Six Reasons to Spend the Weekend in Russian River

Jenna Scatena | December 17, 2014 | Story California Destinations

The Russian River may have a reputation for floods of Biblical proportion and regular winter power outages , but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The crowds that tend to flock there during the summer for drunk inner-tubing avoid it altogether during winter’s shorter, darker days, giving the region a blissfully peaceful mood. That’s not to say you shouldn’t heed the weatherman’s warnings—floods and hazardous conditions do paralyze the region at times. But if you go at the right time, stay on the high grounds along Russian River Road, and use caution (and common sense), it can make for the type of quiet retreat you often think you have to buy a plane ticket for, and just 75 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

West Sonoma County is a bit of a hotel desert—it’s full of good food and delicious wine, but decent places to stay are few and far between. The Farmhouse Inn has been the region’s lodging darling for decades, and with the finishing touches just now being completed on a major renovation, it’s no longer resting on its laurels. With refreshed rooms that offer forest, garden, or chicken coop views, the Inn is a great place to cozy up by a double-sided fireplace. The new spa, built in the image of a horse stable, offers farm-to-table scrubs—try the “personal apothecary” treatment. Tip: They’re offering pretty sweet deals during January.

For good food, you don’t need to trek: The Farmhouse Inn’s restaurant is one of only three in all of Sonoma County to flaunt a Michelin Star. Recent selections include hearty dishes like elk tenderloin with chestnut spaetzle and dandelion greens, and the restaurant's signature rabbit three ways (bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack, and confit of leg). Many ingredients come from the owners’ farm down the road. In the evening, the Inn sets up a complimentary s’mores station with homemade marshmallows. Also, don’t underestimate the three-course breakfast here, which has proven just as worthy of a binge as the dinner. The only bad news is, there’s no gym where you can work it off.

January 17 and 18 brings the annual Winter WINEland event, where a $50 ticket gets you tastes of limited production and library wines at Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley wineries. Some wineries will also offer tours and food pairings.

If it’s not too ugly out, the Armstrong Redwoods can be a serene place to hike during the winter, with empty trails, lush ferns and mosses, and, if you’re lucky, ethereal fog floating through the branches. Meander through ancient redwoods, some of which are estimated to be more than 1,400 years old and taller than 310 feet.

If you’re looking to spend your day in town, Guerneville has slowly but steadily been reinventing itself over the last few years. It’s now arrived at an interesting crossroads, keeping some of its super-funky hippie shops while opening small but buzz-worthy restaurants. Boon Eat + Drink received a nod from Michelin this year (though not a star) for its bright and festive salads using local ingredients such as kale and persimmons.

Nearby Big Bottom Market has become locally famous for its thyme and cheddar biscuits and selection of artisanal lotions, jams, snacks, and shrubs. And Seaside Metal Oyster Bar is Guerneville’s answer to Polk Street’s beloved Swan Oyster Depot, with hearty seafood chowder and lobster salad.

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