Russian River is at the north of San Francisco near wine country. I first heard about Russian River from colleagues at work, was intrigued and wanted to check it out.
Despite being less than 100 miles from where I lived, Russian River was hard to get to. We had to cancel our plans twice due to unforeseen factors. Finally, for my birthday this year we got to go!
We booked a campsite at River Bend Resort, which was a neat, family-friendly place. After arriving there and setting up our tent, we wandered around the campground to explore what it offered, which included a river-front pebbled beach. So what does Russian River offer? There are two primary things you can do while you're here - first is water activity and second is vineyards. Let's get into the details.
Water Activity - Canoeing
Since you're close to a beautiful river - you can canoe, kayak, river-float, fish and swim on the river. We wanted to kayak but when we rent to the rental place nearby, Burke's Canoe Trips, we learnt that only single-person kayaks were available to rent. Therefore, we decide to try canoeing and rented a two-person canoe which me and Chakri shared.
Our trip was a total of 10 miles of one-way canoeing downstream the river which took us around 5 hours to complete with couple of breaks between. While the river itself is pretty and not too hard to navigate on the canoe, save for a couple of tricky spots, it is hard it get it all to yourself with peace and quiet. We came across many clusters of people on river (pool?) floaties, and realized that it's the most common activity on the river.
Alcohol is not allowed in the canoes and kayaks that you can rent, but you can take an ice-chest with drinks and snacks. Likewise, you can also carry an audio speaker and enjoy music during your water activity. Make sure the things you're carrying are water-proof (or water resistant) since it is pretty common to tip from your kayak/canoe/floatie onto the river. The river never felt too deep or dangerous, but you're required to know how to swim to rent a canoe or kayak.
During our break, we ate some snack bars and spent some time playing and swimming in the river. It feels very refreshing to get a dip in the cool river water as a respite from the overhead sun. Do make sure you carry and use sunscreen, as the sun can be quite harsh. Don't forget to carry some drinking water/liquids to replenish you during the activity.
If you're into fishing, there are some fishing holes in and around the area. You can enquire at the reception wherever you check-in. All in all, I enjoyed the river activity and it's a great way to spend time for people of all ages and abilities.
The second is to enjoy the beautiful vineyards in the region. There is an entire area called wine road in Russian River dedicated to wine connoisseurs. As a wine amateur, it was a whole lot of discovery for me. We went to three different vineyards - Korbel, Gracianna and Arista and had unique experiences in each one.
Korbel was the most touristy vineyard we visited the entire day. Touristy-iness is relative, the number of people here was way less than a popular vineyard in Napa or Sonoma, but it was still more than the other vineyards in the same region. So, your mileage may vary.
There was a free vineyard tour at 11 am which we attended and learnt about the history of the vineyard. The tour included a small movie about the vineyard story. One thing that stayed with me was the sheer number of difficulties the founder of Korbel and his family had to overcome, right from escaping prison in Europe to spending obscene amount of time traveling via ships to come to east coast of America, and then again, moving to west coast by another long travel around the continent of America (because Panama Canal still didn't exist). To think that technology has enabled so much change in less than a few decades is nothing short of astonishing.
Side note: I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Traveling and exploring new places allows me to step back and gives me a perspective that I rarely encounter in the busyness of everyday life.
Coming back to Korbel, after the tour we got tasting of 6 different wines, including 3 or 4 champagnes, which is the vineyard's signature wine. We ended up purchasing 3 bottles of wine from here. Korbel isn't unique enough to warrant a second visit, but it's definitely worth visiting atleast once.
Gracianna was the second vineyard we visited, based on a recommendation we got from our colleagues at work. This was a small, intimate wine-tasting experience. During our entire time here, there were no more than two other groups, so it felt private and we got a lot of personal attention from the host.
We got to sit out in the patio area, overseeing the vineyards, reminding me of our experience in Scribe at Sonoma. After a couple of wine tastings, we walked around the vineyard with our third wine and tasted the fruit with and without the skin as recommended by our host. I never realized it before, but the skin and the seed make such a difference to the taste of the fruit and thus, the wine.
There's even a small chapel at the end of the vineyard for weddings. I loved the whole Gracianna experience, and the small crowd, access to vineyards and fruit-tasting made it feel personal and special. I would recommend it, if you're seeking a similar experience. We ended up purchasing one bottle from here.
Arista was the last vineyard we went to, and honestly, we didn't know much about it when we entered. We shared our wine-tasting experience with another group. Our host was knowledgeable and shared a lot of information about the owners and the kind of wines they make here (mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). We saw Arista on the cover of Wine Spectator books while we were there, and then realized that they were kind of a big deal.
After our wine tasting experience of four wines, the other group left, and then the host offered us two more wines for tasting (lesson to learn here - be curious about the place you're visiting). We also wandered around the japanese tea garden in the winery while on our last tasting wine.
We decided to purchase a Riesling here, since that was in our budget and a favorite, but the host ended up giving it to us for free! Out of all my trips to wine country, this was the first time that happened 😃
I loved Arista, but I must caution that it was the high-end of our wine tasting experience.
That was our weekend getaway at Russian River. I enjoyed the water activities and wine tasting at Healdsburg. I'm pretty sure I'll come back here to enjoy more of what this area offers!
What was your impression of Russian River? Any other weekend getaways nearby San Francisco that you recommend?
Do let me know in the comments below!