From San Francisco, California's wine-famous Napa Valley is 60 miles to the north. The region is a popular daytrip from the Bay Area, but it doesn't have just one destination. There is, of course, the town of Napa, as well as Oak Knoll and Yountville, all of which provide lively social centers with shops and attractions. However, Napa's true appeal is in exploring the vineyards along the way.
Public transportation is a slow way to get to Napa and is not designed for tourists who want to see the sights and visit some wineries. For out-of-town visitors, the process can be painstakingly complicated, so you're really better off booking a guided tour or renting a car and driving. Signing up for a guided tour is usually the lowest-priced way to tour Napa Valley, but you may be stuck in a crowd of 30 people or more and won't have any choices about where you go or when you stop. If you drive to Napa on your own, you may be able to see all of it in a single day or plan a longer trip.
If you are flying into San Francisco and staying in Napa Valley, your hotel may offer a shuttle from the airport. Alternatively, look into shuttle companies that service Napa Valley from San Francisco Airport (SFO) like Evans Transportation or California Wine Tours.
How to Get from San Francisco to Napa
- Bus and Ferry: 2 hours, $19+
- Car: 1 hour 20 minutes, 60 miles
Napa Valley is more or less due north of San Francisco, but you can't just start driving north from the middle of town and get there. In fact, if you tried that, you'd probably end up in the San Francisco Bay. To reach Napa, you need to get around the north end of the Bay. You can do that on the east or west side of the body of water, but many prefer the western route because it's more scenic, even if it does take a little longer:
- West Side of the Bay: Go north across the Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 101 to Highway 37, then connect to Highway 121 and Highway 29. This route takes you through the southern end of Sonoma County and the lush, rolling hills of the Carneros wine region. However, it also passes Sonoma Raceway. It's best to avoid it on race days when the crowds can cause traffic jams around the Highway 37/121 intersection.
- East Side of the Bay: Take the Bay Bridge to I-80 North, exiting at American Canyon Road West, which connects to Highway 29 north.
By Bus and Ferry
The easiest way to get from San Francisco to Napa using public transportation is to take the San Francisco Bay Ferry from the San Francisco Ferry Building or Fisherman's Wharf Pier 41 to Vallejo. From Vallejo, connect to the Napa Valley VINE bus system Route 10, which can take you all the way to Calistoga.
If you want to visit some wineries along the way, stick to the ones along Highway 29 and contact the winery directly to ask where the nearest bus stop is. These services are mostly used by workday commuters and the number of trips they make per day is fewer on weekends, especially on Sundays. A one-way adult ticket on the ferry costs about $15, but there are discounts for children and senior citizens age 65 and up. Bus fare for a one-way trip to Calistoga is as low as $3.
Or course, you could also skip the ferry and travel from San Francisco to Vallejo along the BART Train or along another bus route, depending on where in the Bay Area you're coming from.
A few San Francisco tour companies offer a personalized way to get to Napa Valley from San Francisco, taking small groups on adventures planned just for them. Many companies also offer Napa Valley tours from San Francisco, some with side trips to Muir Woods or other places. Prices vary, depending on where they go and how big the tour group is.
All that personal attention means you might pay more than you would for a big group bus tour, but if you're traveling with several other people, the price difference grows smaller.
What to See in Napa Valley
There is a lot to explore in the Napa Valley with its hundreds of wineries, fantastic restaurants, and many lovely inns and resorts to choose from. A trip through wine country will take you through the valley's many quaint towns like Napa, Yountville, and Calistoga, any of which would make a lovely place to stay. If you're in the mood for a little rest and relaxation, Napa Valley is also home to many of the best spas in California and it's here where you can get an authentic Calistoga mud bath.
Besides enjoying the valley's wine, gastronomy, and hospitality, there are a number of attractions that may be interesting if you're looking for something else to do. Families traveling with kids may enjoy kid-friendly activities like Safari West, a wildlife compound, and Castello di Amorosa, a big castle with a spooky dungeon that kids will get a kick out of. To see Napa from a different perspective, try a horseback riding tour or hop aboard a hot air balloon.
While there's no way to get from San Francisco to the Napa Valley by train, you could sign up for a tour on the Napa Valley Wine Train, which will take you from Napa to Helena and back in a day and includes winery stops and meals enjoyed on-board. It's not exactly cheap and, surprisingly, wine is not included unless you opt for a special package, but it is a luxury experience and the only way to see Napa by rail.