Not every vacation destination we choose is some exotic location in a far-flung corner of the globe. Sometimes, we’re just too lazy to make proper travel plans and, instead, just look for a decent place within a couple of hours drive from the Bay Area that we haven’t been to yet (or, at least, recently). And Guerneville, California is one such place. It has everything you could want in a small town except the ability to use your mobile phone.
Guerneville is another one of California’s non-sucky small towns.
Guerneville is a small California town about two hours north of San Francisco and, despite its proximity to The City, nonetheless makes for a pretty good weekend getaway.
This quiet, tree-crammed town of 4,500 people only has a few cross streets so it’s eminently walkable. The town has a couple of charming hotels with most modern amenities, and even some well-ranked restaurants so you don’t have to drive anywhere to get a decent meal. In short, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life without actually leaving it.
Where to eat in Guerneville. (Hint: Try the restaurants.)
We didn’t want to drive anywhere so we ate at a couple of really good local places. We had breakfast at Big Bottom Market and lunch at Boon; both were very good even by San Francisco standards.
We had a surprisingly good pesto fettuccine at Spaghetti Betty, the restaurant inside the R3 Hotel (which has a laughably bad website). There was also a promising looking steakhouse or burger joint called the Rainbow Cattle Co., but we never ate there because it always looked closed. Also, try Pat’s/Dick Bolsters, the half-breakfast diner, half-Korean restaurant that’s amazing despite being lit inside like a brothel.
Huh, there sure are a lot of dudes around here.
With all the amenities you’d ever need over a weekend right nearby, it’s no wonder that Guerneville is a popular destination for highly stressed working couples looking to get away from the bustle and noise of San Francisco. It was, however, surprising to find that it was also a popular destination for…um, guys. Big guys, I mean. You know, big hairy guys. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there were a lot of gay guys there (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Guerneville is not normally quite as gay as it was when we went there in the summer. Usually, it’s just a typical, charming-as-hell Nor-Cal small town with a normal amount of gays. But on the dates we went, there was some kind of “bear” event or something (kids, ask your parents).
Frankly, we wouldn’t have even known about it had we not seen seven large, hairy dudes talking about it while they drank Mojitos around our hotel pool.
The Woods Cottages & Cabins at the Russian River.
Located a block off the town’s main street, “The Woods Cottages & Cabins at the Russian River is a charming, rustic collection of cottages with an in-ground pool. The grounds of the place are all but choked with an out-of-control flora and fauna infestation. Flowers and plants of every type, size, and color were growing from every available surface — though, surprisingly for NorCal, I did not see any marijuana.
Our room was really more of an elevated bungalow, so you had to climb stairs to get there. Inside, it was small but it had a big, comfortable bed and the world’s quietest ceiling fan.
Why is a quiet ceiling fan notable? Because, in that heavily wooded part of Sonoma County, the trees deaden and obliterate sound pretty comprehensively. The result is an eerie and omnipresent silence that even the slightest noise can shatter.
This near absence of ambient sounds means that little noises — like cars driving by or the couple in the next unit having sex — stand out that much more.
There’s not even a lot of traffic noise, either, due to both the hotel’s off-Main Street location, and the fact that there’s not a whole lot of traffic anywhere in Guerneville. When we first arrived at The Woods, we parked our car once and basically never had to use it again.
The Woods is starting to show its age in places, yet overall the hotel is still in very acceptable shape and simply oozes character and whimsy. Many of the objets d’art in the rooms and around the hotel grounds were attractive, but…uh, let’s say, inexplicable. However, if you want a sterile, charmless place to stay, there’s probably a Holiday Inn Express off a highway exit somewhere.
The Bohemian Grove isn’t satanic (probably).
In nearby Monte Rio, there’s a place called the “Bohemian Grove.” Despite its hippy-sounding name, the place is not a sex club (at least, not officially), but rather a famous private hangout for one-percenters. Do not try to visit the place unless you’re rich, male, and white, or you’ll get shot at by the security guards they have all over the place.
Don’t bother bringing your mobile phone.
One “downside” of the town’s remote location is its feeble and almost non-existent cellular coverage. The entire time we were within Guerneville city-limits, we got no bars; not occasionally, I mean always. Sure, there was fast wifi at every hotel, restaurant, and bar but the lack of cellular reception made it clear just how isolated we really were from the things in life that really matter (Facebook and Twitter).
Guerneville’s apparent decision to prioritize preserving the area’s natural beauty over installing multiple cell towers really shows you how backward this town is. These days, there aren’t many places in Northern California where you can get away from mobile connectivity, but Guerneville certainly heads up the list.
What to do in Guerneville, if you must.
Basically, the best thing to do in Guerneville is nothing. Sure, we hiked around the town and hills a fair bit, but we had the most fun relaxing by the pool and just chilling out with a six-pack of ice-cold beer. If you do manage to get bored doing absolutely nothing while in Guernville, you might want to check out the local “beach.”
Guerneville is a beach community (kinda).
Just off Church Street — which runs perpendicular to Main Street — there’s a place where the green Russian River passes an undeveloped parcel of land covered in tiny grey pebbles. The locals call this area Johnson’s beach, but not ironically for some reason. Still, you can rent canoes, kayaks and inner tubes and go swimming, boating, canoeing, or just float in the not entirely freezing water. I think they’ll even let you drink (as long as you hide your beer).
You probably need to come here.
If you’re looking for a nice quiet place to escape the bright lights of the big city, you could do a lot worse than Guerneville, California. For example, you could go to Flint, Michigan. It’s a pretty miserable vacation spot from what I hear in the news.
Click here to see more of Peter Crosby’s photography from his trip to Guerneville, California.