Discover the Adventure
On a Russian River Day Trip

Russian River Day Trip Discoveries

The first time Wolf and I took this Russian River drive from Santa Rosa along the river, we were instantly enchanted with the concept of following a river, and the beautiful scenery- especially when we came to the river's mouth as it emptied into the Pacific Ocean, a first-time experience for us!

To round the corner through Jenner-by-the-Sea and watch the river flow past Goat Rock Beach and its Harbor Seal colony on its way out to sea gives the westerly traveler a delectable surprise.

Since that first time many years ago, we've done the drive many times, sometimes East to West, sometimes West to East.

But our favorite direction will always be westerly - to wind one's way for miles along a beautiful river, discovering little villages, campgrounds, and vacation resorts along the way - then to end the journey at the mouth of the river, is a special treat.

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From Santa Rosa to the Russian River

We started our trip from Santa Rosa, taking Highway 101 north to the Mark West Springs Road/River Road exit and heading west (which would be a left after exiting the freeway).

Almost immediately you'll drop down into river basin farmland, which - depending on the time of year you're making the trip - may be full of spring greenery, summer's bounty, fall's harvest, or winter dormancy.

Some of the towns, villages and resorts you may want to visit along the way:

  • Fullerton - a popular vacation spot because of its proximity to the Russian River Valley wine region and Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve.  
  • Forestville - surrounded by scenic valleys, rolling hills, and vineyards, this tiny village has as many as 17 restaurants, pizzerias, coffee houses, and cafes - many of which are highly rated by visitors with sophisticated palates.

But that's just the beginning of our trip - if you want to make a day trip out of it, we'll need to move along.

Traveling the Russian River Valley

Back on River Road and heading west once again, you'll find yourself driving through mixed deciduous and redwood forests that line the road, with the occasional glimpse of a home, inn, or campground on one side or the other.

As you approach Korbel Winery and Champagne Cellars, you'll begin to see their vineyards, planted among the fertile meadows of the river basin. After Korbel you should start to catch more glimpses of the river.

More stops along the way:

  • Rio Nido - a resort community of summer homes and cabins, you might want to drive around for a little look-see if you have time.
  • Guerneville - a must-stop in our book, it's the largest of the resort towns and probably the most well-known.

    A popular vacation destination for gays and straights, families and couples, corporate retreats and family reunions, it's surrounded by the beauty of redwoods and river country.

    Some of the more notable landmarks include the historic River Theater, the Rainbow Cattle Co., Pat's Restaurant and Bar, Whitetail Wine Bar, the historic Guerneville Bridge, and Johnson's Beach - a 94 year-old bygone river beach and 1920s-style resort within walking distance and downtown restaurants and shopping.
  • Monte Rio - another throwback to the old resorts, but with a little bit more of a posh/Bohemian mixture.

    Check out the vacation homes and rentals tucked into the redwood forests. Monte Rio is where the infamous Bohemian Grove - a 2700 acre campground belonging to San Francisco's very secret and exclusive Bohemian Clug - is located. But don't expect to be allow to explore - very private!

    Monte Rio is the gateway to the Bohemian Highway. A drive every bit as gorgeous as the river drive, the Bohemian Hwy takes you to the former timber town and hippie hideout, Occidental. Take a side trip to Occidental if you have the time. It's well worth it, and be sure to have a meal at Howard's Cafe - we had a lovely breakfast there during our last trip!

As you leave Monte Rio to continue along River Road, you'll notice that the redwood forests are beginning to open up a bit with more deciduous mixed in, and some more-or-less open meadows.

  • Duncan Mills - a charming little village that was restored in 1976 to look much as it did when it was first built. There's an authentic Northwestern Pacific Railroad Depot, along with several original cars from the old railroad line and a museum which is open by luck or by chance.

As you pass out of Duncans Mills, you'll be traveling with more of the river in view - fewer trees obscuring the view, and the river's beginning to widen. We're much closer to the Pacific coast now.

This is truly our favorite part of the trip - the landscape is flatter and more open, you're in full view of the river with its islands and sand bars, maybe catching glimpses of the river's wildlife. As you approach the last curve in the road, you'll see the town of Jenner just ahead, nestled into the hillside slopes, and just beyond the town - the Pacific Ocean.

  • Jenner-by-the-Sea is a little town with a lot of charm, sitting as it does on the mouth of the Russian River. It's a popular vacation spot with those in the know, offering easy access to such attractions as Goat Rock State Park, Stillwater Cove Regional Park, Sonoma Coast State Beach, and Salt Point State Park.

    Insider Secret: River's End Restaurant serves a killer Clam Chowder - I'm sure there's wine, butter, and cream involved!

We hope you've enjoyed our trip along the Russian River as much as we have. To see some of the photos from our most recent Russian River drive, check out our Facebook Album.

For more Northern California Day Trips, see:

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