The Napa Valley Wine Train runs from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back, serving meals and wine on the trip. Some trips also include winery stops.
The thing the Wine Train does best is to market itself. You've probably heard about it. In fact, if you're like a lot of other people, you may think it's the best thing you could do when you're in Napa Valley. That may be more hype than it deserves.
Despite the romance of the idea, you're stuck inside, looking out the windows, watching the scenery pass as if you were watching television. You can't stop at that cute winery you saw or get out to take photos of the vineyards.
Their food is mediocre at best. They serve two seatings per trip, which means you have to move to or from the dining car in the middle of the trip.
Your time and money are better spent on hiring a private tour guide or touring on your own. However, people with limited mobility or those who care more for atmosphere and selfies than cuisine may enjoy it, and some people find travel by train very romantic.
Reviewers on Yelp seem to like the train — and so do reviewers at Tripadvisor, but many of them rave about their entire trip to Napa and not just the wine train experience.
Tips for the Napa Wine Train
These tips will help you make the most of your Napa Wine Train experience and avoid unpleasant surprises:
- In the winter months, the sun sets early, and the dinner train travels mostly in the dark. It might be romantic, but don't expect to see vineyards and wineries as you travel.
- Wine is included only with special packages. Otherwise, you'll have to buy it on board.
- While the Napa Valley Wine Train claims that tips are optional, what they really mean is that extra tips above their 12% service charge are optional.
- The Napa Valley Wine Train is 100% non-smoking. That includes the station, train cars and outside observation decks.
- Casual dress is fine anytime.
- Children are welcome, but with many restrictions. Strollers and child carriers are not allowed on board. Toilets are tiny, and diaper changing is not permitted in the rail cars. Toddlers may also get restless during such a long trip, and they cannot move around without adult supervision.
Napa Valley Wine Train Options
The Napa Valley Wine Train isn't cheap. A train trip alone is the least expensive way to go. You'll pay more for a meal, and there's an extra charge for the winery tours offered with the lunch trips.
For a dinner trip in the Vista Dome Car, you'll spend as much as you might in a fancy San Francisco restaurant. And that doesn't include beverages, service charges, and tips. For the same price, you could see the scenery on a drive up Highway 29 and back to Napa on Silverado Trail, enjoy a tasting and food pairing at Signorello Vineyards and dine like a king at one of the area's top-end restaurants.
The Wine Train offers a variety of lunch and dinner options. The Pullman cars seat 130 people at a time, with two seatings on the three-hour trip. If you choose this option for an afternoon trip, it's best to get the later seating so you can watch the scenery before the sun sets and eat on the way back.
Other special trips, winemaker dinners, murder mystery trips, full-moon trips, and seasonal excursions are available.
What You Need to Know About the Napa Valley Wine Train
The Wine Train makes four to six trips weekly, but the schedule varies by season. Cost varies by type of trip, and whether you have a meal. You can get their current times and prices on their website. Reservations are required.
You will spend two to three hours on the train, but allow extra time to get there and get on board before departure time. The station is at 1275 McKinstry Street, Napa, CA, not far from the Oxbow Market.