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Top 10 Russian River Family Activities (2021)
Image: Water Treks EcoTours and Kayak Rentals
By Kristy Esparza, May 11, 2021
Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if you purchase through our links. All ideas and opinions are my own.
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. All the places and activities mentioned can be found on the post map.
I’ve also added a sample four-day itinerary to help you imagine how all these wonderful places and activities can blend together for one amazing family adventure!
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.
Top 10 Things to Do in 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 spots in the area for lounging and playing in 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.
In 2021 the beach will open, but reservations will be required so that guests can rent socially distanced areas on the beach. The snack bar will stay closed this summer, but the Saucy Mama food truck will be serving ribs, grilled and fried chicken, and more on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
2. Hang Out at More Family Friendly Beaches
If you’re looking for something a bit more laid back 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.
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. Prior to 2020, there was a concession stand, boat rentals, volleyball and horseshoe pits. Whether or not the beach amenities are able to reopen this year, you’re sure to find an overall fun summertime atmosphere. If you choose to stay at the Inn on the Russian River, there’s an easy walk from the Inn to the beach via a grassy meadow.
Mom’s Beach in Forestville earned its name because its long been a popular spot to take kids…it’s hard to get more kid-friendly than that! It’s dog friendly and you’ll likely see kayakers paddling down the river toward Guerneville here.
4. Explore Goat Rock Beach and Sonoma Coast State Park
Image: David Akers from Getty Images via Canva
Head to one of the most beloved beaches in the area, 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 tidepooling. 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
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.
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 an 1,100 foot climb, it’s not the best option for beginners. Parents with young children might want to bring a carrier.
Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve
Armstrong Redwoods has the region’s most perfect summer hiking trails. Located in a canyon just two miles from Guerneville’s Main Street, the 805 acre 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. The Pioneer Trail and Armstrong Nature Trails are favorites.
Sadly, the 2020 LNU Complex Fire severely damaged portions of the park, impacting trails, fencing, signage and vegetation. Hopefully the park will be able to reopen soon.
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 stonelace.
Other popular sights include the 3.8 mile Pygmy Forest Trail where fully mature trees make a perfect miniature version of their species, but at 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 accessible 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 Towns Along the River
Downtown Occidental. Image: www.sonomacounty.com.
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 reflect 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 Guerneville 5 & 10 is a great place to find a fun souvenir.
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 pies.
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 box cars, 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 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.
Adventurous families can book a private or behind the scenes experience, and even spend the night in Safari West’s safari tents fit for glamping.
10. Visit a Local Farm or Farmer’s Market
Image: Dry Creek Peach
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 their 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 Farmers Market
Downtown Occidental springs to life on summer Fridays from 4pm – dusk. Grab some dinner, kick back 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 4pm and 7pm, 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 as long as possible to maximize their sweetness and freshness.
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.
lucky bend lookout
Inn on the Russian River
This 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 Chile Pies Baking Company, known for their handmade pies and other baked goods like cookies and cupcakes, and 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.
For a special treat on your way to the coast, stop at Freestone favorite, Wildflour 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. The bakery has closed public access to their beautiful onsite garden during COVID. Hopefully the garden’s picnic areas will reopen soon.
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 2 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.
Day 1: Get Settled and Unwind
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 creative and homemade pies or 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. The taco truck in the Safeway parking lot is another great option for a delicious and easy dinner.
- Depending on where you chose to stay, take a neighborhood walk to stretch your legs and get a lay of the land.
Day 2: Enjoy a Day at the Coast
- Stop by Wildflour Bread to fill up on your way to the coast. If they have reopened their garden, stay awhile and relax while savoring yummy scones.
- Explore Goat Rock Beach, run through the dunes, and check out the place where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean.
- Continue about 15 minutes south to North Salmon Creek Beach. 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.
- A bit further south is the seaside town of Bodega Bay, famous as a filming location for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Enjoy delicious seafood at the Spud Point Crab Company before heading back home to rest and relax.
Day 3: Explore the Russian River
- Spend the morning exploring the Russian River by Canoe or Kayak. Arrange a tour or shuttle service with one of the local outfitters like King’s Sport & Tackle.
- Enjoy a picnic with delicious goods from Big Bottom Market.
- Stretch out and enjoy 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.
Day 4: Savor Your Last Day
- 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 your delicious peaches for dessert. Let the kids play in the park’s great playground, and hope they fall asleep on the drive home.