Northern California’s Sonoma County is an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Between hiking at Armstrong Redwoods, water sports on the Russian River, and charming local eateries and boutiques, this eclectic area has all the makings of a perfect getaway. Until recently, visitors would either have to rough it at a campground or opt for a less immersive (though more pampered) stay at one of Sonoma County’s many inns and bed-and-breakfasts. The recently opened AutoCamp Russian River combines luxury accommodations and classic camping, creating the ultimate outdoor experience for both casual and seasoned campers. Located just 75 miles north of San Francisco in the town of Guerneville, AutoCamp creators Neil Dipaola and Ryan Miller make the notion of camping desirable and trendy for every personality and age.
It’s hard to believe that this campground wonderland used to be a junkyard trailer park known for what most would describe as dodgy activity. It only takes a few steps into the property to be surrounded by looming, lush redwood trees and the incredible smell of the woods. Farther into the site, you’re welcomed by a landscaped campground that incorporates elements of modern design with the great outdoors.
Guests looking for the ultimate lavish retreat can choose to stay in one of the 24 decked-out, classic Airstream trailers. These iconic silver bullets are outfitted with queen-size Casper mattresses and soft linens; modern, sleek bathrooms with walk-in showers and vanity sinks; kitchenettes; and a flat-screen TV with cable and built-in sound system. Top-notch toiletries include Malin+Goetz bath products and cozy robes. In addition, there is a wheelchair-accessible suite.
Another option is the luxury canvas tent that offers a similar experience to the Airstreams. Although bathrooms and showers aren’t available in the tent, the lounge building features spa-inspired facilities. Complete with nightstands, a coat rack, lighting, and lounge chairs, don’t let the word “tent” fool you-it’s a beautiful place for rest and relaxation.
Whether you wake up to a ray of light streaming through the redwood canopy or a misty fog, getting cozy isn’t too much of a concern, thanks to the numerous indoor and outdoor fire pits throughout the campsite. Head over to the beautifully designed clubhouse, which serves as the heart of AutoCamp, and sip on coffee or tea to start the day. Alternatively, end your day soaking in the last bit of twilight while congregating around a fire pit and swapping stories of adventures on the river with other guests. These moments that seamlessly intertwine creature comforts with nature make the difference between staying at AutoCamp versus a hotel.
Self-proclaimed “design nerds,” the founders attest that great design is key to the experience at AutoCamp. “The moment you arrive on the property your mind is blown by great design,” explains co-founder Miller. “There are countless moments of design that you can actually experience on the property.” The clubhouse’s cantilevered ceiling allows for unobstructed views of the redwoods from inside the structure. With chill, curated music, as well as carefully selected beverages (including wine) to enjoy, the clubhouse serves as an inclusive place where everyone can relax throughout the day and night.
AutoCamp takes all the best aspects of camping and eliminates the stress and hassle that usually accompany an outdoor excursion. With the ethos of making “camping easy, clean and enjoyable,” Miller and Dipaola included patios with lounge chairs and campfire style fire pits and grills for each suite. Bring your own veggies and meat to put together a lovely, mess-free barbecue dinner al fresco. Or grab a s’mores kit from the clubhouse and make some gooey, sweet treats.
Being close enough to head to town easily while remaining removed from a traditional lodging experience makes a stay at AutoCamp unique. It’s just a 10-minute walk to the quaint town of Guerneville, or borrow one of the property’s sky blue Linus Bicycles for a quick 5-minute spin instead.
For artisanal food in a welcoming atmosphere, head to Big Bottom Market for breakfast or lunch. Grab a gourmet deli sandwich or salad, or opt for a freshly baked biscuit with toppings like mascarpone and honey or pulled pork. Check out modern California bistro Boon Eat + Drink for an upscale dinner featuring the best of Sonoma County’s local produce, meat, and wine. Choose from wholesome dishes such as slow braised pork belly or crispy seared salmon. Get festive at El Barrio Tequila Bar with tequila flights, mescal, and fun cocktails to go along with fun sides like guacamole and queso.
While strolling along Main Street, don’t forget to stop by Guerneville Bank Club building to pursue through its collection of unique shops. Indulge in a scoop of award-winning ice cream from Nimble and Finn’s. Innovative flavors range from lavender honeycomb to maple bourbon bacon brittle. Another inventive dessert spot in the Bank Club is Chile Pies Baking Co. Each freshly baked pie is made from scratch with a butter crust. This sweet spot’s signature green chile apple pie made with sweet apple and green chile filling, cheddar cheese crust, and walnut streusel is a must. For one-of-a-kind locally made gifts and chic housewares and fashion, stop by Commerce Fine Goods. You can spend the whole afternoon on Main Street munching on old-fashioned candies while shopping for goodies at the Guerneville General Store.
Insider tip: Don’t be afraid to jump in your car and just drive around. No matter what way you go, the drive is going to be scenic. Plus, the roadsides are lined with organic fruit stands selling a phenomenal selection of produce, baked goods, and more, so keep an eye out.
To the west is Jenner, a coastal town located where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Stop off at Cafe Aquatica, where you can enjoy live jazz with your meal. To the east are some of the prettiest wineries around, including family-owned Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery, which offers biodynamic wines, and Marimar Estate, where you can enjoy Spanish tapas and wine pairings on its stone terrace facing views of the surrounding redwood forest and wildflowers.
Good to Know: Before heading back to AutoCamp, stop at Wild Flower Bread, where you can indulge in a huge variety of freshly baked breads, pastries, and other sweets. Make sure to take a walk through its magical culinary garden, which grows all sorts of fruits and veggies, along with 6-foot-tall sunflowers.
You may also be surprised to learn that AutoCamp is a good place for the whole family. With welcoming, friendly vibes and an overall appreciation for nature at every turn, AutoCamp is frequented by families, and kids can be seen reveling on the campsite. While the Linus bikes also come in children’s sizes, the classic Red Radio Flyer Wagons are particularly popular.
PLAN YOUR TRIP with Fodor’s Napa and Sonoma Guide.