Visiting a fraction of the more than 400 wineries in the northern California wine country is a vacation to remember. Many of the wineries in the Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and elsewhere are accessible by flying into San Francisco International Airport or Sonoma County Airport, renting a car, and driving about 1.5 hours north to wine country. The problem is, if you plan on consuming any of the area’s delicious wines (and not immediately spitting it back out!), going to wineries while driving is a problem. And while there are some forms of lodging serving wine from local wineries, or that offer shuttle services to local wineries, the actual wineries do not have places to stay on their property. Luckily there are some solutions to this transportation problem beyond calling a cab or having a designated driver – maybe more than you thought! One note before we get started on the recommendations: You need to be 21 years or older to take part in any of these wine-related activities due to the legal drinking age in the US.
Hop on a Wine Trolley
Ride around wine country in a historic converted trolley like this one
Riding around on one of the two historic cable cars is an easy way to get from one winery to another without getting behind the wheel. You can choose from the Napa Valley Wine Trolley or the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley. Each tour has various options for stops and food and you get to stop at 3 or 4 wineries along the way. The Napa Valley tour leaves from downtown Napa, and the Sonoma Valley tour leaves from Sonoma Plaza in Sonoma. If you are staying at one of the trolley tours’ hotel partners they will provide transportation to the start of the tours.
Ride on Horseback
You can take a horseback ride through vineyards and then sample wines
This is only a partial day activity but worth it because you get to ride through vineyards, and have a wine tasting afterward! The Rapp Ranch guides take you on rides through the Shadybrook Estate Winery, located only about 3 miles from downtown Napa. That means you can easily take a cab to and from your horseback riding experience.
Tour Wineries in a VW Van
Ride around wine country in a VW bus like this
Travel to your wine tasting in style with an 8-hour tour in a vintage Volkswagen van. A company called West Wine Tours allows you to book a seat or an entire VW bus for a 5.5 hour tour. If you book the whole bus for a group of up to 6 or 8 people, they will pick you up and drop you off where you are staying but only in the Sonoma Valley or downtown Sonoma. These tours are also customizable, so you can either let the guide take you to their choice of wineries or make a custom itinerary.
Tour by Bike
Ride on a path like this through vineyards
The Napa Valley Vine Trail is a protected bike path winding through the area rich with vineyards. This biking and walking path will eventually be 47 miles long, stretching from Vallejo along San Pablo Bay in the south to Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley. There is a 12.5 mile section already completed that goes from John F. Kennedy Park just south of Napa, north to Yountville. And there are options to rent a bike from places in both Napa and Yountville, with plenty of wineries to visit along the bike route.
Ride the Wine Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train
Perhaps the most deluxe non-driving option on the list, the Napa Valley Wine Train allows you to travel in style to different wineries on a refurbished vintage train. You can take a half or full-day ride through wine country, stopping at different wineries along the way. This is also a good option if you want to stay over in wine country and not have to drive at all once you get there. The wine train has several hotel partners, some of which offer winery tour packages where they take care of the transportation.
Hire a Designated Driver
Visit wineries like Castello di Amorosa in the Napa Valley without driving yourself
There are several companies offering designated driver services in both Napa and Sonoma valleys. If you are renting a car with Sixt or another car rental company and would like to use a service like this, make sure to check with your branch to see if it is allowed and what steps you need to take. The designated driver service is straightforward: You hire a driver by the hour and they take you around to different wineries. In many cases the driver also acts as a tour guide and knows their way around the wineries and can tailor a tour to meet your needs.
If you have decided to visit wine country, Sixt has three stations in San Francisco to make your journey easy. You can find us at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco Union Square, or at Fisherman’s Wharf. A convertible or sports car are both perfect for driving through wine country, although we also have SUVs and minivans for larger groups.
Andrea enjoys exploring different countries and eating all of their foods, especially if they’re spicy.