No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to Napa Valley to experience the world-renowned wine, food, culture, and landscape. Keep reading to learn about how and when to go to Wine Country!
For visitors to San Francisco, a north-bound day trip up to visit Napa Valley is usually somewhere at the top of the bucket list. And for good reason! Not only does this North Bay Area county boast some of the world’s most famous vineyards and best wines, it’s also known for its artisan culinary goods, refined culture, and stunning landscape.
Are you planning a Wine Country getaway during your San Francisco vacation? Then keep reading to learn about our favorite way to get from San Francisco to Napa Valley and the best time of year to plan your visit!
HOW TO GET FROM NAPA VALLEY TO SAN FRANCISCO
Napa Valley is located about 70 miles north of San Francisco. So, it’s a little too far for ride-sharing or taxi services, unless you want to pay a fortune! For serious cyclists, it is actually possible to bike up to Napa County. However, be prepared to spend 5-8 hours on your bicycle each way. You’ll also have to tackle some serious hills in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties.
Because of the distance and the steep terrain, we can’t really recommend either biking or ride-sharing as great options for Napa Valley transportation.
So if you want to plan your own trip up north, we’d recommend either driving yourself or using public transportation. Both of these options are budget-friendly and relatively easy to set up if you don’t mind doing a bit of preparation before your trip.
Depending on traffic, it typically takes 1.5-2 hours to drive up to Napa. You can easily rent a car in San Francisco, purchase a Napa Valley map, and set your own pace for the trip up to the valley.
This is an excellent option if you aren’t planning to do any wine tasting during your excursion. Instead of visiting wineries, consider taking the time to enjoy some of the other Napa Valley attractions, like art, cuisine, and culture.
If you aren’t touring wineries and you have a rental car, you can also visit some of the smaller towns in Napa County. As well as downtown Napa itself, you may want to check out Calistoga, St. Helena, and Yountville. You’ll find bustling downtown strips with boutique shops, craft coffee, and fine cuisine at each of these quaint towns!
Renting a car gets a little more complicated if, like most visitors to the area, you’re intending to sample Napa County wines. In this case, you’ll need a designated driver to join you on the trip.
If you’re traveling with a designated driver, be sure to have them present with you when you go in to rent your car! They’ll need to be added as a driver on the account in order to be covered by car renter’s insurance.
If you can’t find a willing driver, another good DIY way to get to Napa Valley is by public transit.
Rather than taking the bus system all the way to Napa, we recommend picking up combination Amtrak train and bus tickets from Wanderu. The cost for the train ride starts at around $30 for a one-way trip, or around $60 for two way tickets. So, this is a pretty budget friendly option.
The Amtrak service to Napa leaves from Emeryville. You can easily get to the train station from San Francisco via BART, Uber, or Lyft. Once you’re on the train, it takes anywhere from 2-3.5 hours to get to Napa.
Using the Amtrak system is also a great choice for those who want to head up to Napa County directly after a flight. You can just hop on the airport BART to Emeryville for super easy transportation from SFO to Napa.
Along the way, you can relax and enjoy views of the beautiful countryside rolling by your window!
Amtrak stops at Soscol Gateway Transit Center, located on the outskirts of downtown Napa. From there, you’ll be on your own to get to and from the top wineries on your list.
Because most of the best wineries aren’t within walking distance of the downtown area, you’ll want to have some other forms of transportation lined up. We recommend booking a ride-sharing service, like Lyft or Uber, to help you get in between wineries. Or, you could rent a bicycle from many of the rental shops in Napa and bike to your destinations!
Driving or taking public transportation to Napa are solid, budget-friendly options. But, they do have some obvious drawbacks.
If you drive, you’ll need to either track down a designated driver or forgo sampling the country’s most famous wines. And if you choose public transportation, you’ll have to pre-purchase multiple tickets and be on top of getting yourself in the right place at the right time for all of your connections. This can be a difficult endeavor, especially for the return journey if you’ve been enjoying liberal wine samples!
Also, while you’re pricing out the total costs of either driving or taking the train, there are a few things to remember. First, your tasting fees won’t be included in the transportation. Secondly, if you take the public transit system, you will need to account for extra transportation around Napa Valley. Both wine tasting and ride-sharing can be pricey, so be sure to set aside a budget for them!
So, what is the best way to visit Napa Valley?
Due to the complications of getting yourself to Wine Country on your own, we really feel that all-in one Napa Wine tasting tours are the best options for visitors to San Francisco.
THE BEST WAY TO VISIT NAPA VALLEY
There are a lot of opinions going around on what are the best Napa wine tours from San Francisco. You can take big bus tours, private limo tours, and even helicopter Napa Valley vacations!
But if you’re looking for a tour experience that will provide a comfortable, intimate setting without breaking the bank, several of the standard options won’t work for you.
One of the best ways to balance comfort and budget on your visit to Napa Valley is with a small group mini bus tour.
Sonoma and Napa Combo Tour
Our top choice for getting to Wine Country from San Francisco is with this small group Sonoma and Napa Valley Combo tour. This minibus carries a max number of just fourteen passengers, so it’s a great way to enjoy enjoy some company without feeling overcrowded!
To start with, you’ll be picked up at your hotel in San Francisco between 8am-9am. You’ll board the minibus and travel to the first stop, the Golden Gate Bridge.
One of the unique aspects of this tour is that you’ll actually have an opportunity at the bridge to step off the bus and capture some memorable photos of this iconic landmark!
After briefly exploring the bridge, you’ll make your way north to the first winery stop in Sonoma and start your wine tasting experience.
This tour includes visits to three boutique wineries. And here’s the thing: there are no extra tasting fees. So you can participate in as much tasting as you like!
While the wineries are subject to change if needed, you will most likely stop at Peter Cellars, Nicholson Ranch, and Starmont Winery & Vineyards. At one of the wineries, you’ll also receive a detailed tour of the winery and a description of the wine making process.
As you bus through the rolling countryside of Napa and Sonoma counties, your guide will provide you with information about the local history of the wineries and surrounding area. Because of the small group size of the tour, it’ll be easy to hear your guide and ask any questions you may have along the way.
Between winery stops, you’ll visit Oxbow Public Market for lunch. As lunch isn’t included in the tour price, come prepared to pay for your meal. Whatever you choose to sample, we think it will be well worth it. This market is renowned for its wide selection of some of the best artisan culinary products of Napa Valley!
At the end of the tour, you’ll enjoy a scenic ride back from Napa to San Francisco where you’ll be dropped off at the same location where you boarded the bus.
Starting from $104, this Wine Country combo tour is a great value option, as it features included tasting fees and so much less hassle.
Overall, we think that Napa Valley trips by tour are simply better value and more fun than driving yourself or taking public transportation!
WHEN TO VIST NAPA VALLEY
Now that you have your transportation to Napa all lined up, you may be wondering when is the best time to go to Napa Valley?
Like San Francisco, Napa County experiences mild weather almost all year long. So, if you’re just going for some sightseeing, there really isn’t a bad time to see the valley!
But if you’re coming to Napa for the wine rather than the scenery, then the best time to visit Napa Valley is in late summer and early fall during the harvest season.
From August to October, you can expect to find the entire county alive with the spirit of winemaking. As acres upon acres of vineyards ripen and grapes reach their prime sugar levels, the hum of excitement goes up. You’ll see trucks loaded with grape bins, wineries all set up for deliveries of perfectly ripe fruit, and vineyards brimming with harvesters.
Downtown Napa itself will also be bustling with seasonal activities such as harvest dinners, grape smashing, and wine tastings. So, if you want to truly experience the art and romance of winemaking, harvest season is the best time to see the valley!
Temperatures also reach optimal levels over this season, with daytime highs in the mid seventies and nighttime lows in the fifties.
So it’s no surprise that hotel, restaurant, and wine tasting reservations book up quickly during this time period. Due to the increased number of visitors, we recommend booking harvest season Napa Valley vacation packages at least four months in advance to make sure you get a spot.
Other Times To Visit
Even if you can’t make it to Wine Country over the harvest season, there are many things to love about this region at other times of the year as well.
The valley is beautiful in late autumn, just at the close of the harvest. During this time, the vineyards turn vibrant shades of gold, red, and orange and the skies are mostly sunny. In fact, Napa county has some of the most dramatic fall colors in California!
Over the winter, prepare for cooler temperatures and scattered rainy days. After the dry summers and colorful falls, the winter rains in Napa usually bring a beautifully green landscape. There are also a lot of fun holiday activities to participate in over the end of the year!
Napa is also gorgeous in early spring after the winter rains. In April, May, and June, the regional valleys are covered in wildflowers, the grape vines have fresh leaves, and the temperatures are starting to warm up.
And of course, no matter what season you come in, the wineries will be open for tasting!
So, while we’d recommend planning your trip to Napa over the harvest season, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to timing your visit to Wine Country.
We know that planning a trip to Napa can be overwhelming with how large and popular this region of Northern California is. So, we hope that this guide of our favorite ways to visit Napa Valley from San Francisco helps make your travels easy, stress free, and fun!