Russian River Valley: A Traveler’s Guide

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  • by WC STAFF
  • on NOVEMBER 23, 2015
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Russian River Valley is so full of fantastic wineries, restaurants, shops, and outdoor activities that even lifelong locals haven’t explored it all yet. Give yourself a head start by using the guide below to parse out some of the best places to stay, dine, and drink. Each town—Healdsburg, Guerneville, Forestville, Sebastopol, Windsor—is a uniquely charming hub for these activities. Note that the region is large and the towns are spread out, so plan your hotel stay and winery visits strategically to spend less time in the car and more time enjoying the splendor of Wine Country.

Where to Stay

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Image Source: Yelp

Farmhouse Inn
7871 River Rd
Forestville, CA 95436
(707) 887-3300
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 579 reviews
Check Availability

Farmhouse Inn is run by the fifth-generation Sonoma family the Bartolomeis, who opened the luxury bed and breakfast in 2001. Quintessentially Wine Country, from the rustic-chic decor to the incredible vineyard views that seem to fill every window and door, the Inn is a perfect romantic getaway. Eating dinner at the restaurant at Farmhouse Inn is a must (even if you’re not staying here, we strongly recommend it). Michelin-starred for its perfectly simple, elegant California cuisine, the restaurant is one of the highlights of Russian River Valley.

Insider tip: The Bartolomei family also owns Lost & Found Winery in partnership with Master of Wine Geoff Kruth, and the sought-after wines are available almost exclusively to hotel guests, so take advantage.

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Image Source: Yelp

Honor Mansion
891 Grove St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-4277
TripAdvisor: 5 stars, 689 reviews
Check Availability

For luxury in Healdsburg, this is your stop. The Honor Mansion has received the AAA 4 Diamond Award 14 years in a row, and for good reason. Thirteen luxury rooms are spaced throughout the sprawling property, located one mile from downtown Healdsburg, creating an atmosphere of peace and privacy. There is plenty to do here, from a gourmet breakfast buffet to croquet to a PGA putting green, so book some down time to enjoy it.

Insider tip: Don’t miss the Sherry and biscuits served in the common room in the evening.

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Image Source: Yelp

Cottages on River Road
14880 River Rd
Guerneville, CA 95446
(707) 869-3848
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 280 reviews
Check Availability

Adorable individual cottages make up this property on River Road, across the street from the Russian River. The hotel is close to wineries and outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and river floating, as well as a quick jaunt into Guerneville for dinner or window shopping. The hotel is family owned and the staff is friendly and happy to share great insider tips about the area.

Insider tip: Gather around the fire pit in the evenings to share s’mores and stories from your day.

Where to Eat

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Image Source: Yelp

Farmhouse Inn Restaurant
7871 River Rd
Forestville, CA 95436
(707) 887-3300
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 214 reviews
Reservations: Required

If you’re staying at the Farmhouse Inn, have dinner here. If you’re not staying at the Farmhouse Inn, have dinner here anyway. This gem has held its Michelin Star for seven years in a row for its classic American menu and impeccable service. They pride themselves on meat dishes, from rabbit to squab, which are never anything less than succulent.

Insider tip: The kitchen and wine teams put extraordinary care and thought into their wine pairings, so unless you have a very special bottle you’d like to drink, we recommend choosing the wine pairing.

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Image Source: Yelp

Downtown Bakery & Creamery
308 Center St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 431-2719
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 89 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Founded in 1987 by three coworkers from Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Downtown Bakery & Creamery was built on the sustainable practices pioneered by Chez Panisse. Today, delectable bread and pastries are baked fresh daily, and a full cafe menu is served on the weekends. They also make fresh ice cream and sorbet, and share many of their recipes online for you to try yourself.

Insider tip: Try the Jam Pocket for some gooey, crispy delight.

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Image Source: Yelp

Valette
344 Center St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 473-0946
TripAdvisor: 5 stars, 73 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

Valette is two talented brothers creating quintessential California cuisine, local, organic, and all. The restaurant has won wide acclaim for its dishes, which include Olive Oil Poached Local Halibut and a Roasted Eggplant Caviar Tart. The atmosphere is upscale and elegant, but at the same time down to earth, a true wine country establishment.

Insider tip: Put yourself in the hands of the chef with Chef Valette’s “Trust Me” Tasting Menu.

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Image Source: Yelp

Hole in the Wall Restaurant
972 Gravenstein Hwy S
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 861-3777
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 108 reviews
Reservations: Not required

The local’s breakfast spot, Hole in the Wall is cozy and laid back, as you’d expect. The food is California comfort food at its best, with pancakes, eggs, and bacon in the morning and some surprising dishes for lunch and dinner, from borscht to crepes, with a giddy number of burger variations to round it out.

Insider tip: Try the Dutch Baby with Caramelized Apples to start your day.

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Image Source: Yelp

The Parish Cafe
60 Mill St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 431-8474
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 82 reviews
Reservations: Recommended, especially on weekends

The Parish Cafe serves a classic New Orleans brunch, so bring an empty stomach! The Crawfish and Andouille Omelet is what you want to order, probably with a pot of hot coffee or maybe a spicy Bloody Mary. Chef Rob Lippincott knows what he’s doing, and serves some of the most authentic New Orleans cuisine (a unique blend of Cajun and Creole) north of San Francisco.

Insider tip: Order the beignets all day long, Rob is known up and down Sonoma County for them.

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Image Source: Yelp

Oakville Grocery
124 Matheson St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-3200
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 153 reviews
Reservations: Not required

The Oakville Grocery, with locations in Healdsburg (Sonoma) and Oakville (Napa Valley), is the oldest continuously operating grocery store in California (founded in 1881), and for good reason. The quality and authentic locality of everything sold here is hard to beat, plus you get to feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the general stores of the Old West. The Healdsburg location, just off the square in downtown Healdsburg, sells tasty sandwiches with plenty of sides to create a gourmet picnic.

Insider tip: They also sell local wines, so if you’re short on winery visiting time, stop by to pick up a few bottles of local juice.

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Image Source: Yelp

Dry Creek General Store
3495 Dry Creek Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-4171
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 192 reviews
Reservation: Not required

Also founded in 1881, the Dry Creek General Store is a classic country store with a wine country shine. Gifts and books occupy one side of the store, while a deli counter brimming with fresh sandwiches, soups, and salads is on the other. Grab your meal and head outside to the picnic tables under the awning in the front or trot around back to eat in the garden.

Insider tip: Stop by at the end of the day to join local winemakers for a beer at the dive bar attached to the side of the general store.

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Image Source: Yelp

Russian River Pub
11829 River Rd
Forestville, CA 95436
(707) 887-7932
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 42 reviews
Reservations: Not required

This classic small town pub serves amazing chicken wings and classic burgers. Big screen TVs are always tuned to the game of the hour and they have plenty of beer on tap, so it’s a great place to go if you don’t want to miss your team play while you’re on the road. They’re also very family friendly, so if you’re traveling with the brood, bring them here for a kid-friendly meal and an accommodating staff.

Insider tip: Order the Famous Pub Burger—you can’t go wrong with a classic done right!

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Image Source: Yelp

Chinois Asian Bistro
186 Windsor River Rd
Windsor, CA 95492
(707) 838-4667
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 71 reviews
Reservation: Recommended

For something different, check out Chinois (shin-WAH) Asian Bistro, which serves a variety of dishes from China and Southeast Asia, focusing on Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand. Founder Debbie Shu was born in Taiwan and raised in Napa in the restaurant business, so she knows her stuff. The bright and flavorful dishes are a refreshing find in the quaint town of Windsor.

Insider tip: Try the Lemongrass Chicken Shiitake Lettuce Cup for crunchy, savory satisfaction.

Wineries to Visit

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Image Source: Yelp

Iron Horse Vineyards
9786 Ross Station Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 887-1507
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 134 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Iron Horse specializes in sparkling wines—their bottles have been repeatedly selected over the decades for White House dinners and celebrations. Making up the other side of cellar are their still Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, the latter being the rising star. While at the winery, take in the rustic cowboy vibe and rolling vineyards from the outdoor wine bar perched on a hill.

Insider tip: If you’re visiting the tasting room in April through October, Petite Miyagi oysters on the half shell are available from the local Oyster Girls.

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Image Source: Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards
4401 Slusser Rd
Windsor, CA 95492
(707) 237-3489
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 30 reviews
Reservations: Required

To get a true sense for Russian River Valley, Sonoma-Cutrer is a must-see. Upon arrival, you’ll immediately notice the two pristine croquet courts, which host annual world championships and are available to the public during the off season. As you work on your croquet skills, savor any one of their six award-winning Chardonnays.

Insider tip: Their Russian River Ranches is the most requested Chardonnay across America’s finest restaurants—so even after you leave you can find a taste at home.

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Image Source: Yelp

Merry Edwards Winery
2959 Gravenstein Hwy N
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 823-7466
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 78 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Named the “First Lady of Sonoma Pinot Noir,” winemaker and owner Merry Edwards maintains that she still hasn’t made the perfect wine, but many guests disagree. Tastings are free and it’ll be hard not to walk away with a few bottles.

Insider tip: Merry is one of only four women to have ever received the James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States.

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Image Source: Joseph Swan Winery

Joseph Swan Winery
2916 Laguna Rd
Forestville, CA 95436
(707) 573-3747
Reservations: Not required

Russian River Valley is known for Pinot Noir, but you’ll need an occasional break from the juicy grape, and when you do, stop by Joseph Swan Winery to discover varieties uncommon to Sonoma County. Their Tannat and Gewurztraminer wines are especially popular. The tasting room is located within the barrel room for a relaxed, low key experience.

Insider tip: Bring an extra layer—the barrel room can get chilly.

Things to Do

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Image Source: Yelp

Float the Russian River

What’s more peaceful than floating down the meandering Russian River with a glass of chilled Chardonnay in hand? Not much we can think of. Choose to go with a guide or float by yourselves, but either way you’ll see plenty of wildlife and sunshine. Russian River Adventures is one of many tour companies that operate on the river, and they’ll provide you with everything you need for a relaxing day on a secluded section of the river.

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Image Source: Yelp

Forestville Farmers Market
5700 CA-116
Forestville, CA 95436
(707) 887-3344

Explore the farmers market in Forestville every Tuesday from June through October. Fresh and local produce, bread, cheeses, meats and more are on offer near the center of compact Forestville. Bring a bag and some cash and stock up for breakfast, lunch or a road snack between wineries.

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Image Source: Yelp

Rio Theater & Cafe
20396 Bohemian Hwy
Monte Rio, CA 95462
(707) 865-0913

See a movie and grab a bite at the historic Rio Theater & Cafe in Monte Rio. Saved by a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and now run by a group of college friends who funded the campaign, this historic theater offers movies, a cafe and an outdoor market. Take a break from the sun and support local art!

Russian River Valley is one of the most naturally beautiful, relaxing places in California, and there is no shortage of things to see, do, eat and drink here. Use this guide to choose a few for your visit, and then make plans to come back to do the rest!