So you’ve planned a trip to Napa and Sonoma and you’ve heard of the Russian River Valley, but you’re wondering, what is there to do in the Russian River Valley? Is it worth adding this area to my Napa or Sonoma visit? The answer is, yes absolutely, not only does the Russian River Valley have great wineries, it also offers great outdoor activities such as boating and kayaking on the river, swimming, cycling and walking in the spectacular redwood forests. In addition, the small towns on and near the Russian River including Guerneville, Healdsburg, Forestville, and Windsor are some of the most beautiful in California – and each has a distinct personality. In contrast to wine-obsessed Napa, there are almost as many farm stands as tasting rooms along the wine region’s back roads.
When is the Best Time to Go to the Russian River?
Summer has its appeal when it’s hot enough to get out and enjoy a day of water play, but the weather is best in spring and fall – and it’s less crowded then, too.
Day 4 – Take a drive along the Russian River to Bodega Bay
Follow California Highway 116 along the Russian River toward the ocean, then south along California Highway 1 through Sonoma Coast State Park. Long sandy beaches below rugged headlands, a craggy coastline with natural arches and secluded coves are features that make Sonoma Coast State Park one of California’s most scenic attractions. Continue on to Bodega Bay. On the way back head towards Sebastopol and then north on Highway 166. There are many small side roads that offer infinite variation, but try to take in Graton, home to a nice art gallery, antique shops and two terrific restaurants, Underwood’s and the Willow Wood Market. Even smaller Freestone boasts Wild Flour Bread, one of the best bread bakeries anywhere, and Osmosis Spa.
Day 5 – Water Play on the Russian River
Kayaking, canoeing, and swimming are popular in summer. Bring your canoe or kayak, rent one or take a guided tour from Burke’s Canoe Trips or Rivers Edge Kayak and Canoe. Burke’s Canoe recommends the ten mile self-guided canoe trip through the Redwoods. You can comfortably do this trip in approximately 3 ½ hours of actual canoeing time. However, most people picnic, swim, sunbath, etc. and are usually out close to 4 or 5 hours. Last time we were in Healdsburg we did the 5 mile self guided kayak with Rivers Edge. It was a very relaxing. The water was very calm, so kayaking was easy with the kids. We stopped along the way for a picnic lunch and a swim.
If you haven’t had a chance to swim yet, you can head to the Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg. From July through Labor Day, a seasonal dam creates a calm swimming area just south of the historic, steel-truss Memorial Bridge, and the beach is staffed daily with lifeguards.
Day 6 – Visit Forestville
Drive to Forestville along Highway 116, and visit Front Street. If you’re hungry, visit Nightingale Breads, which uses a wood-fired oven to produce fragrant European-style loaves and other baked goods. Or visit the Tiny Town Café & Pastry for a cup of coffee and great pastry. If you are visiting on a Tuesday make sure you take in the Forestville Farmers Market, which is held 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, June to October. South of town, the family-owned Kozlowski Farms produces jams, vinegars, wine jellies and fruit butters, all sold in the original apple-packing house. Don’t forget to taste local vintages in Forestville’s tasting rooms and nearby wineries.
Day 7 – Cycling in Russian River Valley
A good place to start is the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, 707-523-1878. Their comprehensive website features lots of opinions on the best and worst rides; their recommended ten great rides, most of the best are in the western Sonoma County/Russian River area. You can also use Sonoma County Bike Trails to plan your route, or stop in a local bike shop for advice.
Tip – To quickly find more details on California attractions, see the clickable attractions on our California map