Russian River: Family Fun in Guerneville

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playonetheriver_canoeingA day or weekend up north with the fam is one of the most restorative trips we can think of. The Russian River valley is just about synonymous with “summer,” and there’s plenty of family-friendly fun around Guerneville to keep your little ones occupied. Just follow these tips, and on the ride home, your little ones will already be asking, “When can we come back!?”

A family-run institution since 1918, Johnson’s Beach is the only sandy beach in Guerneville proper, and guests lounge under sun umbrellas or swim, paddle, or simply float in inner tubes in the dammed-up river. The rustic cabins and first-come-first-served campsites are fairly basic, but so convenient in order to have access to play on the beach all day. Call for pricing and availability.

Slightly more refined (including spa tubs ins some of the rooms), are the cottages at Fern Grove, some of which boast private decks. Enjoy your breakfast out on the deck, then hit the heated outdoor saline swimming pool. Rates start at just $139 a night for a one-bedroom cottage.


The must-do is the canoe trip, and for families with kids 5 and up, Burke’s is the best in the biz. Their ten-mile self-guided tour takes anywhere from three hours upward (depending on how many times you stop to picnic, swim, and frolic on the sandbars along the way) ends at a private beach, before you’re shuttled back to the starting point on their fun revamped school bus.

If it’s shade you crave, a walk or bike ride through the redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Preserve, will have the tots “oohing” and “aahing” at the giants. There are hikes flat and leisurely enough for even the least hike-tolerant kid, as well as more challenging ones with views of the Pacific.

Can’t convince your kids to leg it up the steep hill to check out those views? At Armstrong Woods Pack Station, kids as young as 8 and their parents can hop on a horse and head out for an afternoon of gentle riding. Even the most beginning of riders will find the horses agreeable.

A long day on the river or in the woods works up an appetite, so roll into Andorno, on First St. in Guerneville, for Italian food, burgers, and sandwiches, in a boisterous atmosphere complete with pinballs machines. Or, it’s a bit more tranquil out on the riverfront deck.

If it’s hot, hot, hot (as summer and Indian summer often are up in these parts), cool off with a specialty sundae from Main Street’s Flavors Unlimited, which hand-blends favors a la Coldstone Creamery. Mint Madness takes the edge off a real scorcher.

Looking for something beyond pizza and ice cream? The owners of minimalist-chic resort boon hotel + spa have recently opened boon food + drink, serving up local and sustainable bistro fare.

P.S. If you’re lucky enough to snag a spot at Johnson’s for the weekend of Sept. 22 and 23, you’ll be onsite to enjoy the Russian River Jazz & Blues Festival, hosted at Johnson’s Beach.

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