The Russian River Valley may be the prettiest part of Wine Country . The Russian River runs through it, providing ample water for forests and meadows, as well as wide, calm spots with sandy banks. Rafting, canoeing, and kayaking opportunities abound on the zippier stretches of the river, making this area as much of destination for outdoor enthusiasts as for cork dorks.
If you are visiting for the vino, the area called the “Russian River Valley” actually encompasses several prestigious American Viticultural Areas, including Dry Creek, the Alexander Valley, and of course the Russian River.
A little to the west of the area’s concentrated wine region, you’ll reach the river in Guerneville—a noted gay and lesbian resort destination. Even if you’re straight (but not narrow) you’ll love the kitschy downtown, clothing-optional resorts, and general sense of friendliness and fun that permeate this area.
To reach the Russian River Valley, take Highway 101 from the north or south right into the midst of the Valley. Highway 101 runs through Santa Rosa, Windsor, Healdsburg, and Geyserville, making access to the restaurants, inns, and shopping easy enough—in theory.
So what’s the problem? In a misguided (and failed) attempt to discourage traffic in the area, Sonoma  has refused for years to widen Highway 101 in key areas through the Russian River Valley. The too-narrow highway leads to traffic slowdowns at commute hours and massive jams when accidents happen. Expect slow traffic through and south of Santa Rosa most of the time.
The good news is that you leave Highway 101 to get to the Russian River wineries . To get to Guerneville, your best route is State Highway 116. In that direction less traffic and pretty forests make for a more serene on-the-road experience.