What’s new in the Russian River area is more than anything a feeling—a feeling that this resort area, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, and for decades a leading destination for LGBT travelers, is on the rise. These blink-and-you-miss them towns, arrayed insouciantly along the river at the heart of a primo wine-producing region, now accessible to a wider group of travelers, have experienced an upswing in recent years, largely due to a growing popularity with a hipster crowd that’s taken a shine to the region. Don’t worry, though, these are mellow Northern California hipsters, and their presence has meant that the area is starting to boast an increasing number of fashionable establishments, including hotels, restaurants, breweries, and wine tasting salons. Of course, the LGBT old-timers remain, and it makes for a fascinating combination with the younger, hipper crowd.
Right in Guerneville, two fab new shops just opened in the former location of the much-lamented Mercantile Store. Forest to the Sea (16215 Main St. #1. Tel: 707-6047116. www.stewardscr.org), a project of the invaluable Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, offers nature-themed gifts from lovely cards and earrings to T-shirts, caps, books, children’s games, and even a Chickadee Home Kit, should you be wanting one! With proceeds going to the Stewards’ wonderful preservation and education work, it’s well worth a stop. Next door, Pamper Me (16215 Main St., Suite 2, Guerneville. Tel: 707-892-1417. www.pamperme.net) allows you to do just what the store’s name says, with handmade bath salts, massage oils, and balms in such scents as Lavender Brûlée, Sonoma Sweet Tea, and Creamsicle. With soaps from Sebastopol-based Three Sisters Apothecary, the cutest baby moccasins in the world (as well as baby oil and powder), and local art on the walls, it’s a welcome addition to Guerneville’s main drag.
While this is wine country, brew pubs are also becoming popular. Several have opened within an easy drive of the Russian River, prime among them Grav South Brew Co. (7950 Redwood Dr., Cotati. Tel: 753-4198. www.gravsouthbrewco.com) in the town of Cotati. The proprietors are nothing if not local: both of their grandfathers grew Gravenstein apples, so it’s only appropriate that their brewery is now on the southern end of the Gravenstein Highway (Gray South), which runs from Guerneville through the gorgeously hippy-ish town of Sebastopol. Sixteen taps mean Gray South can offer several of its own brews, from Sweet Stout to Strong Scotch Ale, as well as selections from other local craft brewers.In Petaluma (about 40 minutes distant) you’ll find Brewsters Beer Garden (229 Water St., Petaluma. Tel: 707-981-8330. www.brewstersbeergarden.com). Brewsters, which opened in late 2016, has been attracting attention both for its promotion of local craft brewers (over 30 beers on tap) to its open-air design, with a rooftop garden, bocce ball court, fire pit, and music stage. Food veers toward the Carolinas (as they like to say, “southern BBQ meets California produce”), and, while beer might be the focus as the region’s craft movement picks up steam, there’s a selection of great wines as well—this is Sonoma County, after all!
Head to Santa Rosa, where those princesses of humor, Carlee and Lisa Pidge, have expanded upon the success of their Crushers of Comedy presentations by opening a comedy club in the heart of Sonoma County’s biggest town. Called The Laugh Cellar (5755 Mountain Hawk Way, Santa Rosa. Tel: 707-282-9319. www.crushersofcomedy.com/our-comedy-club.html), this brand-new club will mark a major new addition to a region that isn’t exactly booming with things to do at night. The plan calls for stand-up Friday and Saturday nights, a wine/beer lounge and food from fresh sandwiches to pizza from a wood-fired oven. Events include matinee shows designed for younger audiences and an annual three-day festival of comedy in July. Crushers has been such a success, with its monthly shows selling out to the max, that we have no doubt The Laugh Cellar is going to encounter the same degree of popularity. Wine, beer, great food, hilarious comedy: can you think of a better combination?