Russian River: San Francisco’s Rustic Getaway
The Russian River area, known affectionately to most as just "The River," has long been the summer playground for San Francisco residents including the city’s huge, vibrant gay community who have been no strangers to the muddy banks and little river towns.
Situated 70 miles north of San Francisco, along the Highway 101 corridor and a few miles west on River Road, the heart of the community is Guerneville. A simple drive on most days, the ride transforms the vistas from urban sprawl to rolling grassy and oak covered hills, through small suburban towns until you begin the trek west along River Road and find yourself shrouded in redwood trees.
Guerneville has been a gay-friendly village for over 30 years and often the scene of some great party weekends, major gay events, and the occasional weekend getaway from San Francisco. At any given time, Guerneville had hosted six gay friendly bar-nightclubs, and was host to events like Sundance, Redwood Empire Horseman’s Association Rodeo parties, Lazy Bear and Women’s Weekend. Over the years lodging at sites like Fifes and the Russian River Resort became synonymous with good times, good cocktails, pool parties, and fun nights.
Big Changes Over the Past Decade
The River Theater, built in 1947, originally a summer movie palace, then converted into a nightclub, has also seen its share of great nights. In the ’70s, old-fashioned movie palace saw the likes of the Jerry Garcia Band, Emmylou Harris and the Dead Kennedys as a live music venue. In the mid ’80s it re-converted into a community theater. Then it changed to a punk band showcase, with famous groups like Green Day and Primus.
In the early ’90s, it was renamed to Ziggurat and featured over-the-top decorations and themes that drew the boys up from San Francisco to dance the nights away in the little river town. The floods in 2005 forced the closure of the club and since then it has seen occasional weekend night activities with big weekend events. Most recently, it was purchased and renamed Jerry’s Knight Club, and has played host to parts of the Lazy Bear and Sundance dance party weekends.
Unfortunately, the past decade has seen a slow decline of the activities and fun presented at The River. Fifes, long the home to camping, dancing, and frolicking by the pool, and home to some of the bigger dance parties, was sold a number of years ago, changing the overall tone of the weekends at the river and shifting the center of gravity over to the Russian River Resort.
The Triple R, boasting a sunny pool, a frisky crowd and fun when the sun went down, suffered its demise in turn, a victim of the recent real estate challenges and economy. Today, it sits forlorn as it awaits yet another owner.
Where to Stay
There are still some great choices for places to relax, sip a cocktail, grab some sun and enjoy a quieter and peaceful river weekend.
The Woods Resort
16484 Fourth St.
Located in the heart of downtown Guerneville, this resort and spa complex offers an array of cabins and clothing optional sun bathing.
16650 River Road
Not only do you get quaint cabins, friendly staff and a great sunny pool area at this cottage complex, but also many feature wood-burning fireplaces perfect for romantic evenings.
14000 Woodland Drive
Nestled in the redwoods and with a saltwater pool is a quiet getaway with camping and cabins that advertises itself as "98%" gay but "straight friendly."
Where to Play
Rainbow Cattle Co.
16220 Main St.
Party time is simpler now, with most nights finding folks gathered at this downtown Guerneville bar to sip on potent Long Island Ice Tea and other cocktails.
The biggest weekends of the year for the gay community will be Sonoma County Gay Pride on Sunday, June 5, and for the bears, Lazy Bear Weekend held August 3 to 7, 2011.
The high-water marks at The River may be visible and the community may be smaller and less party-centric, but this is still a great place to take someone special or just yourself for a quiet getaway and some time to relax and unplug from daily life.
For more information to learn more about The River check out www.gayrussianriver.com. Information on Lazy Bear Weekend can be found at www.lazybearweekend.com.
This article is part of our "Summer 2011" series. Want to read more?
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