GUERNEVILLE — When we imagined our camping weekend in Guerneville, the west Sonoma County river town of 4,500, my husband and I imagined hiking through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, taking a dip at Johnson’s Beach and making the obligatory stop at Korbel Champagne Cellars.
We did all that, but we also fell so in love with this former logging-community-turned-eclectic-wine-country gem, that we ended up spending a lot of time just strolling its downtown streets and restaurants — that is, when we weren’t enjoying free wine tastings in the midcentury modern clubhouse back at the campground.
OK, make that glamp-ground. Staying at AutoCamp Russian River’s luxurious camp site off Highway 116 made the trip that much more relaxing — and indulgent. Pulling up to AutoCamp, less than a mile from downtown Guerneville, is like driving onto the pages of a design magazine: Tucked into a grove of towering native redwoods are two dozen shiny Airstream trailers, their silver facades reflecting a thousand shades of green. Kids haul red Radio Flyer wagons across rocky pathways, while adults ride cornflower-blue Linus bicycles down paths into town and along the Russian River.
Borrow an AutoCamp Linus bicycle and you can cruise downtown and to the beach (Photo: Aubrie Pick).
The trailers (starting at $225) are tiny — perfect for two adults or a family of three — but very well-appointed, with a flat-screen TV, bare-bulb Schoolhouse Electric pendants and a cozy queen-size Casper bed outfitted with hotel-quality linens. The common area has a fold-out futon with Coyuchi throws and a small kitchen with all the comforts of home: French press, stemless glassware, dishes, a cast-iron pan, mini fridge and microwave. The bathroom is tiled and posh, with a walk-in shower and Malin and Goetz bath products. Warm showers last 10 minutes, but you can take a longer one in the spacious, spa-style showers located in the clubhouse.
We spent a lot of our time just outside our door. Each trailer has its own fire pit, lounge chairs and dining table perfect for Kindle reading, s’mores roasting and chilling out. On that first crisp morning, we headed to the clubhouse for complimentary coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice and warm, just-baked buttery biscuits — they’re from downtown’s Big Bottom Market and one of Oprah’s 2016 favorite things —- before heading three miles north to the Armstrong redwoods reserve.
The 805-acre majestic park is a reminder of the massive coastal redwood forest that once covered much of this region, before the logging operations that flourished in the 19th century arrived (in fact, the first English name for the area was Stumptown). Take the easy, 1.7-mile hike along the Pioneer Nature Trail to get up close and personal with a few very special Sequoia sempervirens, including the Colonel Armstrong Tree, which, at 1,400 years, is the oldest tree in the grove, and the Parsons Jones Tree, which is the tallest at just over 310 feet (nearly as long as a football field). The reserve also includes a visitor center with free maps and bug and wildlife specimens from the park, a large outdoor amphitheater and several picnic facilities. Be sure to stop at Big Bottom Market on the way for sandwiches, salads and extra biscuits so you can linger among the towering redwoods during a relaxing post-hike lunch.
After washing up at camp, we spent some time enjoying the amenities — napping in the redwoods-slung hammocks, teaching our son chess in front of a roaring fire inside the clubhouse — before heading out to dinner. And what great timing: Guerneville’s dining scene has matured in recent years, and there’s a fantastic option on Main Street for almost every taste, from mezcal and Mexican deviled eggs at El Barrio Bar to Korean fried chicken and banchan at Dick Blomster’s Korean Diner. Just be sure to leave room for s’mores. Buy a s’mores kit for $12 at the clubhouse and build your own fire by your trailer — a wonderful end to a perfect day.
Johnson’s Beach offers paddle boat and kayak rentals on the Russian River. (Photo: Daniel Poirier)
The next morning, we burned off our eats kayaking at Johnson’s Beach on the Russian River. The beach, located just off Church Street in downtown Guerneville, is a favorite summer spot for Sonoma County families because it offers everything you need: canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, beach chairs, umbrellas and a snack bar with Popsicles and ice cream for the kids and beer and wine for the grown-ups. A two-man kayak will run you $40 for the entire day. And when you’re not paddling or floating on the gentle current, you can take a dip in one of the swimming holes or discover the abundant wildlife in the forest along the river.
The beach closes at 6 in the evening, so, at 5:30 p.m. we pulled our chairs up to the river’s edge and dipped our toes into the crisp water, letting our feet rest atop smooth, polished stones for a few more minutes of summer.
If you go
AutoCamp Russian River: Luxury tents start at $159; Airstreams, $225. 14120 Old Cazadero Road, Guerneville; autocamp.com
Guerneville Bank Club: This collective includes Chile Pie Baking Company, Nimble and Finn’s ice cream, the Jam Jar Finds boutique and Bank Club Wine Collective, a tasting room for Inizi Wines and Baldassari Family Wines. Hours vary. 16290 Main St., Guerneville. www.guernevillebankclub.com
Big Bottom Market: Pick up soups, sandwiches, salads, local wines, honey and buttery biscuits (an Oprah Winfrey 2016 favorite thing) here. Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Monday. 16228 Main St., Guerneville; www.bigbottommarket.com
Dick Blomster’s Korean Diner: This popular Korean American joint is located inside Pat’s and is known for its crispy battered chicken (the other KFC) dressed with soy, chiles and ginger, plus banchan, kimchi pancakes and “whiskey knock-off filet mignon” and a full bar. Open 5 p.m. nightly. 16236 Main St.,
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve: This state park features 805 acres of coast redwoods plus a visitor center, large outdoor amphitheater, self-guided nature trails and picnic facilities. Park in the lot at the entrance and walk in for free. Open 8 a.m. to one hour after official sunset. 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville; www.parks.ca.gov
Johnson’s Beach: Swim, sun and snack at this popular Russian River beach, which offers canoe, kayak and inner tube rentals, plus beach chairs, umbrellas and a snack bar with beer and wine. Open daily through Sept. 8, weekends through Sept. 24 (closed Sept. 9 and 10 for the Russian River Jazz Festival). 16215 First St., Guerneville; johnsonsbeach.com