San Francisco to Napa Valley: All the Ways to Make the Trip

Every Way You Can Think of to Get to Napa from San Francisco

Wine region sign to wineries
••• Wineries ahead. Pgiam / Getty Images

It's about an hour's drive from San Francisco to Napa Valley. You could drive there in a car and the best routes are described below, but you have other options, too. 

Below you'll find a roundup of all the ways you can get from San Francisco to Napa Valley. It includes two driving routes, going by public transportation, and guided tour options.

No commercial buses run between the two cities and no passenger trains, either.

You can see a map of Napa Valley here. It shows the highways mentioned below.

Driving from San Francisco to Napa Valley

If you drive to Napa on your own, this guide to Napa's best wine tasting experiences will come in handy and so will this plan for how to see Napa in one single day. And you'll definitely need to know how to survive a day of wine tasting.

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 San Francisco Bay. You can do that on the east or west side of the bay, but I prefer the west side route which is more scenic, even if it does take a little longer.

West Side of the Bay: Go north across the Golden Gate Bridge on US Hwy 101 to CA Hwy 37, then connect to CA Hwy 121 and CA Hwy 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 The Raceway at Sears Point. It's best to avoid it on race days when the crowds can cause traffic jams around the Hwy 37/121 intersection.

East Side of the Bay: Take the Bay Bridge to I-80 North, exiting at American Canyon Rd.

West, which connects to CA Hwy 29 north.

San Francisco to Napa Valley by Public Transit

Public transportation is a slow way to get to Napa and not designed for tourists who want to see the sights and visit some wineries. If you want to try it anyway, here's how.

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 CA Hwy 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.

San Francisco to Napa Valley on a Private Tour

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. The two best are A Friend in Town and Blue Heron Tours. Both companies are locally owned by conscientious, knowledgeable folks who do their best to make their customers happy, and I occasionally make research trips with them.

 

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. In any case, if your trip to Napa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, why not get the most out of it?

San Francisco to Napa Valley on a Guided Tour

The "just right" option for you might be plucky little Vantigo tour company who does small group tours and also offers private tours to Napa. Besides their excellent tour guides and service, you get to run around in a glammed-up, classic Volkswagen van.

Many other companies 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. These tours are usually the lowest-priced way to tour Napa Valley, but you'll be stuck in a crowd of 30 people or more and won't have any choices about where you go or when you stop.

It's not an ideal way to go and I urge you to think twice before making a decision about your trip of a lifetime based on price alone.

Take a Limo from San Francisco to Napa

Limousine companies also offer Napa Valley trips from San Francisco, and it sounds pretty glamorous, doesn't it? I've done it and I disagree.

The truth is that limousines are better for transporting a celebrity from hotel to movie premiere than for traveling in all day. They're hard to move around in. The confined seating with no way to look out the front window makes me nauseous after a while. I've seen worse things happen to others while traveling in a limo after a day of wine tasting and it isn't pretty, so don't say I didn't warn you.

Limo companies will provide a professional driver, but those individuals may not be as skilled in planning a perfect day out as a tour guide would be. 

Flying to Napa from San Francisco

Napa has a small airport (KAPC), which is a Class D general aviation airport with a flight control tower. It is used by private pilots but has no commercial flights.

Private pilots can't fly into SFO. The nearest airports allowing private traffic are Oakland and San Carlos.