Looking for the best things to do in Russian River? Surrounded by gorgeous redwoods and winding inland from the stunning Sonoma Coast, the Russian River draws people of all ages looking to explore, play, splash, and relax.
I just returned from a weekend in Guerneville and loved how easy it was to slip into the slower pace of river time. This is a perfect destination for those looking to escape the city or the burbs for a few days.
Recharge along the river banks or head out on an adventure surrounded by the natural beauty of the redwoods. You’re sure to find things to do in the Russian River area the whole family will love.
Over the years, the Russian River area has become one of my favorite California long-weekend getaways. I’m a bit spoiled because one of my closest friends has a vacation home here. I love having the chance to follow friends around, discovering local favorites and helpful insider tips.
And now I get to share them with you!
In this post, I share the top 25 family-friendly things to do in the towns surrounding the Russian River and – of course – on the river itself. I’ll also cover my favorite places to stay and the best places to grab a bite.
And if you don’t feel like reading through the whole article, I’m also happy to send you a four-day Russian River itinerary I dreamed up. If you want to see how to blend our favorite places and activities into one amazing family weekend, this itinerary is for you.
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Things to Do in Russian River with Kids
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 to relax and unwind.
All the places and activities mentioned can be found on the post map.
Family-Friendly Russian River Itinerary
1 – 4. The Russian River Beaches
You don’t go to the Russian River without planning to spend at least one day at the beaches! Know that these are more rocky than sandy. Bring your water shoes!
For the past 100 years, Johnson’s Beach has topped the list of things to do in Russian River 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 river. In the summer, a dam creates deeper waters for stronger swimmers and a roped-off area is added to help young children enjoy the river safely.
Inner tubes, kayaks, pedal boats, and canoes can be rented for extended fun and exploration. Rent an umbrella to claim your spot and stay in the shade all day. When most people think of Russian River family activities, they think of Johnson’s Beach.
As of 2023, there are new owners managing this beach. Though a few wrinkles were still being ironed out in early June, we still had an amazing day filled with lots of laughs and even a canoe excursion. Hoping the ice-cold beer concessions and beach music will return soon!
Sunset Beach, the recommended end-point for Russian River tubing floats, is generally calmer than Johnson’s Beach.
A perfect horseshoe-shaped bay with shallow calm water, it’s a good kid-friendly spot. 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 the parking is free.
The food concession stand, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and barbecue areas are surrounded by the beauty of 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.
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.
Parking is limited here, and the beach narrows when the river expands. It’s a good place for early risers to play before the crowds come in.
5. Kayak the Russian River
For a longer trip that avoids paddling upstream, rent kayaks and gear from King’s Sport & Tackle. You only have to paddle one way with their shuttle transportation service, which launches you downstream for a fun and beginner-friendly trip.
To explore the Russian River Estuary, consider a kayaking tour 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.
6. Floating the Russian River
In the summertime, the Russian River slows way down making it the perfect pace for a lazy day of tubing.
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.
If you have access to two cars, park one car at Sunset Beach, then drive the other to Steelhead Beach and park there to start your trip. Another recommended plan is to park at Forestville’s El Molino High School and ride the Regional Parks River Shuttle. It runs between the two beaches every 30 minutes on summer weekends.
Start your river float early, as it takes about 4.5 hours to go between the beaches. It can be a very slow-flowing river in the summertime and early evening breezes can push you upstream! Aim to be on the water by 11 am at the latest.
This is one of the most popular things to do in Russian River in the summer months, and the river can get crowded with groups floating down the river together. Don’t expect tranquility, especially on a summer weekend.
7. Canoeing Russian River
My friends and I just completed our first canoe trip on the Russian River last weekend. Renting and accessing the canoe was as simple as it gets. At Johnson’s Beach, you can reserve them online in advance and claim your canoe upon arrival. Both offer first-come, first-served rentals depending on availability as well.
Navigating a four-person canoe, on the other hand, was a bit of a challenge for our group! After a rainy winter and spring, the river current was moving at quite a clip. And canoeing requires more communication coordination than our group of friends naturally possessed.
Let’s just say, we ended up canoeing in circles and directly into the trees. Which led to the kind of laughs I hope for at the start of every trip and adventure! This ended up being the highlight of my weekend, crazy navigation troubles and all.
8 – 10. Get to Know Russian River Towns
As the Russian River winds toward the ocean, unique little towns line its banks. Families enjoy spending an afternoon or two exploring their main streets, shops, and restaurants.
This is one of the top things to do in Russian River for those that need a bit of a break from the water!
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 LGBTQ+ retreat and hip getaway.
Rustic, renovated, and retro storefronts and galleries line Guerneville’s Main Street. This is where you can sample some of the Russian River’s favorite eateries like boon eat + drink and Big Bottom Market.
You’ll also find Safeway and the only gas station around – key infrastructure landmarks in the area!
If you’re visiting the Russian River area for the first time, Guerneville makes an ideal home base.
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 work and fun boutiques like Boho Bungalow are filled with unique goods from California artisans.
On Thursday 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 the Village. The unique gift shops and boutiques here serve as a main draw for tourists and locals alike.
11. Armstrong Woods
Those looking for a less-crowded alternative to Muir Woods need to look no further than Armstrong Redwoods. The lush tree canopy keeps the park cool year-round, making for perfect summer hikes.
Located just two miles from Guerneville’s Main Street, the park is a beautiful reminder of how the redwoods once covered the coastal region. And sadly how Guerneville earned its nickname, “Stumptown.”
The park is full of short and mostly flat trails that meander through majestic redwoods to some perfectly situated picnic areas. A stroll along the Pioneer Trail will take you past the park’s oldest and tallest trees. The Colonel Armstrong tree is thought to be over 1400 years old!
Walking through Armstrong Woods is easily one of my favorite things to do in Russian River.
12. Riverfront Regional Park
Riverfront Regional Park features just over 3 miles of trails for family-friendly hiking, biking, and horseback riding outings.
Visitors can walk, bike, or scoot along the accessible 2-mile Lake Trail that loops around Lake Benoist. There’s also plenty of space to enjoy a picnic in the redwood grove near the park’s entrance.
13. 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 for wandering.
This preserve is privately owned, but publicly accessible and free to all. This is not a state or regional park. Trails are maintained by an active group of volunteers and there is no formal infrastructure for visitors like bathrooms and paved parking lots.
If you’re looking for a peaceful redwoods hike to get away from it all, this grove is worth experiencing.
14. Sonoma Zipline Adventures
If you’re looking for more adventurous things to do in Russian River, check out Sonoma Zipline Adventures’ high-flying courses. Families with kids over 10 (and between 70 and 250 pounds) will love this experience.
Glide from tree to tree, taking in breathtaking views as you go. You’ll zip through an old-growth redwood forest where the trees are more than 700 years old, bounce along swinging bridges, and rappel back to earth at the end of your experience.
I recently completed the 2½-hour Tree Tops tour that features the park’s tallest, longest, and fastest zips. It was seriously hard to pick between the two courses! The one feature that put the Tree Tops tour on top for me was the long 1500-ft zip. Not only was it a thrill to go so far, but the extra flying time gives you a chance to really take in the beauty of the area.
Those who want to extend their stay can sleep onsite in the Treehouse Yurts with a gourmet dinner and breakfast served right to your room.
15. Safari West
Who would have thought that a list of things to do in 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. Book a morning tour when the animals are at their most active.
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 JJ’s wishlist now!
16 – 19. 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 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 Thursdays from 4 pm – 8 pm. This market is not just for veggie shopping! Grab some dinner and people watch or join in the music and dancing.
Forestville Farmers Market
Every summer Tuesday between 4 pm and 7 pm, the Forestville Farmers’ Market brings the sleepy downtown to life with local produce, baked goods, arts, live music, and dancing.
Healdsburg Farmers Market
Hosted on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market 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
For a special late summer treat, add the Dry Creek Peach Farmstand to your list of things to do in Russian River. Their late summer peaches are famous. Literally.
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.
Dry Creek Peaches ripen in the California sun for as long as possible to maximize their sweetness and freshness.
20 – 22. Take a Drive to the Sonoma Coast
For one of the most beloved things to do in Russian River, head past the river banks to the shores of Goat Rock Beach (aka Sonoma Coast State Park).
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 you’ll want to head further south to the North Salmon Creek Beach lagoon for swimming.
Shell Beach Tidepools
Sonoma Coast State Park’s 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.
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. Though it’s best to avoid playing in the ocean, 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.
23. Look out for Birds (and Whales) at Bodega Bay
The small seaside town of Bodega Bay is located 10 miles south of the Russian River Estuary. Tourists come here for whale-watching from Bodega Head and clam chowder from the Spud Point Crab Co.
Hitchcock fans, on the other hand, flock to the Bodega Bay buildings that served as film sets for The Birds. If you’re a fan of this classic thriller, make sure to add the Potter Schoolhouse and the Tides Wharf and Restaurant to your list of things to do in Russian River!
24. Family-Friendly Russian River Valley Wineries
For many people, Sonoma is synonymous with wine tasting. More laid-back than its neighbors in Napa Valley, this part of Sonoma is home to some of the most family-friendly tasting rooms in the region.
If a bit of tasting is high on your list of things to do in Russian River, consider the following options:
DaVero Farms & Winery
We don’t wine taste with our kids in tow too often, but when we do, we love a winery with farm animals! At DaVero Farms & Winery, kids can check out the animals and play in the gardens while you kick back and enjoy a glass of their delicious wine.
You know a winery is family-friendly when they are known for offering LEGOs and crayons to entertain kids while their parents taste. ACORN winery has a reputation for being warm and welcoming. Children are welcome to explore vineyards near the tasting room and even taste grapes during harvest season!
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Though located a bit further afield, the Coppola Winery truly offers something for everyone on its expansive property.
The big draw for families is the 3,600-square-foot pool complex. Families are welcome to use the pool when they rent a Cabine which comes with four pool passes, lounge chairs, and a deck of playing cards.
The property also features restaurants with kids’ menus and a Movie Gallery with family Oscars and props from some of the Coppola family’s greatest hits.
25. Enjoy Annual Events and Festivals
Bodega Bay’s annual Fisherman’s Festival is filled with music, food, and entertainment. It began as a celebration of the Salmon season. Fishermen continue the tradition of decorating and parading their boats around the harbor before receiving blessings from a local clergyman.
Russian River Rodeo
This region is nothing if not eclectic! Each June, visitors can catch the Russian River Rodeo in Duncan’s Mills. You’ll find trick riders, a horseshoe tournament, fun for the kids, BBQ, breakfasts, and more.
Old Grove Festival
If you’ve ever wanted to listen to live music while surrounded by nature’s most beautiful storied settings, buy tickets to the next Old Grove Festival. At the festival, performing arts are enjoyed in the historic Redwood Forest Theatre located in Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. These events are among the most magical things to do in Russian River.
Where to Stay in Russian River with Kids
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.
Russian River Vacation Rentals
When traveling as a family, we 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.
This is where I’m spoiled. We are friends with the wonderful family who owns Blue Cherry, and this cheerful house has become a go-to happy place.
It’s spotless, and yet cozy, comfortable, and even dog-friendly. The three large bedrooms each have their own en-suite bathroom, making it perfect for larger multi-generational groups.
There’s also plenty of seating outdoors, including in the gorgeous back garden. This peaceful space is perfect for a first cup of coffee in the morning or a relaxing glass of wine by the fire at the of the day.
Lucky Bend Lookout
Lucky Bend Lookout is a mid-century modern home designed to be family-friendly. In addition to kids’ furniture and mini-Adirondack chairs, it even comes with access to a seasonal floating dock with canoes, kayaks, and a standup paddleboard.
Russian River Hotels
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.
Cottages on River Road
Cottages on River Road offers cozy cottages and studios. It is family-friendly and welcomes all looking for a fun and relaxing river getaway. Including your fur babies!
The cottages each have private or semi-private decks and look onto a garden lawn with a communal wood-burning firepit. A complimentary breakfast is included, and the swimming pool opens each summer.
Russian River Glamping
AutoCamp Russian River
If you’ve ever wanted to camp in an Airstream, AutoCamp Russian River is your chance. This unique property is inspired by iconic travel traditions. It’s where the great American road trip meets a redwoods campout … with a bit of added luxury and minus the pain of setting up camp!
Breakfast is included and pets are welcome. Luxury tent camping is also available on-site.
If your idea of camping comes with heated memory foam mattresses, Wildhaven’s glamping experience is for you!
The 10-acre riverfront property is home to extra-large, safari-style tent cabins. Cabins have electricity, heaters, and all the furnishings you need for a memorable night outdoors. Every tent has its own firepit and guests enjoy access to the outdoor communal kitchen with gas BBQs and picnic tables.
A big WildHaven perk is the private riverfront with a swimming hole that has a shallow entry for kids and dogs. You don’t have to leave the property, just bring your chairs down to the water and enjoy a day soaking up the riverside fun.
Kid-Friendly Eats Near the Russian River
Guerneville Bank Club
Located in the Historic Bank of Guerneville, this 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. The focus is on local, organic, and sustainable deliciousness. Make sure to try their famous biscuits, once named one of Oprah’s “favorite things.”
Just don’t come to this popular spot when you’re in a rush! Like many local eateries, Big Bottom Market runs on river time.
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 to your next adventure.
This fine dining spot may not be the best option for families with young kids, but I had to include it here because of its stunning location.
Located where the Russian River meets the Ocean, at River’s End you’ll have trouble tearing your eyes away from the views to eat your meal!
Road Trip Planning Basics
These are our go-to resources when planning a California road trip!
Compare car rental deals to find the best price with Discover Cars. All fees and taxes are included in your quote.
Booking.com is our first – and often last – stop for finding great deals throughout the Golden State.
Things to Do in Russian River FAQs
- Forestville is the farthest inland and tends to be the warmest.
- 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.
- Monte Rio was once known as "Vacation Wonderland.” It has one of the area’s most popular beaches with free parking.
- Duncan Mills is a quirky 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.
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, you'll find fewer crowds. Less is open, but the area still makes a relaxing getaway.
The following are the main public access points for the Russian River.
- Veteran's Memorial Beach, Healdsburg (swimming and paddling with lifeguards and restrooms)
- Steelhead Beach, Forestville (swimming and paddling)
- Mother's / Mom's Beach, Forestville (swimming and paddling)
- Sunset Beach, Forestville (swimming and paddling)
- Johnson's Beach, Guerneville (swimming, paddling, summer rentals)
- Monte Rio Community Beach, Monte Rio (swimming, paddling, summer rentals)
Plan for layers. It’s warm in the sunshine and cooler under the redwood canopy and near the ocean. You'll want to bring:
Yes. The current is relatively slow-moving in the summer. The water rises in some beaches and swimming areas when the river is dammed in early summer. Popular beaches like Johnson's Beach rope off safer areas.
The county monitors water quality as well. Freshwater quality is tested weekly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Results are posted on the county website.
Final Thoughts about Things to Do in Russian River
The Russian River area is a wonderful place for a family-friendly getaway. You have stunning redwoods, a fun river to play in, and the Pacific Ocean all wrapped up in one unique area.
There are plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained, from hiking and biking to swimming and paddling. Good weather can be found year-round, and the scenery is beautiful.
Whether you’re looking for relaxation or adventure, the Russian River area has something for everyone.
We hope you have a wonderful time on your getaway to the Russian River!