Monte Rio is located 4 miles west of Guerneville on Hwy 116. It has a great beach, the area's only movie theater with great popcorn and hot dogs, plus live theater, bike rentals, and some good restaurants.
You'll know you are there when you see the sign over the road: Welcome to Monte Rio, Vacation Wonderland, a nostalgic reference to an era when Monte Rio featured numerous hotels and resorts and the railroad brought thousands of tourists into town. Although the big hotels and trains are long gone, Monte Rio is still a vacation wonderland. With a population of around 1200, in three distinct areas spread out along the river, this village is the cultural heart of the river communities.
After all, the rich, the powerful, the politically connected, the leaders of our country chose Monte Rio, of any place in this country, for their annual retreat at the Bohemian Grove. Not without controversy, the "grove" has welcomed many presidents, senators, and an entire array of top politicians every summer. If you are here for the variety show they produce in July, don't miss it!
The Northwood area is only two miles from downtown Guerneville and focuses on the beautiful Northwood Golf Course. Vacation homes here are primarily on a loop road, Redwood Drive, which is bordered by the river on one side, the golf course on the other. The golf course here is rightfully famous - a masterpiece by architect Alister MacKenzie, famous for Augusta National and Cypress Point, in collaboration with Robert Hunter. This enticing par 36 nine-hole course was originally created for the exclusive Bohemian Club. Today Northwood nostalgically remains one of the most scenic and challenging courses open to the public.
Central Monte Rio has a small downtown area, defined primarily by the big Quonset hut movie theater, vintage World War II. You'll want to check out the terrific wartime murals in the theater, and the super comfortable seats. Close by you'll find excellent live theater, a very classy wine and cheese shop housed in a former Chinese restaurant building, a boutique plant nursery, a huge public beach with boat rentals and a dog-friendly area, a meadow where events take place, and some restaurants. Across the historic Monte Rio bridge, River Boulevard to the left runs a mile upstream, with two inns, both offering great charm, historic significance, excellent restaurants and bars, all within walking distance of the bridge. Numerous river-front vacation rentals line River Boulevard as well.
To the right from the bridge, there's a secondary downtown area with the Pink Elephant historic tavern and a mom-and-pop grocery store. The Village Inn was established in 1906 as a private summer vacation home for a local family in the timber business. The inn has enjoyed a long and colorful existence, including the distinction of being the site of several scenes from the film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, best remembered for the Irving Berlin classic song White Christmas. In fact, the hotel was renamed in 1942 to Holiday Inn because of the film connection. The inn and restaurant have been recently restored and offer contemporary conveniences while preserving yesteryear's charm. The bar is a local hangout, beautifully restored, with a terrific river view and great ambiance. The Village Inn is a popular wedding site and the restaurant is excellent.
Originally built in 1906, the Highland Dell Hotel was a popular destination for San Francisco and Bay Area families throughout the first half of the 20th century and it still is today. Completely restored, this inn features a restaurant offering German cuisine and a full bar. This is the site of the local OktoberFest.
Western Monte Rio extends to the doorstep of Cazadero. From the Pink Elephant in central Monte Rio, Moscow Road runs downstream along the south side of the river, along the way passing Villa Grande, a must-stroll town with Victorian homes from the early 20th century and its own neighborhood beach. Once past Villa Grande, the river widens and this area is more influenced by the ocean; the morning fog hangs around a little longer, the sun brings marine breezes, harbor seals make their way here, and the tide has a strong influence on river levels. From Hwy 116 in central Monte Rio, River Road also wends its way along the north side of the river toward the ocean. Western Monte Rio ends in the Rien's Beach area, very near the turn-off to Cazadero, five miles closer to the ocean than the Northwood area.
The Russian River is clean and safe for swimming. The water is tested frequently to ensure its integrity. Beaches tend to be gravel, with some sandy areas. We recommend that you wear water shoes, which can be purchased inexpensively at several stores on Main Street in Guerneville.
River in Summer/Dry Season: Monte Rio is entirely below the summer dams that bring the water level in Guerneville to a constant level. This means that the river levels fluctuate more than they do above the dams, although the river is always gentle, with a moderate current and no white water. Many of the homes here have floating docks, with gangplank access, which adjust to the water level. These docks are removed every fall in late September or early October and replaced in May or June. The exact dates are never known in advance since the dates are dependent upon river conditions and installer schedules.
Whether or not the docks are in, there are beaches where boating is always possible, even if the river is at its lowest. In the summer, the water is warm and the swimming season often runs from May into October.
Fishing is another important river activity. Spring brings the shad and catfish. During the summer months, large mouth, small mouth, and striped bass, along with blue gills, are caught here. For info about guided fishing trips and equipment rental, visit King's Sport & Tackle in Guerneville.
River in Winter/Rainy Season: During the winter rainy season, which generally extends from the middle of December through March, the River is very swift, cold, deep, muddy, and unsafe for swimming and boating. The Chinook head up river in the fall, followed by the Steelhead Trout. While Chinook must be released immediately if caught accidentally, Steelhead fishing is an exciting winter sport here. As long as the river is low enough for standing in waders, the river will be dotted with the hopeful. One of the most popular areas is around the Monte Rio Public Beach, where there is good river access, including a boat launch. Pick up a free fishing map at King's Sport & Tackle in downtown Guerneville.
Monte Rio Public Beach: Downtown at the Monte Rio Bridge. Boat access, volley ball & horseshoe courts. Rent canoes, kayaks, tubes, umbrellas and chairs. Concessions include standard American fare. Real bathrooms. Dogs permitted off-leash on down river side of the bridge. Boat launch and fishing access. Plenty of free parking. Bohemian Hwy & Hwy 116, turn right just before heading south over the Monte Rio Bridge.
Bike Rentals through Bike Partners: They will deliver your bike rental to your home or into town. They offer an assortment of bikes, Singles and Tandems. You can also rent a child carrier attachment for the bike. The bikes are fold away bikes. Which means you can fold them and put them in the trunk of your car and drive to whichever location you would like to ride. $40 for a 24 hour rental. Plus a $1/Mi. delivery charge.
Call for inquiry: 1.855.483.3732 (toll free)
River Riders Bicycle Rentals: How about renting a bicycle in Guerneville, and riding along the majestic Russian River, through the redwood forest, to a winery, or even to the Sonoma Coast? We are a local bike rental company in Guerneville, and we deliver for free! 707-483-2897 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Billiards, Air Hockey, Arcade Games: In the two mini quonset huts at the rear of the Rio Theater and Don's Dogs Café. Open daily and into the evening during the summer, after school and upon request the rest of the year.
Local Radio: 97.7 FM/The River plays classic rock. 95.1 FM/The Bridge is a non-commercial community radio station which provides a bridge between the Guerneville Community Church and the Russian River Communities.
Playground/Monte Rio School: Nice play structure, beautiful grounds, lots of grass, shade, picnic tables, volleyball courts. No public bathrooms. No dogs. Open to the public only during non-school hours. Foothill Drive just off Hwy 116, Monte Rio
Public Tennis Court/Downtown Monte Rio
Shops and Services: Monte Rio has little shopping: an outdoor bazaar of tie-dye clothing and Nepalese jewelry, a boutique nursery, a general store with video rentals. For fun shopping, head south to Occidental, west to Duncans Mills, or east to Guerneville, each a short drive.
Coffee, Dining & Nightlife
Mama Java Coffee House: Locally roasted coffee served fresh all day, homemade baked goods, picnic lunches. 19420 Hwy 116 at Northwood; T: (707) 865-0800
Don's Dogs Café: Coffee drinks made with Peet's coffee, smoothies, and sandwiches; outdoor dining patio. At the back of the Rio Theater on Hwy 116 at the Monte Rio Bridge.
Restaurants: Monte Rio has several good restaurants, within walking distance of many of the vacation homes. See our Restaurant Guide. It's also a short drive to Occidental where there are two historic Italian restaurants: Negri's and the Union Hotel, as well as several good cafes.
For Delivery/Main Street Station: The restaurant, with its live jazz evenings, is a Guerneville favorite but they deliver to Monte Rio! The yummiest pizza, as well as sandwiches and some Italian specialties (including the heavenly dessert, Tiramisu!) all can be delivered to your doorstep ($3/delivery - starting at 5pm). 16280 Main Street, Guerneville; T: 707-869-0501
Pegasus Theater: This excellent company of players has been offering thought-provoking, live theater productions since 1998 for the Russian River community and its guests. 20347 Hwy 116; T: 707-522-9043
By the way, there is no such thing as a "gay" or "straight" restaurant or venue in Monte Rio; all establishments favor a mixed crowd.
Groceries & Banks
Bartlett's Grocery: 9890 Main Street (across from the Pink Elephant on the south side of the bridge/river). T: 707-865-2023
Fern’s Grocery: General store type grocery, pizza & deli. Video rental with refundable $40 cash deposit. 20348 Hwy 116; T: 707-865-1578
Monte Rio One Stop General Store: General store type grocery, hardware. 20301 Hwy. 116 West T: 707-865-2142
All ATMs are located in Guerneville: Wells Fargo ATM inside Safeway; Bank of America ATM in the old bank building at Main and Mill.
The nearest 24-hour Safeway is at the corner of Main and Mill Streets in Guerneville.
Fourth of July Fireworks: People come from miles around to join the locals in celebrating our great nation's birthday. You haven't really seen fireworks until you've seen them this close! Liquid lights for sale; also beer and other refreshments. It's a good idea to bring beachmats or low beach chairs & jackets and/or blankets. No participatory fireworks allowed (not even sparklers). T: 707-865-1533
Monte Rio Water Carnival: The same day as the fireworks, this wacky wet family event that includes such evening treats as a torch-lit canoe parade and a projection of the statue of liberty onto a 60-ft waterfall, and daytime fun such as canoe races, games, and great food. T: 707-865-1533
Russian River Car Show: Open to 1973 cars and older. Yearly in August. T: Big Steve, Acme Customs 707-824-9039
Russian River Food & WineFest: Last Sunday in September, but events often are spread over the weekend. Produced by Clark Wolf, a notable food and restaurant consultant.
Mermaid Festival: October of each year at the Monte Rio Amphitheater.