Of all the North Bay, Sonoma County, particularly the Russian River area, offers the most events, lodging, and entertainment serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) visitors.
“Sonoma County draws LBGT visitors because we’re known as a very inclusive and progressive community. We’ve been that way for a very long time,” said Todd O’Leary, vice president of marketing and communications for Sonoma County Tourism.
O’Leary said targeted events, including Gay Wine Weekend, Lazy Bear, Russian River Women’s Weekend, and Sonoma County Pride (which was held May 31 through June 2) promote the county’s visibility, encouraging tourism through media attention and word of mouth.
“We engage in marketing efforts and media relations communications that span the globe. We have dedicated markets in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and Sacramento, and also areas to which Santa Rosa airport flies, including Denver, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. We showcase the events as well as LGBT-owned businesses and experiences,” said O’Leary.
“We have a dedicated LGBT landing page on our website that includes special interest articles, such as Sonoma County’s most gay-friendly visitor spots and five tips for planning your gay wedding. We’re envisioning a video series that’s going to launch in 2020 that serves up unique stories about what makes Sonoma County so special. I would love for one of those stories to be an LGBT story.”
Guerneville and the Russian River resort area remain the “hot spot” for LGBTQIA visitors, said Michael Volpatt, owner of Big Bottom Market and co-owner of Equality Vines.
“Guerneville’s the Fire Island of the West. We have a real mix of gay entrepreneurs up here that make the area even more gay-friendly than it already is. As a community, we do our best to take matters into our own hands and promote the area,” said Volpatt.
David Barker, president of Lazy Bear, a “getaway” event originally marketed to the “bear community” of gay men, said he has expanded his event from a weekend to a week. Barker said Lazy Bear is and always has been open to people of all sexual orientations.
“This will be our 23rd year in Guerneville to offer a party with a purpose. Lazy Bear Week, which will run from Monday, July 29, to Monday, Aug. 5, will raise money for Sonoma County nonprofit organizations, including food banks like Food for Thought and LBGT organizations that build community and provide health care,” said Barker.
Lazy Bear Week’s schedule includes pool parties, dance parties, nature hikes, barbecues, wine tours, game nights, bonfires, and live entertainment, including comics and drag shows.
“On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we will have five parties going on simultaneously. Last year, we saw 1,032 people buy a daily pass on Friday and 2,027 buy a daily pass on Saturday,” said Barker.
Barker said this year, the start of Lazy Bear will coincide with the end of the Folsom Street Fair.
“We will provide bus service from San Francisco to Guerneville on Saturday and Sunday. Participants can come for however long they want, from a day to the whole week,” said Barker.
Ryan Miller, chief marketing officer for AutoCamp, which offers luxury camping in Airstream trailers along the Russian River, said the company’s openly LGBTQ-inviting advertising and involvement in local LBGTQ events ensure that it sees a diverse range of customers.
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