Guerneville, a diverse rural community surrounded by majestic redwoods, has long been a vacation destination for the weary of San Francisco Bay area residents. Among its many attractions is Armstrong Wood’s State Park, a preserve of first growth redwood trees, laced with hiking and horseback riding trails. The forest contains trees that are over 1300 years old and 310 feet tall, truly an awe inspiring sight. Parking and admission is free to pedestrians.
Johnson’s Beach is located in downtown Guerneville and is open to the public, at no charge, for swimming, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival is held here each fall, with a host of stars providing music right on the beach.
The Russian River's Guerneville area is gaining a reputation for its food scene, as well, since there are two Michelin starred restaurants ten minutes from downtown (there are five in the Russian River area altogether).
Most Sonoma County visitors come for the many wineries in the Russian River vicinity. Korbel winery is 3 miles from the downtown area and there are more than 50 wineries within a short drive.
A twenty minute drive from downtown Guerneville, along the Russian River, will take you to the Sonoma coast for those who love the Pacific Ocean's salt air and a chance to see the whales, seals, otters and sea lions that inhabit these waters. Sonoma coast fishing trips are available with local guides for both salt and fresh water fishing.
"UNDER a blinding noonday sun, my boyfriend and I pulled onto the comfortably worn commercial strip of Guerneville, Calif., a former lumber town in Sonoma County. Two men, hand-in-hand, ambled past the mix of rustic, renovated and retro storefronts on Main Street, a backdrop that suggested a dash of San Francisco’s Union Street and Mayberry. A chic restaurant sat near a pawnshop that sat near the Guerneville 5 & 10, whose metal marquee and wooden sign made the place look like a relic from the 40s, which, in fact, it is."
"The town sits in an alluvial plain between steeply forested hills, a striking terrain that provides a tourism quadruple threat: a hikable forest, by a navigable river, near brooding sea cliffs, and — appearances notwithstanding — a viticultural designation known for chardonnays, pinots and syrahs."
"As if that weren’t enough to entice any vacationer, a large sign on our way into town announced that we were entering “A hate-free community,” our first indication that we were bound for the sort of relaxed gay vacation destination that is open to all comers, even straight ones."
"That meant that Guerneville was filled with a collection of people more varied than you’d expect in a town of about 5,000. For every gay couple we saw there was a straight one with children, and scattered in their midst were a handful of aging hippies and woodsy locals. The town’s residents, visitors and that hodgepodge of storefronts on Main Street reflect its transition from timber industry roots to hippie enclave to gay haven."
On the Russian River.
By ANN MARSH
Published: June 15, 2012 on the New York Times
Guerneville (/ˈɡɜrnvɪl/ gərnē-vil) is an unincorporated town and census-designated place in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, California, United States. The town is known for its historical LGBT community and culture, making it a popular destination for both homosexual and heterosexual couples, and for corporate retreats and family and friend reunions. Guerneville is also known for its natural beauty, liberal atmosphere, and proximity to wine-tasting and redwood forests. It was founded by the Guerne family in the 1850s.
History[edit source | editbeta]
Guerneville is built adjacent to the Russian River. Redwoods grew in the riverbed with such vigor that just a few centuries ago, the valley had the greatest biomass density on the planet, according to local lore. The local Pomo Indians used the area as a summer camp and called it "Ceola" (/ˈsiːoʊleɪ/ or cee-oh-lay) which meant "shady place." Except for a large, beautiful stand of truly ancient trees preserved in the Fife Creek watershed, now the centerpiece of Armstrong Woods Park, many of the trees were logged in the 19th century, giving rise to the first English name for the place – "Stumptown." The annual town parade still commemorates the old place name by calling itself "Stumptown Days." The present name Guerneville was introduced to honor Swiss immigrant George Guerne, a local businessman of the 19th century who owned the town's sawmill. By 1870, there was a U.S. Post Office in Guerneville; it was listed by the name "Guerneville". Although locals may be found selling T-shirts that say "Don't call it Guerneyville", many have called the town "Guerneyville" in spelling and pronunciation since the 1800s. The extensive redwood forests on the surrounding mountains are less than 200 years old, having been replacement plantings for much of the logging done in the 19th century.
The area became popular with wealthy vacationers from San Francisco in the late 19th century. The San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad linked the town to the Ferries of San Francisco Bay in 1877. Even with the demise of train service in the late 1930s, the area's resorts remained popular with vacationers who came by automobile through the 1950s. A local movie theater, the River, was built near the beach and showed double features throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The coming of jet airplane travel in the 1960s marked a period of decline for many of the older resorts. Winter floods in 1964 caused a further decline in business conditions. Many housing units that were once summer-only cottages began to be used year-round by low-income households, and illegal drug use became more prevalent throughout the region. However, a renaissance took place in the late 1970s as large numbers of gay men and lesbians from San Francisco identified the area as a prime recreational destination for weekends. Many older resorts gained a new lease on life with the new visitors, and in general, the town's businesses began to thrive again.
HIV ended Guerneville's reputation as a primarily gay destination as more families and retirees moved into the area and resorts, once gay, turned to a straight or mixed clientele. Guerneville has continued to thrive with a very eclectic population and is one of the most gay/straight integrated communities in the country. There are still a few gay resorts, but the largest once gay resort is now very much a straight wedding destination, and by far the bulk of the tourist lodging lies in vacation rentals, welcoming all clienteles.
Modern Guerneville continues to exude small-town charm, from its plaza in the town center with permanent chess tables, to small shops, and a public beach area in the heart of town along the Russian River that is used for fishing, swimming, boating, and sunbathing. Just as in the past, the river is open to the public.
The town is a vacation destination for people throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. It hosts an annual Lazy Bear Weekend in late July or early August, Polar Bear Weekend, in mid-January (gay bear charity events for the LGBT community), and Women's Weekend in the summer.
Guerneville is politically progressive, consistent with most of western Sonoma County politics.
Old Russian River Bridge.
Guerneville's older metal truss bridge can be filmed from the newer bridge, and made an appearance in the movie Mumford as a location for people to walk and talk in idyllic settings. The independent film Deep Dark Canyon was filmed in Guerneville. Surrounding communities were also regular filming locations for the 1960s television series Combat!.
Guerneville is the home of radio station KGGV-FM, 95.1 The Bridge, (www.kggvfm.org) a 24/7 non-profit, commercial-free, community-interactive radio station which features a wide variety of locally-produced programming, streaming live on the web.