Friday, March 01, 2013

Gay fun in Guerneville

Entrance to R3 Hotel.
We were in Santa Rosa area of Northern California last weekend. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was holding their pre-concert retreat at a Jewish camp and I went along with my husband who is an “upper tenor II” in the group. At the last minute we decided to extend our stay by spending the afternoon and evening in Guerneville. We spent a delightful evening at R3 Hotel. The R3 (formerly the Russian River Resort, RRR, and Triple R) is one of many "straight-friendly" accommodations available in "straight-friendly" Guerneville. The R3 Hotel offers 23 clean, simple, basic motel rooms around a pool, bar and garden court. The pool bar is popular and can be noisy but fun. In the evening there are programs of drag shows, comedy and karaoke. There is also a restaurant on the premises.  Because of the food and liquor laws, it is not clothing optional. (If that is your thing, try The Woods one block over.) We spent an enjoyable, gorgeous Sunday afternoon walking around the town. That evening, the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were holding an Oscars party and fundraiser at the bar. A fabulous time was had by all.

Our cabin at Highlands Inn
Our last stay in Guerneville was with friends about 5 years ago. Back then we stayed at the Highlands Inn. My review of the place back then said: “The resort offers private cabins with bath, kitchenette, and sitting area. They are clean and well maintained. The amenities are good (clothing-optional pool, hot tub, homemade breakfast muffins) but no Wi-Fi and spotty cell coverage. There is a meadow where you pitch your own tent for a fee. It is located on a hill above the rustic town of Guerneville, about a 5-minute walk down a steep hill. The place was nice but it is unlikely we would be back. The whole area was more of a rural experience then we like. But if you are a bear in the woods, go for it.”

The pool at R3 Hotel.
Guerneville is an interesting and unusual gay community that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. It is very small and rural with a population around 4,500. Palm Springs, for example, is 10-times the size. Generally it is unusual for a small town to have such an out and active LGBT presence.  It began in the 70’s when the area had a gay resurgence. The Russian River area and Guerneville in particular became the prime recreational destination for many of gay men and lesbians from San Francisco. Old traditional resorts gained a new lease on life catering to the new influx of gays and lesbians. The AIDS pandemic brought an end to Guerneville's reputation as a primarily gay destination. More straight families and retirees moved into the area and the resorts, once gay, turned to a heterosexual or mixed clientele. The once largest gay resort, Fife’s, is now very much a straight wedding destination, Dawn Ranch Lodge.  Guerneville has continued to succeed with a very eclectic population and is one of the most gay/straight integrated communities in the country.

I find it interesting that LGBT tourist sites promote Napa and Sonoma area over the Russian River area. First, the Napa and Sonoma wine country are just a short day trip for anyone visiting San Francisco. Other than several nice gay-owned B&B's and a couple gay/gay-friendly wineries, the wine country doesn’t have a gayborhood or a strong out LGBT presence. There are no gay bars or restaurants and very few community services or events. I find the communities to be little more then tolerant, conservative, straight-acting environments.

Downtown Guerneville, the 5 & 10.
The more interesting community that embraces the LGBT visitors and locals is the more rustic Russian River and Guerneville area that is 69 miles north of San Francisco and 55 miles northwest of Napa. The Russian River area has several gay resorts as well as a number of upscale gay-owned boutique properties. There are also a couple gay bars and the community supports many LGBT events. Check it out if you come to northern California.

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