In the heat of the summer, there is nothing like a canoeing day trip on the Russian River. Leave early and drive up to Guerneville, a small town along the river in Sonoma County. Visions of swimming and frolicking in the river, picnicking on a sandbar and most of all, enjoying a family day doing something fun, new and active will keep you motivated during the drive from the city.
When to go: In the summer or spring, when you want to escape the fog, the city, or both.
Approximate travel time: Guerneville is located 75 miles north of San Francisco, about an hour and a half drive.
What to see/do: One company named Burke’s Canoe Trips does half-day adventures. This outfit is a great idea if you have bigger kids, who are ready to paddle, but not with the wee ones. Johnson’s Beach is an option that accommodates smaller children. It’s a quaint spot where you can rent canoes by the hour, perfect for short attention spans. If you are not sure how your child will react to the vessel or activity, better not to invest too much energy or spend too much money.
Johnson’s Beach is a sweet little beach, reminiscent of spots in New England in the 70’s, a little lost in time, but that is part of the appeal. The locale and pace is slow, relatively easy to negotiate and an antidote to the foggy San Francisco summer. It is really low tech, really friendly and family run. It’s not fancy, but that too is what makes it special. You can rent an umbrella and someone will even come over and pound it into the sand for you. The snack bar serves soft serve for a dollar and you can rent inner tubes to float along if you don’t want to paddle. A popular area is the roped off kiddies pool and many folks just hang on the beach with a cooler and a good book.
In a canoe, an hour is a bit short, but enough for a paddle around. If you want to go down the river, away from the crowds, pack a picnic and plan on a three-hour tour. Once you get into a canoeing rhythm you can stop often to swim and hang on the shore, passing many other folks out for a paddle. If you head further down the river, you’ll be surrounded by calming peace and quiet!
Check out all the homes with docks and tables and setups along the banks. It is a leisurely way to introduce canoeing to little ones, who like to act as coxman, if they are not into paddling. The return trip takes slightly longer so make sure to plan out your journey.
Possible lunch spots: Once you have returned your canoe, head over to Flavors Unlimited for a simply divine and well deserved cone or shake. For a truly classic day, stop at In and Out for a burger and fries in Petaluma or Mill Valley, and then head home.
How to dress: Summer gear! Don’t forget the swimsuits, towels, hats and sunscreen and a change of clothes for the way back.
Cost: For the price of a ½ tank of gas and about $50, you can have a full day adventure! The beach offers canoes, kayaks and paddle-boats for rent ($30 day or $10 hour), as well as umbrellas ($6 day), low beach chairs ($5 day), and inner tubes ($5 day).
Need to know: This year because of the snowmelt, the river is higher than usual and the current stronger. Everyone needs to wear life preservers and safety first, always. Ask for a little refresher, children will listen to the experts about not standing up in a canoe.
– Darya Mead