Nestled in the sweet spot between Bodega Bay, the Armstrong Redwoods and Sonoma wine country is Guerneville, California. An unassuming hamlet with just a few thousand inhabitants, it could easily be overlooked by travelers passing through on their way toward the coast.
But since the 1970s, LGBT travelers have claimed this friendly Russian River Valley outpost as their own. After a few decades evolving at northern California’s naturally laid-back pace, today the town’s economy relies more on recreation than the logging and mining that long ago put it on the map. And with gay and lesbian entrepreneurs making new investments to improve and expand local hospitality, Guerneville has become one of the country’s top LGBT escapes. Much as east-coast dwellers retreat to Provincetown, Massachusetts for LGBT-centric vacations, Guerneville offers relaxation, good food, great fun, and gorgeous views—all just ninety minutes from San Francisco.
Set on the sandy beach of the Russian River, this almost 100-year-old resort is now owned by husbands Dan Poirier and Nick Moore. The San Francisco-based couple recently bought the 11-acre property from the previous owners, restoring its lodge and cabins just in time for summer. The resort now has a kind of restored-rustic coziness—complete with modern trappings— while maintaining its vintage charm. Johnson’s Beach is also the go-to waterfront retreat for the region. Here’s where you’ll find canoe and kayak rentals, spots to swim and lounge in, and boathouse burgers and beer to snack on.
By day, David Blomster runs Pat’s Restaurant & Bar, which in April marked 75 years as Guerneville’s combo diner and old-school bar. Come 5 p.m., however, Pat’s Restaurant switches from club sandwiches and patty melts to soba noodles and kimchi, as the restaurant reimagines itself as Dick Blomster’s, a Korean-inspired dinner spot. Blomster’s nightly alter ego has earned him a steady fan base for everything from Korean Fried Crack (authentic and addictive spicy fried chicken), kimchi pierogis, and other comfort foods with Korean flair. Blomster himself is a fan of long-running LGBT establishments, recommending the always friendly, gay local watering hole Rainbow Cattle Co., and the more clubby R3 Bar and Hotel, home to pool parties and karaoke nights. (FYI, those three Rs stand for Russian River Resort.)
Boon Hotel + SpaCrista Luedtke was among the first gay business owners to plant her flag in Guerneville. A longtime visitor, in 2008 Luedtke restored an outdated inn and reopened it as Boon Hotel + Spa. The result is a chic, minimalist hotel that marries old and new elements, including reclaimed-redwood furniture, cork floors, and the option of summer glamping in tents, with all the same in-room amenities. Luedtke’s ventures also extend to the dining realm with Boon Eat + Drink, where seasonal menus take full advantage of the region’s abundance of great produce. A few doors down Main Street, her café and gourmet grocery Big Bottom Market is a hit for its biscuits and brunch/lunch fare. They’ll even pack you a bag lunch for hiking or wine-country excursions. For those keen on local flavors to take home, the market (and online shop) sells goods from the area, like Sonoma-made granola and olive oil.
Guerneville Bank ClubThe latest addition to the Main Street scene is this new emporium by real-estate newcomer Robert Pullum. Housed in a 1921 classic bank building designed by Carl I. Warnecke (father of favorite Kennedy architect John Carl Warnecke), the structure is now home to a collective of small shops and exhibit spaces. In partnership with the Russian River Historical Society, Pullum preserved elements of the original building, making it a historic experience unto itself. It’s also a great place to have fresh pie and ice cream from local purveyors. But the highlight is the original vault, now open as a photo booth and lounge.
Like LGBT-friendly cities Provincetown and Palm Springs, Guerneville welcomes events through the warmer seasons. That includes early June’s Sonoma County Gay Pride, late-July’s Lazy Bear Weekend and spring and fall women’s weekends (hosted by different organizers).