How to Experience Wine Country Without a Car

Wine country is a food lover’s paradise. There are more than 400 wineries in Sonoma County and the Napa Valley alone, and some of the country’s best chefs run award-winning restaurants here, from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville to John Ash’s John Ash & Co. in Santa Rosa.

With so much to experience, renting a car in wine country might seem like a good idea, but we discourage it. For one thing, drinking and driving is never a good idea; for another, traffic during peak season can be surprisingly tough on those rural roads. There are other memorable and convenient ways to experience wine country, from a luxurious train ride to flying past gorgeous vineyards in a hot air balloon. Here are some of our favorite ways to see this world-renowned region.

If you are staying in San Francisco, there are plenty of neat options that will take you from San Francisco to wine country and back. Extranomical Tours is one of the most trusted names in the business. Their wine country tour offerings include free pick-up and drop-off from your San Francisco hotel, lunch en route, and even private, personalized tours of the region. There is also the Great Pacific Tour Company, which is ideal for small groups. They have full-day wine country tours, which include lunch and wine-tasting. You’ll be transported from and to your hotel in a comfortable minivan. Ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber can also provide entertainment up to Wine Country.

With Green Dream Tours as your guide, you’ll see, taste and live the authentic Napa or Sonoma experience for a full day. The  8-9 hour tour includes three wine tastings, winery tour, and pick-up and drop-off, plus many other perks like a free picnic lunch with Sonoma tour. Buy tickets today.

Ride in style from San Francisco all the way up to Napa and Sonoma in a limo bus and experience a full day of wine country. It includes a visit to six different wineries, lunch, a special barrel tasting and a stop off at the Golden Gate Bridge, because why not? Buy tickets today.

Travel back in time aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train, an antique train with restored Pullman rail cars that takes you right back to the 19th century. You’ll be served some of the best wines from the region as the train travels through Napa Valley’s most picturesque locations. For the ultimate experience, book seats in the Champagne Vista Dome for lunch or dinner. You can choose from several other Wine Train tours, which start at $139. Make reservations well in advance, especially during peak season, to get the best seats.

If you would rather experience the wind in your hair and the smell of fresh air, check out tour company Laces and Limos. They have tuk-tuks, those compact three-wheeled street vehicles so popular in Southeast Asia, that can seat six people. The basic tour is a two-and-a-half hour journey through Napa Valley. There is even a signature tour that lets you personalize the experience. You can mix and match between tasting rooms and the famed vineyards of Coombsville.

Wine country is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, walking through scenic locations and historic vineyards. Wine Country Walking Tours offers guided tours through Geyserville and Healdsburg, two famous Sonoma County towns. There are private tours for the newly married, wine and food pairing tours, as well as corporate tours.

Get a bird’s eye view of wine country’s vineyards and rolling hills in a hot air balloon! Napa Valley Balloons offers hot air balloon tours that end with breakfast and Chandon sparkling wines. If you fancy Sonoma County instead, you can book a tour from Up & Away. After the thrill of flying over Sonoma County’s famed vineyards, you land in Healdsburg for a farm-to-fork breakfast.

Biking enthusiasts have it good in wine country. Napa Valley Bike Tours is one of the best tour operators offering guided bike tours of the region. If you are the DIY kind, though, you can always rent a bike, grab a map and pedal your way through the region. Stay tuned for news of the Napa Valley Vine Trail. The 47-mile stretch, which is under construction, will connect Vallejo to Calistoga for bikers. Bike tours of wine country can also be a great team-building exercise

Those who have sampled Napa and Sonoma several times and would like a fresh perspective may enjoy a kayaking tour of the wine country. There’s a guided kayaking tour of the Russian River, for instance, which ends with a leisurely lunch. Another Napa Valley tour combines biking and kayaking: peddle your way to Napa Valley wineries before paddling back on the Napa River.

Get around wine country in style with private limo tours. Wine Country Limos offers group tours starting at $99, which are ideal for first-timers to the region who want to get a taste of what wine country has to offer. Wine Country Limos also has personalized tours of the Dry Creek and Russian River regions, for those who want to go off the beaten path. There’s also Black Tie Transportation, based in Pleasanton. They have vehicles that can carry anywhere from 2 to 22 passengers, meaning everyone in your party can enjoy the taste of wine country.

Go deep inside wine country’s vineyards in a horse-drawn carriage. This one is ideal for honeymooners! You will travel along private vineyard lanes, get to know the history of the region, and end with a gourmet meal in a picturesque setting.

If riding in a horse-drawn carriage seems too leisurely for your taste, consider renting a motorbike and exploring the hidden gems of wine country through rugged terrain.

Whichever way you choose to experience wine country, when you can mix great wine, fantastic food and scenic locations, there’s hardly any chance of being disappointed.