“Memories that Linger” was its motto and a winking moon was its symbol. The small resort community of Rio Nido, or “river nest,” became known as a resort destination when William Smith built the Tudor-style Rio Nido Lodge around 1915. Once logged by the Korbel brothers, makers of Korbel Champagne Cellars located just nearby, it has enjoyed a rich history and remains a central spot for enjoying the region’s many activities.
By 1920, the lodge became the center of the village with several establishments built to entertain tourists including a grocery store, souvenir shop, shooting gallery, open-air dance pavilion, candy store, penny arcade, pee wee golf, soda fountain, bar and grill, and movie theater. In its heyday in the 1930s, Rio Nido was the playground for San Francisco’s rich and famous, as well as more common folk, and became one of the most popular spots on the river.
During the daytime, visitors would walk across the bridge to loll on the beach, swim, or rent boats. At night, people flocked to the lodge for dining and cocktails and danced to the sounds of the big bands. Headliners included Harry James, Ozzie Nelson, Tex Beneke, Glen Miller, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, and even Frank Sinatra.
The resort’s attractions are now long gone due to floods and days gone by, but the Rio Nido Lodge is still in operation and in full swing. A steady stream of visitors continues to enjoy its charming rooms and cottages just like in the good old days. The quaint, half-timber, chalet-style bed and breakfast offers freshly baked breakfast goodies and a lovely café for that afternoon espresso, or a glass of wine in the evening, and is still the perfect place to stay and visit local wineries, explore the redwoods or enjoy an outdoor activity around the river.
The lodge also has a full kitchen for wedding receptions, meetings, and special events. The swimming pool, which was once the location of the dance pavilion, is open during the summer and has an area for little ones and offers water aerobics for the older crowd.
Music and fun still abound just next door at the Rio Nido Roadhouse where the vacation village once stood. The lively, casual and friendly restaurant and bar are open all day, every day, and offers live music featuring both local musicians and musicians from far and wide during themed festivals and special events. You can visit rionidoroadhouse.com for music/event schedules and menus.
Even though a lot has changed over the past hundred years, an active local community maintains the family-friendly traditions that make Rio Nido a special place to live and play. Some of these include the pee wee golf course and dog park, as well as barbeques and many other local events that are organized all year-round for locals and visitors alike.
The Wonderland Radio Hour covers Rio Nido History here: wonderlandradiohour.org, sponsored by KCRB radio. You may also contact the Russian River Historical Society for more information.
author: Mary Cowan Baker