Those in the know have been flocking to Guerneville for years. With its relaxed vibe and primo Russian River landscape, the quirky locale knows how to capture the magic of summer in Sonoma County. But word of Guerneville’s charm seems to have gotten out.
In the past year, a plethora of hotels in this once sleepy town have undergone extensive renovations, attracting more visitors and upping the ante of what to expect during a stay along the river. Now, with the opening of Dawn Ranch, you can add yet another incentive to put a Guerneville getaway on the calendar.
A property steeped in history
Chances are you’ve driven by Dawn Ranch many times on your way to and from the river and coast — it is located just off Highway 116 and just steps away from the popular Guerneville taco truck.
The property dates back to 1905, when the Murphy family opened a resort with tent cabins and a dining hall here, catering to wealthy San Franciscans wanting to spend summers on the Russian River. The Murphy family sold the property in 1978 and it became Fife’s Resort, one of the first gay destination resorts in Sonoma County.
Rebranded yet again as Dawn Ranch in 2005, the property operated as a wedding venue and corporate retreat until the devastating flooding in February 2019 forced its closure.
A new beginning
After three years of renovations, Dawn Ranch finally reopened as a hotel in late April and began welcoming overnight guests in its 53 cabin-style accommodations.
“My desire is for people to come here and to just get lost on the property and to let themselves wander,” said Teach Mayer, General Manager at Dawn Ranch.
Along with highly sought-after access to the Russian River, the unique 15-acre property boasts a diverse natural landscape. Towering redwoods and giant bamboo canes mingle with persimmon, pear and plum trees. The apple trees in the orchard, located between the Russian River and Fife’s Creek, are believed to be about 120 years old. And then there’s the property’s namesake, a pair of rare dawn redwoods.
No one knows for sure how the cultivation of this unusual member of the redwood family occurred. Legend has it that Mrs. Murphy, one of the original owners of the resort property, allowed arborists working at Bohemian Grove to camp on her land for free sometime at the turn of the 20th century in exchange for them planting some of their saplings.
“Clearly, this did not happen just on its own,” said Mayer about the unusual redwoods and the fruit trees that grow on the property. “Will we ever know? Probably not. But I love that story and I love telling it.”
Russian River lodging
The redesigned cabins at Dawn Ranch are cozy yet beautifully modernized and come in a variety of configurations, ranging from one-room cabins with a private bathroom to bungalows with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a full kitchen.
All rooms have natural cork or wood flooring, beds with fluffy down comforters, Frete towels, Le Labo bath toiletries, a Fellow tea kettle to make pour-over coffee and a small Smeg refrigerator. There are no televisions or phones, but there is Wi-Fi.
Amenities include yoga mats and blocks, bicycles, picnic blankets, Swarovski wildlife binoculars, sketch books and journals. Organized yoga classes are in the works and once summer is in full swing, the goal is to have kayaks and inner tubes ready for guests looking to splash in the river.
The onsite Agriculture Public House restaurant is open to guests and to the public for happy hour and dinner, Thursday through Saturday. The menu features dishes like roasted mussels with chorizo tomato broth, and beet salad topped with goat cheese and pistachios. Patio seating comes with a view of the redwood-shaded cabins but be sure to pop inside the restaurant to see the black and white property photos from years past that adorn the walls.
Rates at Dawn Ranch start at $275, plus a resort fee equivalent to 10% of the cost of a guest’s stay before taxes. Click through the above gallery for a peek at Dawn Ranch, along with some of our favorite things to do in Guerneville.
16467 California 116, Guerneville, 707-869-0656, dawnranch.com