Where We Go When It’s Sweltering in Sonoma

It was a hot one last week at our unairconditioned house in the Sonoma wine country, with temperatures several degrees north of 100. The heat was making us all cranky and lethargic, my daughters bickering while I tried unsuccessfully to write, sweat pooling in the small of my back and dampening my forehead. Even our cat, who lay outstretched and motionless on a shelf, wished we had a swimming pool.

“Girls, get your bathing suits,” I yelled. “Let’s go to Mother’s Beach.”

Mother’s Beach, as it is called by locals, is located on the Russian River, hidden below a wooded and mostly ramshackle residential area just off River Road, in Forestville. It is one of the smaller and lesser known Russian River beaches, with no lifeguard, no concessions, no entry fee and as of July 2015, no alcohol, although from what I’ve seen, not everyone complies with this rule.

Last summer, we met Mother, herself, who lives in a large, shingled house right along the path to the beach, her whimsical garden and homemade signs welcoming all who walk by. A long-time resident, she acts as a steward of the beach and was cleaning up some garbage left by inconsiderate beach-goers as we were heading out.

Mother was nowhere to be seen this time as we hurried down to the beach and then upriver from the entrance, away from where most people set up camp. After a short walk, we stopped at a secluded strip of gravel beach, just wide enough to lay out our towels under the dappled shade of some willows. The river, green with the reflection of the trees growing thickly along its banks, was too inviting to linger for long. In we plunged, immersing our overheated bodies in the cool water, some eight feet deep in this particular spot.

For the next couple of hours we swam, lazed around on our rafts and played a few rounds of Marco Polo, leaving the water only to eat our lunch. Now and then canoes passed by and for awhile some noisy teenage boys took turns jumping into the river from a tree near us. But for most of the time, we had this lovely little bend in the Russian River all to ourselves and a few blackbirds.

The next day was another scorcher, but fortunately I had booked a cabine at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery pool back in March, after waiting in a long online queue for about an hour  (cabines typically sell out for the summer within 24 hours, so this was no small feat).

We entered the gates of the winery around 11:30am and met up with my friend Laura and daughter Q, who were joining us for the day. Along with the “cabine,” a small, closet-like changing room / shower, the $135 I paid (with our wine club discount, no less) entitled us to four lounge chairs, a deck of cards, four cans of pink champagne and the use of the pool until 6pm. Pricey, yes, but still much less expensive than building our own swimming pool. That’s how I justify the cost, anyway.

The girls splashed in the pool while Laura and I chatted, sipping our canned champagne under large blue umbrellas. When the girls got hungry, we ordered pizza and caprese sandwiches from the cafe, which we ate poolside.

Surrounded by vineyards and presided over by a grand, European chateau-style building housing the winery tasting room, restaurant, gift shop and an interesting collection of Coppola movie memorabilia, Francis’ stated goal was “to create a place for families to come together to enjoy all the best things in life together.” After coming here several times with my kids, I’ve got to say I think he did a pretty nice job.

I still hope to have a pool of our own one day, but in the meantime, I’m very happy to have Mother’s Beach and the Coppola Winery pool nearby, two great, kid-friendly places to go for a swim when it’s sweltering in Sonoma.