Sonoma Wine Country is a popular couples’ weekend getaway, but what about LGBT couples? The LGBT hot spot of the West Coast, San Francisco, is only 55 miles (just over an hour) away, which makes Sonoma, and its largest city, Santa Rosa, perfect for a romantic weekend break.
In fact, Sonoma County was named as one of the top 20 tourist destinations for LGBT travelers in the entire U.S., and Huffington Post included it in its Top 10 LGBT Honeymoon Destinations.
I went to Santa Rosa and Guerneville to find out what Sonoma Wine Country has in store for queer travelers, from LGBT-friendly places to stay, things to do and which events are worth a trip.
Things To Do
This region of Northern California is primarily known for its many vineyards and wine tastings, but there’s a lot more to Sonoma County than just that: the Pacific Coast Highway, Redwood forests, river adventures, quaint little towns and beautiful beaches.
Of course you can’t go to Sonoma Wine Country and not drink wine! There are over 250 wineries in Sonoma County, many of them producing award winning bottles. No matter where you base yourself, you’ll never be far from a winery, but here are a few that are well worth visiting:
- Paradise Ridge Winery (4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr, Santa Rosa)
- Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens (5007 Fulton Rd, Santa Rosa)
- Korbel Champagne Cellars (13250 River Rd, Guerneville)
- Sebastiani Vineyards (389 4th St E, Sonoma)
- DeLoach Vineyards (1791 Olivet Rd, Santa Rosa)
- Matanzas Creek Winery (6097 Bennett Valley Rd, Santa Rosa)
- Virginia Dare Winery (22281 Chianti Rd, Geyserville)
- Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves (9711 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg)
- Martinelli Vineyards & Winery (3360 River Rd, Windsor)
- Iron Horse Vineyards (9786 Ross Station Rd, Sebastopol)
Explore the Small Towns
Sonoma County is home to a number of small towns worth exploring:
Start with not-so-small Santa Rosa, the largest city (pop 174,000) and capital of Sonoma County, where you find the excellent Sonoma County Art Museum, with its rotating art exhibits and exhibits on local history and culture, and if you are a fan of the Peanuts comics, you can’t miss the Charles M Schultz Museum.
The above mentioned Paradise Ridge Winery, which I found worth visiting for the Sculpture Garden alone, and the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens are beautiful, and the Railroad Square Historic District is well worth a stroll. Here you will find a number of small shops selling books, jewelry, and antiques, as well as art galleries, and restaurants.
Guerneville is the heart of gay and lesbian Sonoma County, worth a visit not only for the nearby Redwoods and the Russian River beaches, but also its charming Main Street and the many gay-friendly establishments. The former lumber town has turned into one of the most popular gay hotspots on the West Coast, so it is the town where most LGBT travelers base themselves on a trip to Sonoma County. Here you can find the largest concentration of LGBT-owned or LGBT-friendly hotels, nightlife and bars, and several LGBT events take place here every year (see below).
Healdsburg is a quaint little town in the middle of wine country, offering art, sculptures, shopping in little boutique shops, and more world-class dining then you can fit into a quick getaway (see Where To Eat). If you are in need of a break from all the wine tastings, make sure to stop at the Sonoma Cider Company’s new tap room for a flight of their innovative artisanal cider creations.
Sonoma with its historic town plaza, is anchored by a Franciscan mission, a remnant of the town’s Mexican colonial past, and has several historic monuments (it was here where Californians declared their independence from Mexico after the Bear Flag Revolt), including the Mission San Francisco Solan, the last Spanish-Mexican mission built in California, and Buena Vista Winery, California’s oldest winery. You can also find cute shops, restaurants and tasting rooms around the town square.
Enjoy a Spa Day
Nothing is more relaxing and rejuvenating than a spa day,so luckily Sonoma County has more than 40 fabulous spas and wellness centers where you can find treatments, massages and ultimate relaxation.
Some of the best spas include:
- Willow Stream Spa At the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn (rated among Travel + Leisure’s top 25 spas)
- The Best Day Spa, Santa Rosa (amazing massages)
- Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, Freestone (Japanese-themed)
- Boon Hotel & Spa, Guerneville
- Spa Dolce in Healdsburg (Fodor’s Choice 2013)
Go for a Hike
Sonoma County has over 140 miles of trails in its Regional Parks, ranging from beach hikes (see coastal hikes below) and forest hikes to hikes through the mountains and to lakes; there’s something for everyone.
Some of the best hikes in Sonoma County are Hood Mountain (just outside of Santa Rosa), the tallest peak in the Southern Mayacamas Mountain Range, where the Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock rewards hikers with sweeping views of both the Sonoma and Napa sides of the Mayacamas Mountains; Taylor Mountain (also near Santa Rosa) with a gradual ascent to the top of the mountain, from where you get splendid vistas over Santa Rosa, Pomo Canyon Trail for Redwoods as well as views of Willow Creek, the Lower Russian River, and the coastline.
If you are visiting Sonoma County in the spring, head to Trione-Annadel State Park which boasts a huge amount of colorful wild flowers in April and May.
You can find a full listing of hikes in Sonoma County here.
A Day on the Russian River
If you are visiting Sonoma County during the warmer months, don’t miss out on some river fun! On the Russian River, you can go tubing (tubes can be purchased at Country Tire in Guerneville; $22.50 for a large tube, $15 for a small tube), SUPing, canoeing and kayaking (you can find detailed information on rentals and guided trips here) or simply go for a swim. The best beaches along the Russian River are Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, Monte Rio Beach, and Healdsburg Memorial Beach.
Visit the Coast
With 76 miles of stunning coastline, Sonoma County has several beaches and trails along the ocean that shouldn’t be missed. Take a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, stop at Salmon Creek (one of the most popular beaches), at Duncan’s Landing (the crashing waves are spectacular, especially on a windy day), and Goat Rock Beach in Jenner, which is a favored hangout spot for seals – you can also rent kayaks here.
If you like hiking, check out Kortum Trail, a cliff-side trail between Wright’s Beach and Blind Beach (4.5 miles round-trip, the trailhead is at Shell Beach in between the two beaches) or the Bodega Head Trail, a 3-mile path around the headlands near Bodega Bay with stunning views of the ocean and Bodega Harbor.
Bodega Bay is also home to the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, a path (just over a mile) that circles two ponds and offers coastal views along with superb birding opportunities.If you happen to visit Sonoma County during whale migration season (January until May), stop at Ocean Overlook at Bodega Head for some whale watching.
For a tasty lunch, head to Spud Point Crab Company in Bodega Bay for a cup of their famous chowder.
A Walk in the Redwoods
Most LGBT travelers seem to base themselves in Guerneville (more on Guerneville below), and if you’re itching to see the majestic Redwood trees Northern California is famous for, you can’t pick a more ideal place: The Armstrong Redwoods are just a half-hour walk outside of town (or 5-min drive by car).
These majestic trees – the largest in the world, standing 200 – 250 feet tall! – are hundreds of years old and are a sight you can’t miss on a trip to Sonoma County.
If you need an extra adrenaline kick, why not go for a wild ride through the Redwoods? Sonoma Canopy Tours offers ziplining tours in the Alliance Redwoods just 20 minutes outside of Guerneville, or a half-hour drive from Santa Rosa.
Where to Eat
- John Ash & Co (Californian fare – regionally sourced farm-to-table dining)
- Dierks Parkside Cafe (very good breakfast dishes)
- Rosso (wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas paired with eco-friendly wines)
- Best Of Burma (authentic, finger licking good Burmese food)
- Gaia’s Garden (vegetarian)
- Boon Bistro – modern California cuisine
- Big Bottom Market – gourmet deli fare
- Taqueria La Tapatia – authentic Mexican dishesand beer
- Seaside Metal Oyster Bar – Spin-off of San Francisco’s Crudo, excellent chowder, mussels and oysters, as well as a Bay Area–focused beer list
- Dry Creek Kitchen – fine dining at Hotel Healdsburg, where chef Charlie Palmer makes refined Californian fare with a special twist
- Bravas Bar De Tapas – Rated as one of the best tapas bars in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure, this tapas bar in a restored 1920s bungalow makes for an unforgettable, very authentic Spanish tapas experience
- Chalkboard – contemporary American small plates with seasonal ingredients paired with local wines & flights
- The Girl & The Fig – rustic bistro serving inventive French country fare and local wines
- Fremont Diner – quirky diner and a Sonoma institution
- El Molino Central – roadside Mexican café serving tasty authentic Mexican dishes
- Farmhouse – one Michelin star, only 10 minutes east of Guerneville (10005 Coastal Highway 1, Olema) which offers a delectable four-course tasting meal with wine pairing
- Terrapin Creek in Bodega Bay – one Michelin star, innovative American & world cuisine
Other places worth checking out:
Juice Shack – Juice Shack was named one of the top 25 LGBT-owned businesses in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times – a company well worth supporting – plus they offer some amazing smoothies and fresh juices. Juice Shack has seven locations across Sonoma County: four in Santa Rosa, two in Rohnert Park and one in Petaluma.
Brew – Lesbian-owned coffee shop and craft beer bar in Santa Rosa. Perfect for low-key breakfasts and lunches on cozy sofas, or to sample a local craft beer. Outstanding espresso creations made with coffee from a SF-based roaster (Ritual).
Cowgirl Creamery – famous lesbian-owned cheese shop. Now their cheeses are sold all over the Bay Area, but the original creamery and cheese shop at Tomales Bay foods (inside a former hay barn) is worth stopping by. Located at 80 4th St, Point Reyes Station, right on Highway 1.
Where to Stay
R3 Hotel, Guerneville
If you are looking for a place to party, stay at R3 Hotel, where you will find a clothing-optional pool and a bar that is open from 11am until late. If you want to splurge, stay in the main suite which has a spa tub. Since the hotel pool bar is open to non-guests as well, expect this to be a lively and social hotel.
Boon Hotel & Spa, Guerneville
If you are looking to treat yourself to a fancy getaway, then lesbian-owned Boon is for you. The hotel is just outside of town and has a fabulous spa, pool and hot tub.
Highlands Resort, Guerneville
The Highland Resort is one of the most popular hotels with LGBT travelers, many of whom return over and over to stay in the rustic cabins near the Russian River. Some cabins come with a double spa tub, others have a fireplace, and there’s a pool.
Applewood Inn, Guerneville
A Boutique Wine Country Inn and a Sonoma County landmark built in 1922, the Applewood Inn has 19 rooms and suites and makes for a cozy getaway. There is a spa and a well-regarded upscale restaurant on-site, and there is a pool on the property which is surrounded by Redwood Trees.Village Inn, Monte Rio
The Village Inn is located right on the Russian River, between Guerneville and the Pacific Coast. Gay-owned, the Inn has a charming historic flair, views over the river and an exquisite restaurant.
Sonoma Orchid Inn, Guerneville
This historic farmhouse offers luxury accommodation with modern amenities. Fireplaces and a hot tub up the cozy factor. If you like to make your own meals, this place is for you – there is a kitchen available for guest use.
For more LGBT-friendly accommodation, check out Purple Roofs, the world’s largest travel directory of LGBT-friendly accommodation with more than 4,800 bed and breakfasts, hotels, vacation rentals and other properties around the world. See all Purple Roofs listings in Sonoma County here.
TAG Approved Accommodations (meaning: LGBT-welcoming hotels) include
- Sonoma: MacArthur Place, El Dorado Hotel, and the Best Western – Sonoma Valley Inn
- Glen Ellen: The Gaige House
- Santa Rosa: The Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa, The Hilton Sonoma Wine Country
If you prefer self-catering, check out AirBnb’s listings in Sonoma County. There are plenty of houses and apartments available. If you’re not signed up with AirBnb yet, use my referral code and get $30 off your first booking!
Where to Party
R3 Hotel, Guerneville
The ultimate place to party in Guerneville! The pool (clothing optional) and bar are always busy – day and night.
Rainbow Cattle Company, Guerneville
This bar right on Main Street in Guerneville has been around since 1979 and is a fun place for a night out.
Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Bingo Night, Guerneville
Every second Saturday of the month, there is a bingo night at the Guerneville Veterans Memorial Hall and it is not to be missed! Hosted by the ‘Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’, you’re in for a night of comic fun and laughter, andmoney is raised for a different charity each month. Tickets can be bought in advance online (recommended).
For more LGBT nightlife, check out Sonoma Gaydar on Facebook.
LGBT Events in Sonoma County
Gay Wine Weekend
Gay Wine Weekend is an annual event put on by Out In The Vineyard, an experiential Wine Country Event and Travel Company promoting LGBT lifestyles and offering luxury itineraries in Wine Country – this is the largest gay wine event in the world!
Gay Wine Weekend is a 3-day weekend in the summer with special events for LGBT visitors – including wine tastings, fine dining, music and dancing in a vineyard, champagne brunches and a pool party.
The 2017 Edition of Gay Wine Weekend takes place from 14-16 July.
Russian River Women’s Weekend, Guerneville
The Russian River Women’s Weekend at the R3 Hotel in Guerneville is a 3-day Sapphic-centric extravaganza including activities such as yoga, Redwood hikes, poolside networking, lesbian DJs, drag king shows, fine dining, burlesque and stand-up comedians.
The 2017 Russian River Women’s Weekend takes place from 18 to 21 May.
Sonoma County Pride, Guerneville
Sonoma County Pride takes place every June, and offers two days of Pride fun, concerts, a Unity March & Parade, as well as a National LGBTQI March – Solidarity Rally.
The dates for the 2017 Sonoma County Pride are 2–4 June.
OUTwatch – Sonoma County’s LGBTQI Film Festival
In Santa Rosa, the OutWatch Film Fest shows queer movies every November. Check the website for the exact dates and movies that are shown.
Lazy Bear, Guerneville
Lazy Bear is an event that caters to the gay community – it is the ‘Biggest, Hairiest, Beefiest, Burliest, Craziest, Laziest FUNdraising event on the planet’. Around 7,000 men from all around the globe come together in August in Guerneville for the six-day celebration.
The 2017 Lazy Bear weekend takes place from 2 to 7 August.