Small Town Vibes | Big on Style

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Guerneville is a town located in Northern California’s gorgeous Sonoma County.  Known as a destination tourist-town, its charm extends well beyond the name. With a small town feel, a population of 4,534, this sweet little stop became the ideal place of serenity in my otherwise crazed life. As you enter town, the welcome signs immediately let you know that everyone belongs here. Winemakers, artists, architects, designers, chefs, visionaries – those are the people of Guerneville and it also happens to be one of the most LGBTQ friendly towns in the area. There’s even a church that has a rainbow painted on its welcome sign.

Guerneville is a lot like most of California. It’s had its ups and towns – from natural disasters to locals questioning new businesses coming to town –  but at the end of the day, it’s a city of love and eventually, concerns are addressed and community is always restored. When you arrive, you enter into a town that has the duality of times passed and modern ideology. With my partner in crime with me, we spent three marvelous days and two peaceful nights in this small alcove of forest, enjoying afternoon swims, wineries, and culinary playfulness.

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Restaurateur and Chef, Crista Luedtke envisioned a place where people could go, step away from technology for even a moment while nature wraps its arms around you in sweet intoxication, and for a while, call this place a home away from home. That is what boon hotel + spa is. Having the pleasure of working with Sonoma County Tourism, we were invited to stay at boon, explore the nearby town of Guerneville, and live life a little untethered.

As you arrive at boon hotel + spa, in the parking lot you see a designated chef’s garden and a chicken coup. Once parked, you enter through the open trellis that is lined with potted succulents and greenery and you find yourself standing in the center of a tangerine accented refuge. With influence of the 1960’s, industrial accents, and a glamping feel, the white amidst the happy sun bursts of color makes you feel stripped free of worry, stress, and the resounding reminders of everyday chaos. The rooms are simple and pristine. Technology free with the exception of the Crosley turntable, the décor is romantic yet modern with sophistication and simplicity which makes it exactly what we needed.

The day begins with checking in, getting settled in the room, booking a massage for the following day, and sauntering over to the honor bar that is so quaint and well done, it’s like hanging at your friend’s house (a friend well versed in local spirits, good wine and beer selections, with design touches of handmade labels of bloody Mary mix and grapefruit blends). The poolside honor bar is made of wood and lined with tangerine orange metal barstools, a fully stocked fridge, and an ice maker. To the left of the secretary desk-turned bar, is a panel lined with guest cards (think of a time card metal wall shelf stocked with personalized library reference cards). On those cards is the number of your room, last name, and lines to fill in with whatever kind of alcohol you consume. It’s refreshing to be treated like grownups and putting faith in our integrity. Somehow an honor bar makes you feel even more at home. Experimenting with the local tequila, a leftover lime, hot sauce, and an awaiting glass, Alexia creates what can only be described as a spicy, citrus margarita-esque cocktail.

With chaises lining the perimeter of the pool and fresh towels on each, we spot the vacant shaded cabana-bed with flowing white curtains gently blowing, daring us to pull up a seat. It’s where I ended up doing quite a bit of creative writing while here – and happily so. All around us is the forest and large trees and while I know we’re in California, it almost feels like we’re being enveloped by an island jungle.

At night, when we return from an evening out (see dining below), everything here is so peaceful. We put on our swimsuits and dip our toes into the jacuzzi and toggle between the pool and hot tub. Several other guests are out as well and everyone seems happy. As it should be. After the swim, we light the candles in our in-room fire hearth, pour ourselves some wine, get settled, and then melt into the bed for a much needed night’s sleep.

The following morning, there is a knock on our sliding patio door, breakfast is served. The breakfast we requested arrives right on time and we head out to our backyard to enjoy our darling morning setup. Fresh coffee, oatmeal, berries, parfait, biscuits, and local jam await. When you’re here, everything that surrounds you acts as a reminder that life can slow down and inspire you no matter where you go. It becomes a place of solace, a reason to appreciate design and nature, and a gentle nudging to take time to breathe, socialize, and enjoy the moments you’re given.

boon hotel+spa | 14711 armstrong woods | road guerneville, ca 95446
Note: In addition to an honor bar, there are plenty of tangerine colored beach cruisers free for all guests to use. It’s just one more way Crista’s vision invites you to get out and explore the world around you. Also, the vinyl in your room (at least in ours) was legit from Depeche Mode to Stevie Nicks and there are more in the main office to choose from, along with a selection of gorgeous local wines and bubbles.
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No.1 | el barrio

Mexican food is the source of all good things: flavor, fat, color, spice, culture, and tradition. Every chef has a twist on how its presented and with regions of Mexico spanning far and wide, the flavor profiles extend well beyond tacos and refried beans. Restaurateur and Chef, Crista has taken her travels and taste buds and presented them in a way that has a rustic yet modern, artistic yet traditional feel, laid out in every corner of el barrio from the cocktails to the plates. With décor of rich woods, a painted toilet that you have to see, bright colors in the bar and outside on the patio, and stories of Frida Kahlo, Poncho Villa, and Mexican art lining the walls, including signage on the bar top that simply reads: Cerveza y Vino, el barrio brings Hispanic culture to the small town of Guerneville with a little extra gusto.

While I enjoyed the meal to follow – one we had the treat of enjoying with Crista Luedtke – we dove in head first into the  impressive selection of mezcal. Ordering a take on a spicy margarita, our drinks arrive and upon first sip, we’re in love. We order a take on El Barrio. With a chili salted rim, mezcal, fresh lime, we add muddled serrano and the result – it’s a palate pleaser to be certain. Next up we order some chips, fresh guacamole, the trés amigos (a trio of house-made salsas) and go for straight up gluttony with the queso de cabra made with goat cheese, nopales, pasilla peppers, pico de gallo, and chorizo sausage. Queso is one of my favorite indulgences (to which I make no apologies) and this take is certainly one to make me a repeat offender. Next up, Crista recommends the tacos and we opt for the chili-braised pork tacos and in contrast, the vegan tacos. The chili-braised pork comes with avocado, pickled red onion, cotija (also a favorite of mine), and cilantro, accompanied by bourbon spiked beans. The pork is tender and mildly spicy and when you add those beans to it? It’s a happy combo. The bourbon takes those beans on a journey that manifests into an interesting bite and a bean with a proper cook. As for the vegan tacos, they are made with roasted sweet potato, mushroom, chipotle cashew crema, crunchy slaw, radish, pico also served with bourbon beans. I have to say that these tacos really did make vegan eating adventurous. Props to Crista and her team for presenting vegan in a way that wasn’t boring.

Experiencing this all with Alexia and Crista was really the heart of the meal. Perfect margaritas always make things better but eating good food in the presence of even better people, well, it’s what eating out was meant to be. Thanks to Crista for sharing her love of travel, her passion for cuisine, and her heart for those that come in to enjoy it. We did have a chance to talk about what’s next for her and should you be fans of film, I highly recommend watching, “Empire on Main Street”. Her story is one that tells the truth of what it takes to make it in this industry. She was a girl who grew up in her family’s kitchen and their German pub and it spurred her on to taking her own journey in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Her story isn’t without challenges, tears, or loss but the result is what happened because of that. She has two restaurants, with more in the pipeline, and a hotel that sets the standard. In other words, she’s a force and knowing her and talking to her only amplifies that.

el barrio bar | 16230 Main St. | Guerneville, CA 95446
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No. 2 – boon eat+drink

California is known for being a melting pot of cultures and the adventurous cuisine. Boon eat+drink is Chef Luedtke’s local eatery that serves a more worldly cuisine but with a modern California take. Inspired by the places she’s visited, the people that shared their cultures and traditions with her, and grasping onto her roots, boon eat+drink is a sit-down, modest 12 table restaurant with a an impressive wine list, and all locally sourced ingredients. While the plates emulate spices and practices she’s learned around the world, the menus boast a happy, environmentally conscious, cruelty free list of options. From the Moroccan roasted carrots (which were the best prep of carrots I’ve had to date) to the notable Brussel sprouts made with chili flakes, the one dish that took the cake was the polenta lasagna. Served with spring veggies, rainbow chard, marinara, and ricotta salata I don’t think I’ve had anything quite like this before. Bursting with flavor, there isn’t a single ingredient masked with another. In fact the flavors seem like they were made to be together and the texture of a crisp outer layer to the smooth inside that showcases the love put into it, this is a dish you HAVE to try.

All in all, Guerneville is a town that appeals to the wine and culinary driven traveler but it also happens to be a place where it seems community extends well beyond the plate and glass. Located along the Russian River in the heart of Sonoma County, this city continually growing, still maintains that small town vibe while never compromising the stunning vistas, gorgeous landscapes, or that sense of belonging. Like much of California, this year and last were exceptionally tough for those in Sonoma when storms and fires threatened to destroy a good portion of the county. Chef Luedtke was no exception but like most, she rallied her team, faced adversity, and marched on. And thank god. She is a breath of fresh air, a curious traveler, a driven entrepreneur, and someone with the thoughtfulness and heart to adjust and adapt no matter what comes her way.

Thank you to Sonoma County Tourism for introducing us to the area. We have a newfound appreciation and draw to this particular part of the county.

boon eat+drink | 16248 Main St. | Guerneville, CA 95446
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photos courtesy boon hotels, boon eat+drink, el barrio
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Charmingly rustic, the town of Guerneville (pop. 4,534) mixes towering redwoods, cool river waters, laid-back attitudes, and Sonoma Wine Country delights in a pleasing blend that makes it a popular destination, as well as an established gay vacation resort. Guerneville has always been a vacation getaway for San Franciscans — by train in the 1870s to the 1930s, and by car through the 1950s. In the 1970s it became a welcoming resort area for Bay Area gay men and lesbians.

Today, visitors stay in cozy cabins, uniquely rustic resorts, campgrounds, vacation rentals, and other lodgings. They can choose to eat at trendy restaurants, food stands, or hip cafes reminiscent of the flower-power era. And with more than 50 wineries within a 20-minute drive, wine tasting in the cool-climate Russian River Valley wine region is definitely a must for wine lovers.

With canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, umbrellas, and beach chairs available for rent, Johnson’s Beach & Resort provides the main river access in downtown Guerneville, within walking distance of restaurants and shops. Visit the awe-inspiring, 805-acre Armstrong  Redwoods State Natural Reserve, two miles north of Guerneville’s Main Street. Walk among the serene, majestic beauty of California coast redwoods, some of the world’s tallest living things. It can be a transforming experience.

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