You know where you’re staying, now it’s time to figure out the best way to get around Napa Valley or Sonoma. How you decide to get around will certainly impact the experience you’ll have so put some thought into what you want that to be. Also, drinking and driving is a really bad idea for more reasons than would fit in this article so having a plan is definitely important. Fortunately there’s a number of options to choose from and we’ve assembled the good, and bad of them for you.
THE COST / It doesn’t get any more cost effective than walking to your wine tastings.
THE GOOD / Mix some light exercise into your wine tasting day and avoid drinking and driving. Also, you’ll be able to discover some great small producers.
THE BAD / Very limited in the area you’ll visit and weather could put a damper on your plans in the winter months when it’s raining. You’ll miss out on some of the spectacular wine country landscape.
If you’re staying in one of the major Napa Valley or Sonoma towns like Napa, Sonoma, Yountville, Healdsburg or Calistoga, spending one of your days on foot may be a great option. There are many small tasting rooms scattered about these towns offering great wine. Many small producers don’t have the funds necessary to build a large winery facility amongst the vines so they’ll set up shop in a retail setting in town. We wouldn’t recommend spending your entire wine country visit on foot but it’s definitely worth considering for one of your days or later in the afternoon after you’ve been out touring since in town tasting rooms are open later.
THE COST / Bicycle wine tours will run anywhere from $40 per person per day to $180 per person per day, tasting fees not included. Full day guided bike tours usually include a picnic lunch.
THE GOOD / Great way to enjoy the beauty of wine country and get in some exercise.
THE BAD / Can be dangerous on wine country roads frequented by bike tours and visitors in vehicles. Limits the area you’ll visit. Very weather dependent but don’t worry we have lots of great weather here. Also, you should be in fair shape since you’ll likely be biking 3 to 6 miles between each tasting.
We love riding our bikes and we love visiting wineries but we aren’t really fans of mixing the two. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good option though. Riding a bike through wine country has a certain romantic appeal. You can either go with a guided bicycle wine tasting tour or just rent bikes and go at your own pace. There are also full and half day tour options with most companies so you don’t have to commit to an entire day of biking. If you want to go out on your own, we’d suggest avoiding busier roads, as they can be dangerous. Most bicycle tour shops will offer suggested routes if you want to venture out on your own and also offer wine retrieval services so you don’t have to try and carry any wine you purchased with you on your bike. If you think a wine tasting bike tour may be right for you, check out the folks at Napa Valley Bike Tours and Sonoma Valley Bike Tours, they do a great job.
THE COST / Depending on where you’re starting from and how far you’re going, you could expect to spend about $15 per person. Be sure to ask for transfers to save fare.
THE GOOD / If you’re super adventurous and want to prove a point, you could say you did it.
THE BAD / Very limited schedules, some routes only run on weekdays. Complex planning to make sure you get where you want to go and are able to get back before buses stop running. The least flexible way to get around wine country.
Public transportation has its place, and we’re fans of it when appropriate, but using it for wine tasting will be a challenge. You will be limited to main thoroughfares and will have to stick to a strict schedule to make sure you make it back to your starting point. You should pay close attention to the difference between weekday and weekend schedules, as some routes just don’t run on the weekend. For instance in Napa Valley, the route that runs up the Valley only goes on weekdays. However, if you are the adventurous type that likes to prove things can be done, you may enjoy attempting your wine tasting tour via public transportation. If you’re writing an article along the lines of Conquering Wine Country On $50 A Day, then public transportation may be perfect. To start planning your visit using public transportation, head to Vine Transit in Napa Valley or Sonoma County Transit in Sonoma.
THE COST / You probably already have a rental car so it’s just the fuel you use.
THE GOOD / You can travel at your own pace and won’t be limited to any schedules. Freedom to alter your route as you desire.
THE BAD / Drinking and driving is never a good idea and local law enforcement is wise to the fact that a lot of the cars on the road could be offenders. Lacks the input of a knowledgeable guide.
Even with the dangers and costs associated with drinking and driving, the majority of wine country visitors still opt to drive themselves. If you insist on being behind the wheel on your wine tasting tour, there are some steps you can take to stay safe. If you’re with a group, take turns being a designated driver for the day that way you’ll share the drive time. If you still want to taste when you’re the driver, then taste like the professionals do… don’t swallow. You can swirl, smell and taste the wine but instead of swallowing it just spit it in a cup or spit bucket. This is actually very acceptable behavior.
THE COST / Can vary quite a bit depending on how far you go and how many wineries you visit. You could safely assume a minimum of $150 for a day out visiting 4 wineries.
THE GOOD / Great for the spontaneous and the number of drivers has increased making coverage in the populated cities much better. Good way to taste wine around wine country towns.
THE BAD / A good number of drivers aren’t from wine country and can offer little help with where to go. Wait times are unpredictable. Cell reception can leave you stranded. Can be difficult to keep appointments. Difficult to carry wine you’ve purchased.
We are huge fans of Uber and use them quite a bit. We often recommend our clients use Uber as an option to get to and from dinner in the evening. If you want to use Uber for your wine tasting tour, there are some things to consider to make sure you make the best use of them and have a great day. If you’re staying in one of the major wine country towns there should be an adequate pool of drivers to minimize your wait time and you’ll generally be better off staying in proximity to the town you’re in. Keeping your wine tasting on the main roads should make subsequent pick ups rather painless.
Avoid tastings that require an appointment because there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait for your pickup and may be late. About half the Uber drivers we’ve come across don’t live in wine country and have no real knowledge of the area. This can lead to trouble once you want to get off the beaten path. As an example, the other day we were at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (iconic property) and an Uber driver dropped off some people then left. The people went inside then came out in a panic because they were supposed to be at Stags Leap Winery (different property) for a tour that was already charged to their card. They tried to summon another car but the wait time was now 20 minutes so they ended up asking people who were leaving if they knew where the other winery was and if they could get a ride there.
So, use Uber for rides to dinner or for shorter, unscheduled, wine tasting ventures on the main routes. If you want to get off the beaten path, have some professional guidance and know everything will be taken care of Uber may not be the best option for you.
THE COST / For a properly insured designated driver expect to pay around $50 per hour with a five hour minimum.
THE GOOD / The best combination of flexibility, personal attention and value.
THE BAD / You will need to have a personal or rental vehicle. There are daily minimums so you’ll want to be able to start your day early enough to make use of your designated driver.
We wouldn’t have built our business around this model if we didn’t think it was the absolute best option for transportation in wine country. You get to enjoy the comfort and savings of the vehicle you already have while getting the benefit of an experienced guide to help you plan your day. A good designated driver will make sure you get the wines and experiences you’re looking for while attending to all of your needs. Also, an experienced designated driver will be able to get you off the beaten path and into wineries that shield themselves from the throngs of people that travel the main roads. At the end of your tour you won’t have to scour the car for sunglasses, phone cords or any other personal belongings since the car is yours. Book your designated driver online and start planning your trip to wine country.
THE COST / Expect to pay about $120 per person. Typically a picnic lunch is included but tasting fees are not.
THE GOOD / Very social atmosphere and you won’t have to think about any planning. Also, pick ups and drop offs happen at most major wine country hotels as well as in San Francisco.
THE BAD / Can easily turn into a party bus atmosphere. Limited choice of winery destinations.
Join in tours are a great option for the socially minded. You’ll join a small group of wine country visitors and visit three to four wineries with them throughout the day. If you’re a single traveller, this may be the best option for you as your wine tour will come with some people to hang out with. Join in tour operators try to vary the mix of wineries so you’ll get a couple smaller family owned properties along with some larger commercial properties. If you’re staying in San Francisco and don’t have a vehicle available, very common, this is also a great option. If you want to have complete flexibility and a more private personalized experience keep in mind that the fare for two people is about the same as hiring a designated driver. For Napa Valley and Sonoma, Platypus Wine Tours does a great job and if you’re in San Francisco, check out Green Dream Tours.
THE COST / Starts around $80 per hour with a five hour minimum. It can go up from there based on the type of vehicle you hire.
THE GOOD / Flexibility, personal attention and choice of vehicle.
THE BAD / The most expensive way to get around wine country. Some of the larger providers don’t have drivers that are knowledgeable about wine country.
Hiring a vehicle to take you on your wine tasting tour doesn’t need much explaining since most everyone is familiar with how this type of business works. A reputable company will be more than capable of helping you plan your itinerary and taking you to the experiences you’re looking for. Hiring a vehicle is a great option for people flying directly into wine country who won’t have a vehicle available or for groups that merge into wine country separately and then need a larger vehicle to accommodate their group. If we could give a tip for hiring a vehicle it would be to stay away from limousines and go for a sedan or an SUV if you need the space. Wineries generally don’t like limousines and travelling down some of our curvy wine country roads isn’t really comfortable in them. Also, look for smaller operators as you’ll be sure to get a driver who is knowledgeable about wine country. Perata Luxury Tours and Waken Wine Tours are two companies we refer people to when they don’t have a vehicle available.
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