The slogan on Sonoma County Tourism’s website (www.sonomacounty.com) is “Life Opens Up,” and that’s exactly what’s happening throughout this gorgeous county at the heart of northern California’s wine country. With places reopening, there’s been a return of the vibrancy that has always marked this mellow region. Life is truly opening up in Sonoma County, and visitors are returning in droves to check out new and familiar spots.
One of the prime events of the year, Gay Wine Weekends (www.outinthevineyard.com/gay-wine-weekend) fits both categories, being a long-beloved event with a brand-new look. Rather than one large Gay Wine Weekend as in the past, they’ve turned it into a series of smaller events throughout the county, and extending as far as San Francisco, happening from mid-June to mid-September. Choose the one that fits your plans or sounds the most fun, and even if you aren’t in the area, you can participate in the Virtual Drag Queen Bingo and Auction on July 18, which raises money for the fight to eradicate AIDS.
Most readers will know Guerneville and the Russian River area, long the focal point of LGBTQ tourism in the county (though you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the county that isn’t welcoming!). Guerneville is seeing some new (and anticipated) openings. Right on the edge of town, the long-standing Applewood Inn is doing a complete remodel and reopening as The Stavrand (13555 Highway 116, Guerneville, CA. www.thestavrand.com). Anticipated for late summer, this will add a significant new luxury property to the Guerneville lineup. Preserving the building’s historical heritage while giving a new gleam to the interiors of the twenty-one rooms, the new owners are planning a fivestar service experience at this fabled property that dates to the 1920s.
Do take some time to enjoy nature while you’re here, as much of the appeal of Guerneville and its surroundings is the awesome natural beauty of the area. The Russian River beaches are open now, and another prime beauty spot, Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville CA. Tel: 707-869-2015. www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=450) will hopefully be reopening soon. Check their website for an announcement, because if they’re open, you don’t want to miss the spectacular redwoods in this glorious spot right on the edge of Guerneville.
On the way back to town, stop in June Bug (14012 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville CA. Tel: 707-494-2674. www.junebugskincare.com), which just opened a second location adjacent to their original spot, right where Armstrong Woods Road meets Main Street. Don’t miss their Groom Care Package or Celluma Light Facial. Right across the street is the new Hazel Atelier (14045 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville CA. Tel: 713-339-0888. hazelatelier.com), which just opened in March next door to the local coffeehouse and offers a terrific collection of “all things art” from paintings to clothing to home furnishings (and even a line of bowties named for the owners’ dog) that all helps to support a variety of great causes.
About twenty minutes west of here, you come to the one and only Sonoma County coast. The exciting news here is that River’s End (11048 Highway 1, Jenner CA. Tel: 707-865-2484. www.ilovesunsets.com), for years the best restaurant in the county (oh, those views) and a series of cottages, opened an upscale new lodging on the property called Sunset House, a two-level, ultramodern private house, equipped with high-end appliances, that same spectacular view (it’s right down by the ocean), and a level of comfort previously unknown in the tiny town of Jenner. There’s more: the owners have acquired, or are in the process of acquiring, more property right near the hotel/restaurant, so look for several more Sunset Houses in the near future.
Head the other way from Guerneville, and a gorgeous 40-minute drive (ask your GPS for the back road route) brings you to Healdsburg, for many the “showpiece town” of Sonoma County, with its large, shady plaza, upscale shops, and some of the county’s most important wine areas within a stone’s throw.
The lodging scene in Sonoma County has seen some significant new openings. One of the nicest is out in Dry Creek Valley, about ten minutes from town: Montage Healdsburg (100 Montage Way, Healdsburg CA. Tel: 707-979- 9000 or 866-551-8244. www.montagehotels.com/healdsburg), which had its official opening in January. In your wildest dreams, you couldn’t imagine a more gorgeous property: gloriously isolated on 258 acres with their own vineyards, beautiful rooms, the lovely restaurant Hazel Hill, a fully-equipped spa and workout room, athletic pursuits from bicycling to archery, and the world’s friendliest staff. Sip a glass of local wine while seated on a couch overlooking vineyards, hills, and the distant, looming mountain, and for a few brief moments everything in the world will be absolutely fine.