Dawn Ranch and the Pleasures of a Rustic Retreat

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov.

Exceedingly serene, and thoroughly historic, Dawn Ranch resort is located on the Russian River waterfront amid towering redwoods in Guerneville, California. Way back in 1905, this verdant piece of land used to be an apple orchard, and some of the gnarled over-centennial trees still bear fruit this time of year.

 When the first owner, one Theodosia Button Murphy, purchased the property and built The Lodge as a dining hall, it quickly turned into a glamping (in today’s language) resort for San Francisco families who could stay all summer long in this idyll and ideal location.

According to Teach Mayer, General Manager of Dawn Ranch, the parents back then used to occupy several cabins under the apple trees, and their kids—a few tents on the grassy lawn to imitate an independent camping experience.

When the Murphy family sold the property to Peter Pender in 1978, it became Fife’s Resort, one of the first gay retreats in California wine country, where same-sex couples could openly vacation together and enjoy the country living.   

Since 2005, Dawn Ranch has been known as a worldwide destination and a unique getaway for weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats, and all kinds of social gatherings for leisure guests of all ages. Its event spaces can accommodate up to 300 guests.

After a three-year closure, caused by a flood, and then the coronavirus pandemic, the renovated and refreshed resort reopened in all its glory under the operation of Bridgeton Holdings, offering luxury lodging, indoor and outdoor event spaces, a farm-to-table restaurant, a variety of exclusive guest activities, and live music twice weekly.

Cozy chalets and cabins, surrounded by old redwoods and flowering bushes, are built around two large open spaces—The Green and The Meadow, on the banks of Fife’s Creek and Livereau Creek, and close to Boathouse Lawn with a fire pit, The Lodge with reception office and Agriculture Public House restaurant, and an amazing Kitchen Garden, saturated with flowers, greens, herbs, and vegetables, widely used in the restaurant kitchen.  

12 vintage Green Meadow Chalets are quaint and quiet, with a garden terrace where you can enjoy a continental breakfast, delivered to your door every morning; a sitting room overlooking the meadow, and furnished with a sofa, coffee table and armchair, in addition to a queen-size bedroom with soft cork flooring, bathroom with rainforest showerhead, and an Iconic luxury appliance—Italian refrigerator SMEG in Mid-Century Modern style.  

There are also 53 cedar-topped individual cabins with access to wooded nature trails, meadows, and gardens, and two Bungalows for larger families with full kitchens, two full baths, and two queen bedrooms each.

Agriculture Public House restaurant serves a seasonal menu based on regionally sourced organic produce, sustainable fish and meats, and artisan cheeses. Craft beers, Sonoma and Russian River Wines, and small batch spirits are readily available at the spacious bar.

Start your dinner with signature cocktails, like a famous Agriculture Dirty Martini (gin, dry vermouth, olives), or Vida Fresh Lime Margarita (mezcal, Cointreau, simple syrup, lime), or Whisky Sour (bourbon, simple syrup, lemon)—you won’t be disappointed!

If you’re lucky on Smaller plates menu there might be a seasonal Bi-Color Gazpacho, a very fresh and delicious blend of cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Another great choice would be an elegant Cheese & Charcuterie Board.

Larger dishes might include Summer Garden Pasta (fresh egg fettuccini, Mary’’s organic chicken, vegetable medley, Dawn Ranch marinara) with finger-licking house-made sauce, or Braised Pork Chop (apple chutney, caramelized onion, mashed yam).

On the Sweets menu go straight for the Chocolate Pot de Crème, or, if you’re too full (which you will be, for sure!) pick their wonderful new flavor—green tea match Sorbet!

On a Sunday evening this reporter has dined at the Agriculture Public House, at The Bandshell, located on the resort’s main lawn right by the restaurant, singer/guitarist Sam Hamby was performing his repertoire. The live music program, implemented by the resort, presents local musicians every Sunday and Thursday starting at 5:30 pm. Thursdays are presumably reserved for Hannah Jern-Miller, a guitar/harmonica player and singer who blends folk, bluegrass and classic rock, while Sundays have a rotating schedule.

Among the daily guest activities, included with your stay, for which you can sign up at the office, there are outdoor yoga and meditation classes, sunset wine tastings, creative workshops, Fire Pit & S’mores, bird watching with Swarovski Optics binoculars—either on-site or in the nearby state parks. Retrospec Cruiser Bicycles and HigherDose Go Mats are also available on a complimentary basis as well as kayak and paddleboard rentals for Russian River water sports.

Dawn Ranch is located at 16467 Highway 116, Guerneville, CA 95446; 707-869-0656. For more information, and to reserve your stay, go to https://www.dawnranch.com/.