Stepping OUT

Raving About the Russian River

Your Guide to a Wine Country Weekend
By: Philip Hall
Photos courtesy of Eatsporkjew.com

Instead of finding sand stuck in all those places where the sun don’t shine, try spicing up your summer weekend getaway with a trip to Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Just 90 minutes by car from San Francisco you’ll find good wine, delicious food, and plenty of gays on Grindr—the perfect combo for a memorable weekend vacay.

Home to several large and quaint river towns, the RRV is to Bay Area residents what the Hamptons are to Manhattanites—only less pretentious and better!

Where to stay in the Russian River
For the true RRV experience, get a bunch of friends together and rent a house through Airbnb, VRBO or Russian River Rentals. Otherwise book a room on Guerneville’s river’s edge at the Creekside Inn & Resort for a modern-treehouse experience surrounded by redwoods. It’s a short walk across a pedestrian bridge to Johnson’s Beach where locals and tourists stay cool in the summer floating in inner tubes with their backs in the river while staying hydrated with chilled rosé and ice cold beer.

For the millennial glamper there’s Autocamp, an RV park of luxurious airstreams outfitted with mid century modern decor and all the comforts of home. Hang with other guests at the club house, roast marshmallows at campfire pits, and ride cruisers into town at sunset for dinner and artisanal ice cream (Nimble & Finn’s) and pie (Chile pies baking co.) at the newly renovated Guerneville Bank.

Russian River Valley wine tasting
Watch out for the cyclists as you take in the natural beauty of the valley on a scenic drive down tree-lined Westside Road (the Rodeo Drive of the RRV). Pop in to family owned and operated Bacigalupi winery to experience three generations of grape growing in the region. Their pinots and chardonnays are amazing, but their rosés of pinot noir and zinfandel are the showstoppers.

If you’re the planning type, make an appointment at MacRostie Winery for the ultimate wine tasting experience. They’ll meet you in the parking lot with a glass of bubbly to get your taste buds going and you’ll enjoy a curated tasting in their chic renovated estate house. Ask for one of the tables on the outside deck so you can enjoy the amazing view of the vineyards, mountains, and rolling hills.

Across River Road you’ll find Hartford Family Winery, the perfect wine picnic spot. Served at many White House dinners, their chardonnays, pinots and zinfandels are some of the best in the RRV AVA. Their outdoor patio is also the best kept secret for a relaxing spot to enjoy whatever vital vittles you bring with you.

Here’s an interactive winery map of RRV wineries.

Where to eat in the Russian River
Stop for brunch, lunch or dinner at The Backyard in Forestville for an unforgettable wine country dining experience. Husband and wife owners and chefs, Danny Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire, change the menu daily to use seasonal ingredients sourced from within 25 miles of the kitchen. If the weather permits, sit outside in the tree covered patio and enjoy their fresh baked biscuits and gravy, famous fried chicken and waffles, fish of the day and unforgettable chocolate budino.

Take a break from the heat with some ice cream from Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar, a gay owned heritage pies and ice cream shop on the Healdsburg square where they concoct flavors inspired by Scandinavian and Japanese cuisine like Thai Iced Tea and speculoos cookie butter.

Another great spot for picking up picnic provisions is Big John’s Market, a local grocery store on the northern side of Healdsburg. They stock produce and products from local purveyors and have an awesome deli and cheese counter.

Downtown Guerneville has a ton of great food options. Boon eat+drink is a modern California bistro serving up simple full-flavored dishes focused on local ingredients instead of gastronomic foams. Their brussel sprouts are out of control! Just a few doors down is Big Bottom Market, which doesn’t get its namesake from the burly bear bottoms who fly in for Lazy Bear weekend every August, though my mind went there too. Think small gourmet country store known for fresh baked sweet and savory biscuits in the AM and salads, sandwiches, wine, cheese, and anything you need for the perfect picnic lunch on the river’s edge.

Get your aphrodisiac on at Seaside Metal Oyster Bar, the sister restaurant to SF’s Bar Crudo and home to the best seafood chowder and crudo sampler you’ve ever tasted. This is a seafood lover’s paradise so if you’re looking for a good burger and onion rings, head down River Road to Stumptown Brewery or Russian River Pub.

Other Russian River activities
● Hiking in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
● Antiquing in Duncan Mills, Geyserville, and Healdsburg
● Kayaking and canoeing at the River’s edge in Jenner with Watertreks EcoTours
● Goat cheese tasting and dairy tours at Bohemain Creamery
● Cedar baths and a spa day at Osmosis Day Spa in Occidental

This is just a sampling of what awaits you in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, which, thanks to Southwest flying into Oakland and San Francisco nearly every hour on the house is easy to get to. Plan your trip, explore the area, and discover the charm of wine country for yourself.

Philip Hall is a professional storyteller and founder of Eatsporkjew.com
Stepping OUT is a monthly food and travel column that hopes to inspire readers to step out of their daily routines and ritual comforts with regards to the places we go and the food we eat.