We kicked off today’s day trip from Oakland to Guerneville at 7:30am.
Guerneville is a quaint town nestled next to the Russian River. It’s mostly a one-treet town with storefront buildings built in the mid 1800’s.
We easily found parking on the main street. We asked a local for his favorite place to eat and he recommended Big Bottom Market (4 stars on Yelp), a sandwich/salad/coffee place on the main drag.
Big Bottom specializes in toasted and melted sandwiches for sit-down or takeout. They also serve beer and wine. The restaurant was comfortable and clean with a natural but modern design.
History Tip: “Big Bottom” refers to Guerneville’s original nickname because it’s on the flood plains of the Russian River.
We ordered a Mezze Plate (greens, olives, hummus, feta), soup and BBQ chips and sat down. The wait was 15 minutes before the food came out but worth it. We learned later that Oprah picked Big Bottom’s biscuits as one of her favorite things.
There was a constant stream of people at Big Bottom.
Secret tip: If you want to sneak some wine onto the beach, Big Bottom has nice cans of wine in their fridge (note: Johnsons Beach security does check your bag for big bottles so if you bring alcohol then you’ll need to be creative).
Note: On a previous trip to Guerneville, we had lunch at boone eat+drink, which is a slightly nicer sit-down restaurant with table service.
Now it was time to hit up Johnson’s Beach (below) along the Russian River. Just follow signs for “The Beach”.
Being typical rookie parents we had to jump into the drugstore first to get sunscreen for our toddler.
We walked down to Johnson’s Beach (just 2 to 3 blocks off the main street). You can try to park closer to Johnsons Beach then the main drag or you could pay $7 and park within 100 yards of the beach.
A nice security guy felt our bag for alcohol before he let us on to the beach. He just felt the bottom of our largest bags.
Johnsons is usually crowded but you can still easily find a spot. Johnsons Beach is a rock beach (large gravel instead of sand).
If you’ve got a toddler, there’s a kiddy beach section that is semi-roped off and is about 3 feet deep.
For food and beverages at Johnsons, you’re allowed to bring in food but not alcohol. Johnsons has its own little burger/hot dog shack and served beer and wine…oh, and gigantic soft-serve ice cream!
You can also rent things like:
- Kayak (we heard it was $20 per hour)
- Pedal boats
Even though this is the Russian River, there is just a lazy current because you are at the edge of the dam.
There are rocks at the bottom of the river so when you’re in the water so you might want to wear water-shoes.
The water does too deep to stand when as you wade across the river.
It can get super-hot and is very exposed so renting an umbrella is a good idea. We don’t recommend you bring your own umbrella because the beach ground is very hard. The staff has to take a mallet to hammer in the Johnsons umbrellas.
After 90 minutes at Johnsons, we walked back up to the main street to get some ice cream at Guerneville Bank Club.
This is a unique ice cream parlor as it was originally the town’s bank. They’ve retained some of the individual woodwork and tile work. The bank sat vacant for more than 30 years until it was converted with love and attention to detail to its current iteration.
They’ve also kept the original vault and you can walk in and eat your ice cream and take selfies.
In the back, there is a small tasting room for a local winery.
Coffee in Guerneville?
Rob went back to Big Bottom and had an Iced Soy Latte. It was solid.
Other things to See on the Way There or On the Way Home
- Horse and Plough (Sebastapol) — an airy and comfortable wine tasting room converted from an original barn. The tasting room opens up to a garden with seating and a chicken coop on the other end. We found a few vegetable plants and a blueberry bush for sale there too. We bought the blueberry bush and still have it in the ground in Oakland. You can bring a picnic there.
- Grateful Bagel (Sebastapol) — This place opens at 6am and is a solid bagel shop (we had an Everything bagel with hummus and veggies). It’s extra fun if you’re with a Deadhead.
- Applewood Inn — We had friends visiting from Los Angeles staying at Applewood so this is where we had breakfast. Applewood serves breakfast only to those staying there (or their guests (for $25 extra per guest). Applewood is a unique place built in 1922. It was quiet when we were there (930am to 11:30am) but seemed nice for those wanting an overnight stay (had a hot tub).
Have fun in Guerneville!
- Date we visited: Saturday, June 29, 2019
- Driving time from Oakland: 1 hour, 24 minutes. Drive time home: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
- Spendy or Thrifty? We spent about $30 on food and coffee.
- Good Coffee: Yes — Rob had it at Big Bottom Market.
- Drinks — You can get wine at just about any restaurant or store on Main Street. There seems to be beer on tap and multiple places too. There are tons of wineries in and around Guerneville.
- Workout? — No, not for us. The biggest workout for us was Rob carrying our son uphill from Johnson Beach 2 or 3 blocks. But you could swim, paddleboard, canoe, etc. And we’re sure there are hikes nearby.
- Kid-Friendly? — Yes. There were kids at Big Bottom, numerous kids at Johnsons Beach and, of course, kids at the ice cream shop!
- Recommendations for Next Time: Next time we’ll come better prepared for the beach (sunscreen, rented an umbrella from Johnsons Beach and brought some cans of wine down to the beach). We’ll also try the biscuits at Big Bottom (see below) that we later learned Oprah loves.