Kick Back with Friends at the River
by Matt Baume
There are basically three things to do at Russian River: explore the great outdoors, cruise for gays, and self-medicate; or all three, in varying amounts.
Named for Russian trappers who established a colony in the 1800s, the Russian River’s prime destinations start in Guerneville, following the water through sleepy Monte Rio and Villa Grand, historical Duncans Mills, and finally meet the ocean in scenic Jenner.
Just like the Castro, it was in the 1970s that Russian River’s resort towns started attracting gays, and now a slew of resorts and bars target LGBT guests.
Even the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence maintain a robust presence, hosting monthly bingo night fundraisers. August’s theme: “Have I got a Hose For You,” benefitting Monte Rio Fire Services. The always hilarious gay comic Alec Mapa performs at the Russian River Resort August 20-22.
The region’s biggest gay draw is Lazy Bear Weekend — or at least, it is most years, since Lazy Bear’s taking 2010 off. July’s Bear Market, produced by Matt Mikesell, provided a fun substitute. But never fear, CastroBear Presents is bringing River Splash to Guerneville August 27-29, with pool parties, DJed dancing, live shows, Sunday Furry Sunday and more manly events at various venues. www.castrobear.com
Another big August event is Sundance Russian River Party Weekend, August 13-15. With outdoor dance parties and T-dances held morning, noon and night, everywhere should be packed with a few hundred guys from the Bay Area and beyond. Single to full weekend passes range from $20-$100. Info’s at www.guspresents.com.
For gay nightlife, head over to Rainbow Cattle Company for strong drinks, pinball, a sunny patio, and Long Island Iced Teas served in mason jars. Nearby Stumptown Brewery is the Zeitgeist of the north, with a beer garden, wings and ribs, and a cookoff that sells out every year. Or for something jockier, drop in to McT’s Bullpen, a sports bar with a beer garden of its own.
Being so close to wine country means that you can organize your entire vacation around alcohol appreciation. Consider picking up tickets from Wine Road, an association for 150 wineries and 50 inns that offers discounts and tastings all over the Russian River area.
Your choice of wineries will be vast, but the Korbel Champagne Cellars are a sure crowd-pleaser with free tours, antique vaults, and drinks on the cheap. And spend a day in October at the Pinot Festival, where a hundred wineries offer tastings and seminars.
If you can tear yourself away from the booze, you’ll notice that you’re in one of the prettiest natural settings in the world. Rent a canoe, kayak or inner tube and float down the river; or stop by Lotus Kayak Rentals in Jenner to explore the estuary. State parks like Fort Ross and Goat Rock offer historical tours, volunteers in period costumes, and sandy beaches (but watch out for rip tides); while Armstrong Redwoods Preserve features tons of trails and picnic tables between thousand-year old trees. Over at Salt Point, mycological excursions will teach you which mushrooms to pick and which to avoid.
For the truly outdoorsy, camping options abound. Bodega Dunes is comfy and clean, as is Schoolhouse Canyon with its tidy bathrooms and super-friendly family owners. A robust security force and RV amenities suit Casini Ranch to suburban families, while Hilton Park can accommodate large groups. Johnson’s Beach and Resort gets high marks for its comfort-food concession stand, canoes and kayaks, and September jazz festival.
Or perhaps you’d prefer a solid roof over your head. Timber Cove Inn is just about the most romantic getaway you could want, with ocean views and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. Nearby River’s End, despite sounding like the name of a retirement community, boasts tasty drinks and fresh local seafood.
Further upriver in Guerneville, check out the hot tubs and facials at the very modern Boon Hotel and Spa; or settle in for a hot stone massage at the more rustic Applewood Inn. Russian River Resort is in-demand amongst the gays, with theme parties every weekend, copious cruising, and karaoke in the bar. Or rent a cabin at the Highlands resort, which dates back to the 1920s, although their clothing-optional pool is probably a more recent innovation.
If you somehow have space to fill in your tiny San Francisco apartment, consider a trip to the antique and bric-a-brac shops near Duncans Mills. Folksy merch abounds at Antiquarian, Thistledown, and Pig Alley. Satisfy your inner anglophile with fancy teapots and leaves from Mr. Trombley’s Tea; and satisfy your inner Charlie Bucket at Sweets ‘n Stuff.
There’s something for every taste up north: either rough it in the woods, or slide into a spa. Cruise the nude boys at the pool, or class it up with a visit to an antique shop. Splash in the river, or hike up the hills. There’s no better spot for reconnecting with old friends, or for making a few new ones.