Guerneville ( /ɡɜrnvɪl/ gurn-vil) is a town that is a census-designated place in Sonoma County, California, USA. As of the 2010 census, its population was 4,534, up from 2,441 at the 2000 census. Guerneville is a popular family destination, gay resort, and camping center in the Russian River Valley. It was founded by the Guerne family in the 1850s.
Guerneville is built adjacent to the Russian River. Redwoods grew in the riverbed with such vigor that just a few centuries ago, the valley had the greatest biomass density on the planet, according to local lore. The local Pomo Indians used the area as a summer camp and called it "Ceola" (/siːoʊleɪ/ or cee-oh-lay) which meant "shady place." Except for a large, beautiful stand of truly ancient trees preserved in the Fife Creek watershed, now the centerpiece of Armstrong Woods Park, many of the trees were logged in the 19th century, giving rise to the first English name for the place – "Stumptown." The annual town parade still commemorates the old place name by calling itself "Stumptown Days." The present name Guerneville was introduced to honor Swiss immigrant George Guerne, a local businessman of the 19th century who owned the town's sawmill. The extensive redwood forests on the surrounding mountains are less than 200 years old, having been replacement plantings for much of the logging done in the 19th century.
The area became popular with vacationers from San Francisco in the late 19th century. The San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad linked the town to the Ferries of San Francisco Bay in 1877. Even with the demise of train service in the late 1930s, the area's resorts remained popular with vacationers who came by automobile through the 1950s. A local movie theater, the River, was built near the beach and showed double features throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The coming of jet airplane travel in the 1960s marked a period of decline for many of the older resorts. Winter floods in 1964 caused a further decline in business conditions. Many housing units that were once summer-only cottages began to be used year-round by low-income households, and illegal drug use became more prevalent throughout the region. However, a renaissance took place in the late 1970s as large numbers of gay men and lesbians from San Francisco identified the area as a prime recreational destination for weekends. Many older resorts gained a new lease on life with the new visitors, and in general, the town's businesses began to thrive again.