big Bottom is what they used to call Guerneville because of the fertile river basin that produced groves of large redwood trees.) The Boon Resort is decorated in a modern minimalist chic and rooms have fireplaces. Rates start at $165. The resort is gay, straight, lesbian mixed.
The gay-owned Village Inn and Restaurant Monte Rio, about five miles west of Guerneville, boasts one of the best views of the Russian River. This historic 10-room property has a beautifully manicured front lawn meadow ideal for weddings and commitment ceremonies. Rates start at $145, a good deal considering the quality of this property. If you are not staying there, don't miss stopping by its fabulous restaurant that overlooks the river. It's offering one of the best deals in town on Wednesday and Thursdays: a three course meal along with a dessert for $19.95. The Village's food is only surpassed by the view.
The Wildwood Conservation Foundation and Retreat Center near Guerneville offers a series of retreats primarily for gay men on a 210-acre lush redwood grove in Sonoma County. Amenities include a swimming pool, hot tub, and high-quality food. If you really want to feel like you have gotten away from
The Russian River is also wine country. As you drive to Guerneville, you will pass by a number of large and small wineries. The area's largest is Korbel in Guerneville, east of downtown. It's open for tours and tasting.
For one of the most unique and spectacular winery experiences, check out the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, about a 40-minute drive northeast of Guerneville. This incredible property includes movie memorabilia from Coppola's many films, including a Godfather section, complete with the famous desk where Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) conducted business. This will be the first summer that the winery's huge centerpiece pool is open to the public, so you could easily make a day of it. The winery's restaurant, Rustic, Francis's Favorites, has fabulous food served on a patio overlooking the pool and vineyards.
Sonoma County is also known for wonderful spas. The Osmosis Spa is in the town of Freestone, about a 25-minute drive south of Guerneville. Its most famous offering is an enzyme bath. It is akin to a mud bath but it uses ground evergreens. The spa is on six artistically landscaped acres and includes a Japanese tea garden. It's all about relaxation at Osmosis. Plans are in the works to build a field of hammocks complete with a zero gravity chair. The spa's general manager, Kirtis Johnson, is gay and the spa regularly promotes itself in the gay community.
A couple of smaller spas are associated with the gay-friendly resorts in Guerneville: Boon Hotel and Spa and the Applewood Inn and Restaurant.
With the closing of the Triple-R last fall, the Rainbow Cattle Company on Main Street in downtown Guerneville is the Russian River's only gay bar, although you will find gays integrated in other bars around the town. A lot of the Triple-R crowd migrated to the Rainbow and you will always find a very friendly crowd of locals there. Happy hour starts early from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. with $3 well drinks and beer. The Rainbow's signature drinks are served in Mason jars.
Last weekend was Women's Weekend. The extended four-day weekend celebrated its 31st year. If you missed it this year, information on smaller women's events all year round can be found on http://www.rivergals.org.
The Sonoma County Pride Parade and Celebration is coming up in Guerneville on Sunday, June 5. It gets under way with a parade down Main Street at 11 a.m. The celebration continues on the meadow at the Guerneville Lodge until 6 p.m. The event is being organized by the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
The biggest gay event on the Russian River is Lazy Bear. After taking last year off, Lazy Bear Weekend 15 will happen August 3-7. If you haven't made your hotel reservations yet, do so soon. Many of the accommodations in Guerneville are already filled. For more info visit www.lazybearweekend.com.