Northern California's Wine Country, which consists largely of Napa and Sonoma counties in the Bay Area, is a wonderful place to visit. However, it's not always easy to get there if you don't have a car—and who wants to drive from winery to winery, anyway? This info will help you figure out the best way to plan a Wine Country getaway, whether you're coming up from San Francisco for a day or flying in from New York City for a long weekend.
Airports in the Area
When planning a trip to Sonoma and Napa Valley, you have your pick of airports, though each of them require some added footwork—we're talking bus connections, transit lines, and ride-hailing services—to delve into the heart of Wine Country.
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO): Serving many of the big-name airlines and easily accessible to/from San Francisco proper, SFO is an ideal choice for anyone looking to combine sites like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz with a wine country visit. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) connects SFO to the city's Ferry Building, where you can catch a ride on the SF Bay Ferry to Vallejo. From there, board the fixed-route Napa Vine 11 bus straight to downtown Napa. For trips to Sonoma, opt for Golden Gate Transit's San Francisco-to-Sonoma shuttle, which has stops in both Petaluma and Santa Rosa. If you're heading there straight from the airport, try Airport Express. Once you've arrived in either region, options for enjoying winery visits or tastings include ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, local tour operators (including bicycle tours), and excursions such as the Napa Valley Wine Train.
- Oakland International Airport (OAK): Oakland Airport is also served by BART, which you can take to the Ferry Building. Alternatively, there are Airport Express buses between OAK and Sonoma County stops, including Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma County Airport.
- Sacramento International Airport (SMF): Another viable option is SMF, where you can book a ride with either Napa Valley Tour and Transportation or the Napa Airporter. Both of these also serve SFO and OAK airports, as well as Sonoma County.
- Sonoma County Airport (STS): Right in the heart of Wine Country itself, the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport is seemingly the most convenient—however, the only commercial airline that flies here is Alaska Airlines. The remaining flights belong to charters and private planes. Granted, there is one major perk in booking an Alaska Airlines flight home from here (or from any of the other three airports, for that matter): you can check a case of wine for free. Once here, catch a Sonoma Country Transit bus, Airport Express, or Uber or taxi to take you where you'd like to go.
Other Ways to Get To and From Wine Country
While public transit to and from Northern California's Wine Country is not often direct, there are ways of getting within the vicinity of the greater Bay Area without flying or driving. From Bakersfield, CA, you can take Amtrak's San Joaquins rail line, which serves Jack London Square in Oakland and Sacramento Valley Station. The Coast Starlight line runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, making stops in Oakland and Sacramento as well. The California Zephyr connects Chicago with Emeryville, CA (with buses to/from downtown San Francisco). If you're traveling up to San Francisco from San Jose, considering hopping aboard Caltrain for the journey.
You've made it to San Francisco, Oakland, or Sacramento—now what? Car rentals are prominent both at the airports and throughout Bay Area cities, where you can also utilize car-sharing services such as GIG and Zipcar. Once you're behind the wheel, both Sonoma and Napa Valleys are an easy drive north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge. From Marin County, take US Hwy 101 to CA Hwy 37. You will then need to connect to CA Hwy 121 and CA Hwy 29 for Napa, or CA Hwy 121 to CA Hwy 12 for Sonoma. For anyone driving from Oakland, travel east on I-80 to the American Canyon Rd. West exit; then follow the signs accordingly for Napa. If it's Sonoma you're after, take I-580 W across the bay toward US Hwy 101. Departing Sacramento, I-80 West will carry you where you need to go.
Opt for a Wine Tour
You can catch a dedicated Wine Country tour from either SFO or OAK (in Sacramento, it makes more sense to book a car of your own and embark on one of Wine Country Getaways' self-guided itineraries). These half- and full-day excursions range from private tours to small-group outings, with options that include van and limo transport, bicycling and motor biking, and even the occasional kayaking tour. Some travelers prefer to make their way up to Napa or Sonoma first, then book a tour that includes transportation and multiple winery stops with tastings. Others find round-trips from Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco more affordable and convenient. When choosing a tour, think about what you're looking to get out of it. Do you want strictly tastings and transport, a more personalized experience, or a bit of activity on the side? Pick the one that works best for you and your budget.
Here are some Bay Area Wine Country tour companies to consider (remember, many of the same companies serve both San Francisco and Oakland):
Tours from San Francisco/Oakland
- Platypus Wine Tours: This tour leaves directly from the San Francisco Ferry Building, with an hour-long ride aboard the Vallejo ferry. You'll then transfer to a small-group shuttle for a visit to four Napa or Sonoma Valley boutique wineries. Tours begin at $110 (with tasting fees extra), and typically run from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- The Painted Ladies Tour Company: Board a vintage VW bus for this Wine Country tour, which features a visit to three distinct wineries and a wine cave tour. You can choose to get picked up at 8:45 a.m. at Union Square, or at 9 a.m. at Fisherman's Wharf. All tasting fees are included, and tickets began at $129 per adult.
- Green Dream Tours: Choose a seven-hour Napa and Sonoma counties combo tour, or a stand-alone tour to either valley. These full-day excursions include either a lunch stop or a picnic lunch, as well as visits to multiple hand-picked wineries. Tickets start at $149 a person, and the cost of the tasting fees is included. Green Dream also offers a half-day Sonoma tour with luxury transport and two wineries/tastings for $119.
- Gears & Grapes: Experience Wine Country on two wheels with Gears & Grapes. Their Napa Day Trip includes transport to and from Napa Valley, bicycle rental and supplies, a guided ride through Wine Country, and a gourmet picnic lunch. It's $165 a person, and winery tasting fees cost extra.
Tours Departing from Wine Country
If you're spending a few days in Wine Country, consider booking a personalized cycling day tour or e-bike experience with locally-based Adventures in Cycling. As you visit family-owned wineries, you'll enjoy stunning scenery, learn all about the harvesting process, and get in a bit of exercise along the way. Another great way to enjoy the sights and ample tasting? A ride aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Hop aboard one of their restored vintage railcars for a selection of half- and full-day journeys that combine a scenic rail journey with a delicious lunch and tasting at several wineries.