Russian River getaways offer beauty, fun
"It’s my favorite getaway," said Linda Stiles as she embraced her girlfriend in the pool at the gay Russian River Resort. She added that she gets to the Sonoma County town of Guerneville several times a year.
"The people are super-friendly," she added, telling the Bay Area Reporter that she would be delighted to be quoted in this article because she wanted to encourage others to visit.
Stiles is the kind of visitor that the Sonoma County Tourist Bureau embraces. While you have to dig for LGBT information on some other tourist boards’ Web sites, the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau prominently features a gay tourism section complete with images of same-sex couples enjoying the area’s natural diverse beauty and world-famous wineries.
The bulk of Sonoma County tourists are from other parts of the Bay Area and the county is banking on recession resulting in more Bay Area residents saving the airfare and taking their vacations closer to home.
Sonoma County is the perfect antidote to big-city sensory overload. The county is best known for redwood forests, stunning undeveloped coastline, charming small towns, and of course, the wine business.
The biggest concentration of gay stuff is in Guerneville, a town of about 2,400 people along the Russian River, about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. Guerneville used to be a redwood forest but after the logging industry took over in the 1800s, it became known as Stumptown because of all the tree stumps downtown. It was eventually named for Swiss immigrant and mill owner George Guerne.
Guerneville was a favorite summer playground of San Franciscans from the late 1800s when the railroad ran there from southern Marin and was a popular drive getaway for Bay Area residents in the 1940s and 1950s. By the 1960s, Guerneville was in a slump as more people preferred to fly or drive some place else for their vacations. Gays helped revive the area in the late 1970s and according to the 2000 census data, it has the second- highest concentration of same-sex couples in the United States. Provincetown, Massachusetts tops the list.
The big news in Guerneville this summer is Club Yamagata. It used to be on Main Street in the heart of downtown but it is moving to a huge new space along River Road, just west of downtown. Owner Mark Blanton is taking over the former Chinese restaurant across River Road from the Garden Grill, just beyond the temperature sign. It will be an upscale restaurant and cafe with outdoor terraces. The old Club Yamagata had a leather night and Blanton promises to keep with that tradition and reserve at least some of the club for gay men. But like most of the bars in town, expect it to be gay-straight mixed. Blanton expects to be up and running by the height of the summer season.
By the way, Club Yamagata’s old space is being remolded into Trio. The owner is putting a lot of money into the space and will be opening it this summer as a California-cuisine restaurant, bar, and music venue. It is not being marketed as a gay place, but expect it to be gay-friendly like all of Guerneville’s businesses.
The attractions in Guerneville include some wonderful restaurants, charming inns, and of course, the Russian River, where you can swim and canoe. Armstrong Woods is another not-to-be-missed attraction. It is a giant redwood reserve that you can drive, bike or walk through.
It can get very hot in Guerneville over the summer, but if the heat is too much for you, relief is a 20-minute drive west to the coast, to Jenner. It is the town where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Jenner’s coastline and beach are rugged and undeveloped.
The wine industry is king in Sonoma County. On June 5, Atwood Ranch and Vineyard in Glen Ellen will host an evening of wine and dancing in celebration of gay pride in Sonoma County. A portion of the proceeds and silent auction benefit the Face to Face Sonoma County AIDS Network. It is being organized by Out In the Vineyard (http://www.outinthevineyard.com), a wine country tour and events company that provides LGBT-oriented wine country tours year round.
Magnum is a gay men’s wine tasting group that meets once a month in Sonoma County. For more information e-mail mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sonoma County’s GayDar meets monthly at various locations in the county. The best way to find out about the group’s events and to be tuned into what’s going on in Sonoma County is to check out the group’s Facebook page (search for "Sonoma GayDar").
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence host what they promise is Sonoma County’s most unusual bingo game that benefits various Russian River area charities. For more information check out http://www.rristers.org.