Surrounded by ancient redwoods and just a few miles inland from the stunning Sonoma Coast, Russian River family activities have been drawing people of all ages looking to explore, play, and relax for over 100 years. The Russian River joins the Pacific Ocean at Jenner, just north of Bodega Bay. As it travels to the ocean, it winds through Sonoma wine country with unique little towns lining its banks. This is a wonderful spot to get outside and enjoy family fun while surrounded by the area’s natural beauty.
If you’re considering a visit to the Russian River, read on for the best family-friendly activities plus some great places to stay and eat. I’ve also added a sample four-day itinerary to help you imagine how all these wonderful places and activities can blend into one amazing family adventure!
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RUSSIAN RIVER FAMILY ACTIVITIES FOR EVERYONE
This is a laid-back area with natural beauty at every turn. From redwood forest hikes to river floats to playing on the sand of Sonoma Coast beaches, it’s a wonderful place for families to relax and unwind. Because you’re in the northwest corner of wine country, there is also no shortage of delicious farm-to-table food options the whole family will love.
All the places and activities mentioned can be found on the post map.
Top 10 Things to Do in the Russian River with Kids
1. Johnson’s Beach
For the past 100 years, Johnson’s Beach has been a Guerneville summer tradition for locals and vacationers alike. Set on a stretch of pebble beach and surrounded by redwoods, it’s one of the most popular places in the area for lounging and playing on the Russian River. There is a roped-off area to help young children enjoy the river safely, while the summer dam creates deeper waters for stronger swimmers. Inner tubes, kayaks, and canoes can also be rented for extended fun and exploration. When most people think of Russian River family activities, they think of Johnson’s Beach.
2. Hang Out at more Family-Friendly Beaches
If you’re looking for something a bit less crowded than Johnson’s Beach, check out the following options:
Sunset Beach is generally calmer than Johnson’s beach. A perfect horseshoe-shaped bay with shallow calm water, it’s one of the area’s most kid-friendly spots. For older kids, there’s a rope swing up the river from the main beach area too!
Monte Rio Beach
Monte Rio is the largest public beach on the lower Russian River. It doesn’t have a lifeguard, but the water is calm and it’s family-friendly. The food concession stand, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and barbecue areas overlook the beauty the redwood-covered hills and add to the festive summertime atmosphere.
If you stay at the Inn on the Russian River, there’s an easy walk from the Inn to the beach via a grassy meadow.
Mother’s (Mom’s) Beach
Mother’s Beach in Forestville earned its name because it has long been a popular spot to take kids…it’s hard to get more kid-friendly than that! It’s also dog friendly and you’ll likely see kayakers paddling down the river toward Guerneville here.
3. Get on the River
For an adventure on the water, rent a kayak and explore the Russian River Estuary where the river meets the sea on the Sonoma Coast. This is your chance to get up close with the local otters, pelicans, and curious harbor seals! During this popular tour, you’ll learn about the area’s history and wildlife, and get all of your questions answered. Paddling is gentle and family-friendly.
To experience the river further inland, rent your kayaks and gear from King’s Sport & Tackle. You only have to paddle one way with their transportation service, which launches you downstream for a fun and beginner-friendly trip.
In the summertime, the Russian River slows way down making it the perfect pace for a lazy day of tubing. I didn’t list this as a top Russian River family activity at first, because I mostly associate tubing with day drinking in my 20s. Don’t be surprised to find other folks with the same idea, especially if they’re vacationing without kids!
But John and I have different vacation styles, and he thought it should absolutely be added to the list. So here we are!
The only officially recommended route is to get on the River at Steelhead Beach in Forestville and then exit two miles downriver at Sunset Beach. If you don’t want to walk the two miles back to your car, plan transportation ahead of time. A popular option is to park in Santa Rosa and take the Regional Parks River Shuttle which runs to Steelhead and Sunset beaches on summer weekends.
Start your river float early, as it takes about 4.5 hours to go between the beaches. Yep, it’s a very slow-flowing river in the summertime and early evening breezes can push you upstream! You want to be on the water by 11 am at the latest.
This is a popular activity in the summer, and the river can get crowded with groups floating down the river together. Don’t expect tranquility, especially on a summer weekend.
4. Explore Goat Rock Beach and Sonoma Coast State Park
For one of the most beloved Russian River family activities in the area, head to Goat Rock Beach. Goat Rock is a huge flat-topped sea stack barely attached to the beach. This popular section of Sonoma Coast State Park is at the point where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s known for its scenic shoreline and accessible sandy beach. It’s also home to a colony of harbor seals. This is a great spot for a picnic and to play in the sand, but it’s not recommended for swimming.
Shell Beach Tidepools
Shell Beach is a favorite location for tide-pooling. State Park Roving Naturalists can be found here to help visitors safely learn about the flora and fauna of the coast.
Sonoma Coast State Park is one of many amazing California parks for family fun. Check out what we consider to be California’s top 33 here!
5. Bodega Bay
Just south of Goat Rock Beach is the quaint little town of Bodega Bay. This small coastal community is known for its scenic views and natural beauty. Here you can find some great family-friendly beaches, shops, and restaurants.
North Salmon Creek Beach
North Salmon Creek Beach is an ideal beach for kids on the Sonoma Coast. It has a wide sandy beach and a lagoon that forms where the sand closes the mouth of Salmon Creek. The lagoon makes this a safe place for young children to splash around.
Fly a Kite
The breezes on the Sonoma Coast make for great kite flying and bubble blowing. If you find yourself in Bodega Bay, stop by Candy & Kites or Second Wind to pick up a souvenir that you can use to have fun at the breezy beaches for the rest of the day.
6. Family-Friendly Day Hikes
A timeless Russian River family activity is taking a day hike to explore the region’s stunning flora and fauna. There are many excellent walks and hikes in the area. Some favorites are below.
Riverfront Regional Park
Riverfront Regional Park features just over 3 miles of trails for family-friendly hiking, biking, and horseback riding outings. Walk, bike, or scoot along the accessible 2-mile Lake Trail that loops around Lake Benoist, and enjoy a picnic in the redwood grove near the park’s entrance.
Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve
Armstrong Redwoods has perfect summer hiking trails. Located just two miles from Guerneville’s Main Street, the park is a beautiful reminder of how the redwoods once covered the coastal region. The Reserve’s oldest tree, Colonel Armstrong, is thought to be over 1400 years old! The park is full of short and mostly flat trails that meander through majestic redwoods to some perfectly situated picnic areas. Strolling along the Pioneer Trail and Armstrong Nature Trails are some of our favorite Russian River family activities.
Pomo Canyon to Red Hill
Starting at the Pomo Campground, the most challenging part of this trail is at the beginning. Luckily the climb is shaded by redwood forest. Once you get up to Red Hill, you can see views of the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River. Hikers experience some of the best views in the area, but at 4.4 miles with a 1,100-foot climb, it’s not the best option for beginners. Parents with young children might want to bring a carrier.
Salt Point State Park
On the northern end of Sonoma County is beautiful Salt Point State Park. It’s known for its fascinating Tafoni sandstone, which is riddled with a type of erosion that creates a lacy impression with ribs, ridges, holes, and other patterns. The effect is much less delicate than it appears and is sometimes called stone lace.
Other popular sights include the 3.8-mile Pygmy Forest Trail where fully mature trees make a perfect miniature version of their species, but are only a few feet tall. And yes, that includes a mini version of the region’s usually gigantic redwood trees!
From April through June, the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve is not to be missed, as the usual greens of the forest come alive with bright pink blooms.
Landpaths Grove of Old Trees
This magical 48-acre sanctuary is a hidden gem near Occidental. The Grove has healthy, old-growth Coastal Redwoods and easy trails. This preserve is privately owned, but publicly accessible and free to all. Learn more about Landpaths community conservation program here.
7. Wander Through Unique River Towns
As the Russian River winds toward the ocean, unique little towns line its banks. Families will enjoy spending an afternoon or two exploring their unique character and features.
The heart of the Russian River, Guerneville’s eclectic mix of residents and visitors reflects the town’s transition from timber town to hippie haven to LGBT retreat and hip getaway. Rustic, renovated, and retro storefronts line Guerneville’s Main Street.
The tiny town of Occidental was founded in 1876 as the last stop on the North Pacific Coast Railroad, and it soon became a popular vacation destination. In 1879 Union Hotel and Restaurant was constructed as a railroad saloon and boarding house. Today this building is home to an Italian cafe with delicious baked goods and pizza.
Altamont General Store is a great find for good coffee, snacks, and local wares. Art galleries feature local artists’ work and fun boutiques are filled with crafts from California artisans. On Friday evenings in the summertime, you can also find fresh produce, entertainment, and people-watching at the farmers’ market.
The tiny hamlet of Duncans Mills occupies a wide, flat area near the river. Along Highway 116, you’ll find The Depot Museum housed in a 1907 railroad depot. The nearby tracks hold a restored Northwestern Pacific railway coach, two boxcars, and a caboose that were part of the last train to Duncans Mills in 1935. On the north side of Highway 116, take a wander through unique gift shops and boutiques.
8. Sonoma Canopy Tours
Adventurous families with kids over 10 (and 70 pounds) will love Sonoma Canopy Tours’ high-flying zip line adventure. Glide from tree to tree, taking in breathtaking views as go. You’ll even zip into an old-growth redwood forest where the trees are more than 700 years old. The 2½-hour guided tour features seven zip lines, two sky bridges, and the incomparable beauty of California’s coastal redwoods.
9. Safari West
Who would have thought that family activities in the Russian River would include a safari through the “Sonoma Serengeti”? At Safari West, families with children over four can hop on a safari jeep and journey through 400 acres of a unique Sonoma preserve in search of wildebeest, rhinos, giraffes, and more. Nearly 900 animals from over 90 species roam here, and you’ll never know what you might encounter.
Visitors can book a private or behind-the-scenes experience, and even spend the night in Safari West’s safari tents fit for glamping. We had an amazing time at the park, and staying overnight is high on J’s wishlist now!
10. Visit a local farm or farmer’s market.
Sonoma County’s farmers’ markets do not disappoint. Find fresh fruits and veggies to take home, grab some dinner, hang out, listen to live music, and take in some local vibes. All Sonoma farmers’ markets are certified, meaning each vendor produces its own products locally.
Click through the Sonoma County’s interactive Farm Trails Map, or read on to learn more about a couple of Russian River area favorites:
Occidental Community Market
Downtown Occidental springs to life on summer Fridays from 4 pm – dusk. Grab some dinner and people watch or join in the music and dancing. Don’t leave without heading across the way to the adorable lifestyle boutique, Boho Bungalow.
Forestville Farmers Market
Every Tuesday afternoon between 4 pm and 7 pm, the Forestville Farmers’ Market brings the sleepy downtown to life with local produce, baked goods, arts, crafts, live music, and dancing.
Healdsburg Farmers Market
Hosted on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, Healdsburg is one of the original Certified Farmers’ Markets in California. You’ll find the region’s best fruits, vegetables, flowers, cheeses, honey, olive oil, bread, fish, eggs, and in this celebration of Sonoma’s agricultural heritage. Visitors may also come across the market’s special events like Zucchini races, cooking demos, live music, and more.
Dry Creek Peach and Produce Farm Stand
Take a drive to the Dry Creek Farmstand for their famous summer peaches. Surrounded by vineyards, they are the last remaining fruit farm in the valley, and the only dedicated and certified organic peach farm in the county. They let peaches ripen in the California sun for as long as possible to maximize their sweetness and freshness.
Tip: If you need to rent a car for your trip, check out Discover Cars. They compare car rental deals from several companies to find the best price. And they include all fees, taxes, and extras in the quote so there are no big surprises when you pick up your car.
Where to Stay in Russian River with Kids
The pace of the Russian River sets a leisurely tone to west Sonoma County life. Here, in this laid-back community of eclectic cabins nestled among redwood and fir-covered hills, you are sure to find the perfect place to make yourself at home and settle into the region’s low-key rhythm.
As a family, we tend to look for vacation rentals that have plenty of space for kids to run around and play, and for us to have a place to hang out after bedtime. I’ve included my favorites below and a hotel option below too.
If you’re looking to book direct, Wine Country to Coast and Russian River Getaways are the two largest property management groups in the area.
Stylish, comfortable, and pet-friendly, Blue Cherry is a perfect option for larger families and multigenerational groups.
Lucky Bend Lookout
Lucky Bend Lookout is a mid-century modern home designed with families in mind. It even comes with access to a seasonal floating dock with canoes, kayaks, and a standup paddleboard.
Casa Sophia is a family-friendly home that comes with a play structure surrounded by big trees and a hot tub for relaxing after a long day at play.
Inn on the Russian River
Inn on the Russian River isn’t fancy, but it has affordable 2-room suites with outdoor spaces and kitchenettes. It’s located right on the riverfront, allowing families to access popular Monte Rio Beach via an easy walk through a grassy meadow.
Kid-Friendly Eats Near the Russian River
Guerneville Bank Club
Located in the Historic Bank of Guerneville building, the building now houses Nimble & Finn’s organic ice cream with inspired takes on classic flavors. Don’t forget to check out the original bank vault which now has a fun photo booth inside.
Big Bottom Market
If you’re planning on a picnic, stop by Big Bottom Market to pick up your provisions. They feature an ever-changing mix of merchandise and the best that they can find from Sonoma’s amazing selection of artisanal food and handmade wares. The focus is on local, organic, and sustainable deliciousness. Make sure to try their famous biscuits, once named one of Oprah’s “favorite things.”
The Farmhand is a gourmet deli and specialty market that makes another great option for a delicious Russian River picnic. Take your food to go, or enjoy lunch at the onsite picnic tables with lovely views over the river.
Wild Flour Bread
For a special treat on your way to the coast, stop at Freestone’s favorite, Wild Flour Bread, where you’ll find yummy brick-oven baked scones with flavors like Meyer Lemon Blueberry Poppyseed and Pear Raspberry Rosewater. You’ll find gluten-free options too. Enjoy breakfast in the bakery’s peaceful onsite garden before heading on to your next stop.
Spud Point Crab Company
To round out a day on the coast, stop by Bodega Bay’s Spud Point Crab Company for seafood, sandwiches, and chowder with a view of the Bay. Order from the cashier and eat at picnic tables or take it to go and enjoy on the beach.
Itinerary: Russian River Family Activities for a 4-Day Weekend
Sometimes there are just too many options to sort through! I put together this sample itinerary to help you picture the possibilities for a family-friendly 4-day weekend in the Russian River.
On the Road
The Russian River is a short two-hour drive from the Bay Area. Extend the journey by taking the Golden Gate Bridge Route for some views and family photos. Battery Spencer is a great option for a quick stop. If you want to spend a little more time, consider having a picnic on Crissy Field or Baker Beach. Sadly, visitors need to be careful not to leave bags or valuables in sight in the car when visiting San Francisco these days.
Get Settled and Unwind (Day 1)
On Day 1, we try to take it easy. It’s likely been a long week topped off by a long drive, so we focus on switching to the getaway mindset and finding some options for the kids to run around.
- Check in to your vacation rental or hotel and get settled.
- Hit up the Guerneville Bank Club for some delicious ice cream. Take a family photo in the Bank Vault and celebrate being on vacation with some sweets. There’s a Safeway just down the street if you need to stock up for your trip, and the taco truck in the Safeway parking lot is another great option for a delicious and easy dinner!
- Take a neighborhood walk to stretch your legs and get a lay of the land.
Enjoy a Day on the Coast (Day 2)
- Stop by Wild Flour Bread to fill up on your way to the coast. Stay awhile in the garden and relax while savoring yummy scones.
- Continue on to North Salmon Creek Beach for coastal playtime. This is a great beach for kids with a wide sandy beach that marks the point where Salmon Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. The beach has a shallow lagoon that is a safe way for young children to splash around.
- Explore the seaside town of Bodega Bay, famous as a filming location for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Enjoy a delicious seafood lunch at the Spud Point Crab Company before heading back north.
- Before going inland again, stop at Goat Rock Beach. Run through the dunes, and check out the place where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Depending on what time you arrive, you might capture this beautiful spot just in time for the golden hour, the last hour before sunset.
Explore the Russian River (Day 3)
- Spend the morning exploring the Russian River by Canoe or Kayak. Arrange a shuttle service so you only have to paddle one way.
- Enjoy a picnic with delicious goods from Big Bottom Market.
- Stretch out and relax on one of the Russian River Beaches. Take in the summertime scene while floating in an inner tube at Johnson’s Beach or a quieter spot like Sunset Beach.
- If it’s a Tuesday or Friday evening, consider heading out to get dinner at the Occidental or Forestville Farmers Markets for some great food and community entertainment before bedtime.
Savor Your Last Day (Day 4)
- After you check out, head to Armstrong Woods or the Riverfront Regional Park for one last family walk in the woods before heading home.
- Go a smidge out of your way to savor the taste of summer with a stop by Dry Creek Peach & Produce. When the New York Times asked Alice Waters what she would order for her last supper, her response was “I would have a Last Chance peach…in late August or September.” Rumor has it, she was referring to these peaches!
- Enjoy one last picnic at Giorgi Park in Healdsburg with delicious peaches for dessert. Let the kids play in the park’s amazing playground, and hope they fall asleep on the drive home.
FAQs for Russian River Family Activities
What towns are on the Russian River?
The Russian River connects a series of charming off-beat towns from Forestville to Jenner, where the river meets the sea.
- Forestville is the farthest inland and tends to be the warmest. It is convenient to the River, wineries, and the larger towns of Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.
- Rio Nido is a little community near Korbel and with easy access to wine country. The area's only public pool is located here.
- Guerneville has the region's largest downtown area and the most services. It has a long history of being a welcoming vacation destination for LGBTQ travelers. The redwoods, river, and wine country combine into a popular laid-back vacation destination here.
- Monte Rio was once known as "Vacation Wonderland," and though much of the vacation infrastructure of the railroad era is gone, it remains the cultural heart of the region.
- Cazadero is located in the redwood-covered hills above the river. Those looking for outdoor activities and/or more privacy can rent a creekside home here.
- Duncan Mills is a quirky little town with good shopping, art galleries, old trains, museums, and a general store.
- Jenner is a quaint seaside village located where the Russian River meets the ocean. It's known for its beautiful views and proximity to marine wildlife, including the harbor seal nursery at Goat Rock Beach.
When is the best time to visit the Russian River?
There really isn't a bad time to visit the Russian River area. I've been in January and April, and have had a wonderful time.
Most people choose to visit the Russian River in the Summer. From June through September, the weather is warm and all of the beach amenities are open. The river is dammed in the summer months to raise water levels.
In late spring and early fall, the weather is still usually warm and you'll find fewer crowds than in the summer months. The one thing to keep in mind in the fall is California's fire season. These days, it's a good idea to purchase travel insurance around this time in case you have to cancel your trip.
Where can I access the Russian River?
There following are public access points for those who want to splash, swim, kayak, paddleboard, or float down the Russian River.
- Del Rio Woods Beach, Healdsburg (swimming, paddling, sunbathing, and picnicking)
- Veteran's Memorial Beach, Healdsburg (swimming, paddling, sunbathing, and picnicking with lifeguards and restrooms)
- River Front Regional Park, Healdsburg/Windsor (unpaved spur to a small gravel beach on the Russian River via the Lake Trail)
- Steelhead Beach, Forestville (swimming, paddling, sunbathing, picnicking, recommended tubing entry point in the summer)
- Mother's / Mom's Beach, Forestville (swimming, paddling, sunbathing)
- Sunset Beach, Forestville (swimming, paddling, sunbathing, picnicking, recommended tubing exit point in the summer)
- Guerneville River Park, Guerneville (boat launch for non-motorized watercraft)
- Johnson's Beach, Guerneville (swimming, paddling, sunbathing, picnicking, summer rentals)
- Monte Rio Community Beach, Monte Rio (swimming, paddling, sunbathing, picnicking, summer rentals)
- Willow Creek Environmental Campground, Duncans Mills (swimming, primitive campground close to the river)
- Sonoma State Beaches Visitor Center, Jenner (paddling, boat launch)
Are any of the nearby wineries kid-friendly?
Yes! Sonoma wineries generally have a more casual and family-friendly vibe than Napa. The following are some of the local wineries that welcome kids and even offer some fun just for them:
- DeLoach Vineyards: Bring your glass on a self-guided walk through the property's 20-acre farm. You'll find a vegetable and herb garden, plus the resident chickens, sheep, and goats. Families can enjoy a picnic in the garden or under the shade of sycamore trees.
- Hook & Ladder: Founded by a former San Francisco firefighter, Hook & Ladder describes its tasting room as "relaxed, friendly, and unpretentious." Families enjoy the fun outdoor space, complete with picnic tables, bocce ball, and cornhole in the warmer months. Parents can enjoy a casual tasting experience with no reservations required.
- Francis Ford Coppola Winery: This winery specializes in creating a fun experience for the whole family. Two large swimming pools are the centerpiece of the winery park. Pool access is granted by reserving a Cabine which comes with four pool passes, four lounge chairs, and a deck of cards. Hungry families can dine at the Pool Cafe or Rustic indoors. You can also view movie memorabilia and awards from popular Coppola movies.
What to pack for a visit to the Russian River?
If you're traveling in the summer, come prepared for hot and woodsy summer fun. You'll want to bring:
- Summer Clothes - think shorts, t-shirts, sun dresses, tank tops
- Sunhats to keep your face and neck from burning
- Sunblock and Sunglasses
- Reusable water bottle
- Flip flops or water sandals
- Walking Shoes
- Bug spray (side note: I just bought this for Bug Bites and it actually takes the itch out!)
- Bathing suits
- Backpacks to hold your gear on hikes or river adventures
- Blow-up rafts and floaties for lazy days by the river
In the winter, you can expect chilly mornings and sunny but cool days. Layers are good to bring year-round but are a must in the cooler months. Many of the above items are still important off-season, but add in the following:
- Warm jackets for cooler mornings and evenings
- Cozy socks
- Long pants
- Hiking shoes