Once you cross north over the Golden Gate Bridge, it becomes much more difficult to get around without a car. While San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland have networks of public transit—not that BART or Muni are anything to brag about—the North Bay lacks an exhaustive public transportation system.
Which is too bad considering wine country, where the booze is the main agricultural output, is the perfect place to ditch a car. Is it easy? No. But it’s possible. While wine country lacks the same widely used public transit system found to the south, there are other ways to get around without driving.
The main ways of getting to wine country—an area in the northern Bay Area made up of towns that include Guerneville, Healdsburg, Calistoga, Napa, and Yountville—without a car are by bus, train, or plane. Once there, there are other ways of getting around the sprawling region without having to put the pedal to the metal.
Getting to wine country
Arriving by train
Amtrak San Joaquins: An ideal way to travel to Napa Valley from the Bay Area or the Central Valley. You can take the Amtrak San Joaquins train to the Martinez Station and transfer onto Amtrak Thruway Bus Route 7. Three stops later, you will arrive at the Soscol Gateway Transit Center in Napa, located next to downtown and a short walk to Oxbow Public Market, the Napa Valley Wine Train, and the Napa Valley welcome center. Train tickets range in price from $6 to $61 depending on distance and a variety of factors.
SMART Connector: The new Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) connection offers 43 miles of rail corridor and includes 10 stations, from the Sonoma County Airport to Downtown San Rafael. Bikes are welcome on the SMART train. Fares cost between $3.50 to $11.50. Future stops will be added to Windsor, Cloverdale, and St. Helena.
Arriving by bus
Napa: Napa County’s VINE is a fixed-route bus system, with daily routes running the length of the Napa Valley. The line runs throughout the city of Napa and reaches the Vallejo Ferry terminal. Weekday routes include service to the El Cerrito Del Norte BART Station and the Suisun City Train Depot. The fare from BART on the 29 is $5.50 and from the Vallejo Ferry is $3.00. Local fare around town is $1.60 per adult.
Sonoma: Sonoma County Transit system offers bus service that starts in Petaluma in the south and up to Cloverdale in the north. Fares run between $1.50 to $4.80. Sonoma County Transit also accepts Clipper Cards, the fare system used throughout the Bay Area. Bikes can be loaded on the front of the coaches. You can plan a trip via Google Maps or 511.org. While many people with disabilities can ride the Sonoma County Transit standard fixed-route buses, door-to-door paratransit service is available for riders whose disabilities prevent them from using regular service. These rides must be scheduled in advance.
SF to wine country: Extranomical Tours offers tours of the wine country region, with free pick-up and drop-off from your San Francisco hotel. Prices start at $44.
Arriving by plane
Wine country has two airports: Located in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Airport, which features a single terminal primarily serviced by Alaska Airlines, offers flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis. And the Napa County Airport, which is located in the city of Napa and features no commercial airline service, charters private aircrafts only.
Getting around town
Cycling will help you explore both the urban and countryside settings of wine country, sights and sounds that you’ll miss zooming from one winery to the next in a car. Many hotels in wine country offer bicycle rentals. There are also a slew of bicycle and e-bicycle rental companies from which to choose in Napa and Sonoma counties. You can also bring your bike aboard the bus and train options offered.
Note: Bicycling under the influence of alcohol (CUI) is against the law, according to California Vehicle Code 21200.5, and could net you a fine of $250 and show up on your record as a misdemeanor.
Here are two networks of trails, located in Napa and Sonoma counties, you can bike on, fit for getting to and from some of your favorite wineries.
Napa: The Napa Valley Vine Trail is the valley’s most beloved and frequented network of bike trails. Grassroots nonprofit Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition designs, funds, and maintains a whopping 47 scenic miles of level, paved trail, which stretch from Vallejo’s ferry station to Calistoga. These bike paths are both family- and pet-friendly. Right now, there are 12.5 miles of the Vine Trail running from Kennedy Park (south of Downtown Napa) to the north end of Yountville. Here’s a comprehensive map of the trail.
Sonoma: Two popular bikeways in Sonoma are the Santa Rosa Creek and Prince Memorial Greenway trails, which are combined and stretch only a few miles long. These also connect to other trails in the area. There’s also the 8.47-mile Joe Rodota Trail, which runs along the abandoned Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad line, as well as through agricultural areas and Laguna Santa Rosa, the county’s largest freshwater wetland area. These bike trails are ideal for getting around town, seeing nature, or heading to and from a winery. The West County Regional Trail will also take you to several tasting rooms, including the ones at Paul Matthew Vineyards, Ektimo Vineyards, and Iron Horse Vineyards.
Lyft or Uber
Lyft and Uber are ever-present in wine country—especially ideal in a region where alcohol consumption is the number-one pastime. According to an Uber spokesperson, ride-sharing in wine country is a “robust market for Uber to serve riders who are vineyard hopping.” Prices are comparable to those found in San Francisco. (For example, an UberX from the three-star Michelin sparkler French Laundry in Yountville to tony resort Auberge Du Soleil in Rutherford, eight miles apart, would cost roughly $20.) And there are ride-hailing vehicles aplenty.
If you want to eschew the multi-billion-dollar tech companies in favor of smaller outfits, wine country offers several taxicab options like Napa Red Cab (707-257-3222), Black Tie Taxi (707-259-1000), and Yellow cab in Napa; and Yellow Cab (707-226-3731) in Napa County; or Bill’s Taxi Service (707-869-2177), Sonoma Taxi (707-889-1266), and Vern’s Taxi Company (707-938-8885) in Sonoma County. And just like in San Francisco, taxi prices are a bit more than Lyft or Uber.
Napa Valley Wine Train: This stunner the way to go for train geeks and wine connoisseurs alike. The Napa Valley Wine Train is made up of circa-1915 railcars formerly used as first-class coaches for Northern Pacific Railway’s trains. The restored cars now come with exceptional interiors—think mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions—and are used as a way to tour the region’s wineries. The trains also offer dinner and lunch service, as well as murder mystery rides. This train is a hoot but also offers a decent way of getting around the Napa region of wine country. Tickets run between $163-$300 per person.
If you want to check out wine country without having to motor around endlessly on any mode of transit, renting lodgings in or very close to town centers is the way to go. Healdsburg, Napa, Sonoma, St. Helena, Calistoga, and Yountville have town squares that offer centrally localized shopping, eating, and drinking near lodgings. These towns are ideal spots for getting to and from areas of interest by foot or by wheelchair.
Hot air balloons
While pretty to look at and exhilarating to ride, these colorful windbags are just for show and not reliable modes of transportation. There’s no steering wheel on a hot air balloon; you go where the wind takes you.
For the ultimate luxury treatment in wine country, hire a chauffeur to cart you around wine country. Napa Valley Wine Country Tours (starting at $99 per person) and Wine Tour Drivers ($45 per hour for up to 5 guests; $50 per hour for groups of 6 and over) offer personalized experiences around the region, with drivers who know all about wine country. And for the more party-hard groups, Black Tie Transportation can rent a limo or limo bus to whisk you and your friends or colleagues (anywhere from 2 to 22 passengers) on a rose-sipping binge.