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Three reasons is all you need to visit Russian River California.
This place in Sonoma County is all about three things: drinking good wine and good beer, and relaxation in tranquil settings.
While Russian River is at the northern end of Sonoma County, it is not the region you would typically think of when visiting Sonoma Wine country.
In the Russian River Valley, eco-adventures, spa retreats and river activities await you amongst the spectacular setting of majestic redwoods and vineyards.
How far is Russian River from the San Francisco Bay Area?
Its proximity to San Francisco (105 miles via US-101) and a short drive from Sacramento makes it one of the popular places to visit in Northern California, but you won’t feel overwhelmed by crowds here.
The pace is still slow, refined, yet grounded.
The Russian River meanders slowly from Cloverdale in northeast Sonoma County, heading southwest through the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valley, to where it empties into the Pacific Ocean on the coast.
You have endless places to choose to visit.
We spent a week at the Thousand Trails Russian River campground and I can tell you it was most welcome after a week of hectic travel in San Francisco and a week before that winter hiking in Yosemite National Park.
Russian River CA is one of those places to visit in California where I’d say the destination can be the campground.
And after months of hiking and epic adventures in the American Southwest, it was nice to swap the boots for flip flops, swimsuits, dresses and sandals.
This is one of our top travel tips we offer you where we say, just relax and go slow.
Go Tubing on the Russian River
Is there anything better than spending a hot day floating down the river in a tube?
No fears of sharks or gators here, just pretty scenery and refreshingly cool water. We loved our week in Russian River, mostly because we spent several days relaxing by the river.
A few afternoon Pliny the Elder beers and ciders in the hot sun by the river made us all very happy.
The kids had a blast doing the Russian River float and jumping off the rocks that lined the side of the river. We even saw deer hiding in the forest munching away on one afternoon.
Our evenings were spent around campfires and playing dominoes. It was a lovely surprise on our California road trip.
Kalyra was bitterly disappointed, after a visit to the hospital in Healdsburg here to be banned from tubing the Russian River. She fell off a hover board and ended up with stitches in her chin. It was the only time we went into Healdsburg, which is meant to be a cute historical town.
She’s also now banned from hover boards. And we will never be so blasé again to not renew our travel insurance policy! Ouch. $1,000 later, even with health insurance. It would have been $0 if we had travel insurance.
Don’t travel without it! Check policies here!! (we’re ambassadors for Allianz Travel Insurance so recommend them!)
Drink a Few Pliny the Elder at Russian River Brewing Company
We’re talking about beer so popular that lines form down the sidewalk when a signature batch is released. You’ll want to be on the front end of that line or you may miss out on their limited releases.
When we visited the Russian River Brewing company in Santa Rosa I was stunned by the number of people walking out carrying a case of Pliny the Elder. The look on their face telling the story that they just found the treasure at the end of the rainbow.
Each year they release their limited edition, Pliny the Younger. I think it’s becoming a main USA event! People come from around the country just for it, and the advice is to come prepared to wait in line from 3-9 hours!!
There ain’t nothing in the world that tastes so good to justify me linking up for that long, but you go rock your good socks off.
Pliny the Younger is a Triple IPA, simply meaning that it is higher in alcohol and has tons of hops.
What on earth is this craft brew that has been touted as the best beer in the USA?
It’s beer so precious that you have to keep it in your fridge or it won’t last the length of the $60 you just spent on a case of it. Yep. It has to be the most expensive beer I have encountered in the US.
We were excited to finally experience Pliny the Elder and you can bet we did the expensive Pliny walk out of there with our case.
Our friend, Craig has long told us stories of this beer and his eternal quest to have a fridge stocked full of them.
The beer is incredibly smooth and goes down well, generating an almost instant happy buzz. Be careful with these. They are strong and creep up on you, and you could wake up with the worst hangover of your life!
Their original Russian River brewery in Santa Rosa is a bit of a tight squeeze but its worth a visit and you’ll have typical brewpub food choices. Not a lot for those with dietary conditions, but if you love pizzas and wings, you’ll be happy.
There is a newer and larger Russian River Brewery with a beer garden and brewpub in Windsor. t’s their dream brewery that is 85,000 square and allows them to brew more of God’s elixir
Wine Tasting at Russian River Valley Vineyards
You can’t visit Russian River CA without visiting a few Russian River wineries and tasting rooms – you’re in Sonoma County, one of the best wine regions in the USA.
The Russian River Valley Wineries is where the top wineries in Napa go to get their cool-climate grapes. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel rule the vines here.
Don’t fear that the smaller Russian River Valley won’t have many vineyards for you to appreciate a wine tasting adventure: there are over 80 wineries to explore.
We would have loved to have explored more Russian River Valley wineries, but driving can become an issue as everything is spread out, plus the kids get bored, AND it can get expensive.
You won’t find a lot of free wine tastings in this California wine region. Some will waive the tasting fee if you purchase a certain dollar amount of wine. Some will only charge for the premium tasting wines.
Wine tastings typical cost $10 – $25 for about 5 wines (tasting size).
Alexander Valley Vineyards
We visited the Alexander Valley Vineyards which has been a family-owned business since the beginning. There is a lot of history at this vineyard and we enjoyed learning about it on a cave tour with our wine guide.
The caves at Alexander Valley Vineyards are the fifth largest cave system in California which made it a fun and and unique experience.
Inside the caves are hundreds of barrels of wine and we learned more about how they are fermented and made in the barrels.
We sampled the same wine that came from an American oak barrel compared to a French oak barrel. It was remarkable how different it tasted. I preferred the French oak and Craig the American.
After our tour we had our wine tastings sitting out on the porch. The kids had word games to play and did some grapefruit juice tasting. They enjoyed sucking it up through the big dropper and putting it into their glass to drink.
We had several glasses of their premium wines to taste which were all really good.
We compared a red wine that had been aired for some time before pouring to one that had just been opened. The verdict is just as you have been told – the aired wine tasted much better. Recommendation is about 2 hours before drinking.
I enjoyed our experience wine tasting at the Alexander Valley Vineyard. We walked away with a lovely bottle of reserve chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Francis Ford Coppola Winery is another of the Russian River Valley vineyards we wanted to visit. It’s a state of the art sustainable farmed vineyard that produces more than 40 wines.
They offer a few different wine tasting and tour options. Book in advance as it’s a popular place.
They also gave two restaurants and a poolside lunch service. Why not make a day of it and lounge around the pool (for a fee). Great way to soak up those views and cool off on a hot summer’s day. It sure does get hot here.
Best Selling Wine Tours from San Francisco
If you’d like to do a Sonoma wine tour from San Francisco, check out these best selling tours:
- Napa & Sonoma Valley Wine Tour from San Francisco
- Redwood Forests & Wine Country: Napa & Sonoma Full-Day Tour
Watch our Russian River Video:
Places to Stay in Russian River Valley
- Inn on the Russian River: On a quiet bend in the Russian River, this quaint resort offers a variety of accommodations.
- H2Hotel: LEED-certified hotel is located in downtown Healdsburg, just a block from the Healdsburg Town Plaza. It has a variety of earth-friendly features, including a solar-heated creekside pool.
- VRBO Rentals: Tree houses, Redwood domes, cabins and luxury farmhouses, Russian River has diverse and unique VRBO rentals.
Car Rental from San Francisco
Check rental options and prices from San Francisco to get to Sonoma County.
More Places to Visit in California
If you’re looking for more California travel tips, check out these posts:
- 30 Incredible Places to Visit in California
- 5 Incredible National Parks in California
- 17 Amazing Things to do in Ventura County
- 16 Awesome Things to do in San Diego
- 20 Hidden Gems in San Francisco the Locals Love
- 20 Fun Things to Do in Los Angeles