California's Russian River is one of the longest rivers in the San Francisco Bay Area, beginning in Mendocino County and cutting through Sonoma County on its way to the ocean. The area is famous for its wine and farm-to-table cuisine, and in warm weather the river is a hotspot for outdoor adventures like canoeing, swimming, and fishing.
The entire Russian River runs more than 110 miles (177 kilometers) from its source in Mendocino County southward to the Pacific Ocean. Wine country towns like Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Santa Rosa, Geyserville, Sebastopol, Jenner, and Bodega Bay are all draws for outdoor recreation, fine dining, and winery visits. From spring through fall, the river itself is a popular place to cool off—whether you want to float down the river via inner tube or paddle in a canoe or kayak. In the surrounding redwood forests travelers can go horseback riding, hiking, or camping.
Wine-tasting tours are a popular Russian River Valley draw, and round-trip transportation from San Francisco or Sonoma means you don't have to worry about drinking and driving. Group tours via bicycle, kayak, and canoe are great ways to explore the river itself, and often involve a picnic lunch. It’s also possible to combine a float down the river with a wine tour of local vineyards.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Russian River is a must-see for nature, wine, and food lovers.
- Travelers embarking on kayak or canoe trips should come prepared with sun protection, swimsuits, towels, and water shoes.
- Most kayaking, canoeing, and wine tours are not suitable for small children.
How to Get There
The river runs from Mendocino to its terminus at Goat Rock Beach on the Sonoma Coast, so there are many places to access the water. Be prepared to drive on backcountry roads through forests and farmland. Major highways such as Route 1 and Highway 101 lead to the Russian River from the Bay Area.
When to Get There
The Russian River Valley wine region is popular for wine tours year-round, but during winter months the river is too fast-flowing for boating or swimming. Summer is the most popular time for kayak and canoe tours, when the weather is typically warm and sunny.
Food and Wine in the Russian River Valley
The Russian River Valley is famous for its chardonnay, pinot noir, and zinfandel, as well as its bounty of farm-to-table food. Restaurants and wineries in towns along the valley such as Forestville, Healdsburg, and Geyserville typically utilize produce and livestock from the surrounding farmland and are frequently managed by celebrity chefs.