Taking one of the wine tours from San Francisco to Napa or Sonoma is a great way to spend the day. You have several options to visit these regions, ranging from a half-day bus tour to a helicopter tour over the beautiful Napa Valley vineyards.
These two popular wine tasting regions are just over an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Many tours pick you up at your hotel in San Francisco, stop at two to four wineries, and drop you back off at your pickup location.
During each tour, you will sample local wines as you learn more about each one from your knowledgeable guide and a staff member of the winery.
You will often get the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of at least one winery and a walk through their vineyard. Most tours will also stop so you can pick up lunch and enjoy it on the grounds of a selected winery.
My favorite time to go wine tasting is during harvest, which is from mid-August to mid-October. The vineyards are gorgeous during this time of year, with both the leaves and grapes vibrant in color. In addition, the entire region is bustling with harvest-related activities.
Though Napa and Sonoma are most colorful and active during harvest, there are advantages of taking one of the wine tours from San Francisco at other times of the year. This chart gives you some pros and cons of visiting during each season.
Pros: The vines are in bloom, which gives you the chance to see the early stages of the cultivation.
Cons: It's not a great time to take photos of the vineyards as the leaves are small and the grapes are not yet on the vines.
Pros: The weather is warm and it's sunny almost every day. It's the perfect time to walk around the vineyards and spend some time outside sampling your wines.
Cons: This is the busy season for visitors. The tasting rooms get crowded (especially on the weekends) and it's harder to move around (although most wine tours from San Francisco do their tastings in a private room, so this may not be a big issue).
Pros: It's harvest time! The leaves and grapes are mature and colorful. It's the best time to take photos of the vineyards. You will also get the chance to see part of the wine-making process.
Cons: This is the second busiest season for visitors and it's extra busy all around the region due to harvest. You may have to wait longer in line to sample wines and/or buy goodies in the stores.
Pros: This is the perfect time to go if you don't want to battle the crowds. It's my second favorite time to visit since the tasting rooms are empty and most wineries offer a more personalized visit. Some even offer wine specials during this time to clear the way for their new releases.Cons: It's cool and rainy. The vines are brown with no leaves or grapes. It's not a great time to take photos or walk around the vineyards.
Now that you know a little about what to expect each season, are you ready to sample some great California wines? Read on to find out about the best wine tours from San Francisco.
Taking one of these wine tours from San Francisco offers you the chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the experience. All include transportation to and from San Francisco as well as the chance to learn more about the popular Northern California wine tasting regions.
For each below, I've estimated the length and price for each of these San Francisco wine tours. The time may change based on traffic, so plan for a little extra time for your return trip.
Length: 8 hours
Estimated Price: $119*
# of Tastings: 3 wineries, fees included in price
This is a visitor favorite! This San Francisco wine tour takes you to both Napa Valley and Sonoma County wineries, so you get the chance to learn about both regions. This full-day trip includes a guided tour and tasting at three popular wineries.
You will also have some time for lunch (not included in the price) and a walk around the beautiful town of Yountville in Napa or the Sonoma Plaza.
Length: 9 hours
Estimated Price: $144*
# of Tastings: 3 winery visits, fees included in price
This is another one of the most popular wine tours from San Francisco. You start your day with a visit to Muir Woods, where you can walk around and see the only Coastal Redwoods still left in the Bay Area.
You will then continue north to visit three boutique Napa or Sonoma wineries. On this tour, you will have lunch on your own, usually in the historic Sonoma Plaza.
The price to visit Muir Woods is not included, which is $10 per person.
Length: 8 hours
Estimated Price: $167*
# of Tastings: Up to 6 stops, not included in price, fees range from $5 to $25 per stop
Do you want to select the wineries for your trip? If so, then this customizable tour might be the one for you. With your small group, you help decide which wineries to visit--up to six wineries in Napa & Sonoma.
It's a great way to be sure to hit at least one of your top wineries without having to pay for a private tour.
Length: 9 hours
Estimated Price: $189*
# of Tastings: Up to 4 wineries, tasting fees included
Spend the day in Sonoma County in some of its top wine tasting regions. Visit Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley AVAs all in one day.
Your tour starts with a cellar tour and tasting in Alexander Valley. You will then visit and taste at a family-owned winery in Dry Creek Valley. After your first two tastings, you will have a picnic lunch in the Healdsburg (included in price).
You will then head back south to the Russian River where you will sample some of their popular wines. Your final stop is at a cellar near Sonoma Coast.
You will then stop at the Golden Gate Bridge for a quick photo op before you head back to San Francisco. Your ticket for this full day tour includes the tasting fees and lunch. It's a great way to check out these important wine growing regions in Northern California.
Length: 3 hours
Estimated Price: $460*
# of Tastings: 1 stop, not included in price, fees range from $5 to $25 per stop
If you want to get the best views of Napa Valley, then hop aboard this helicopter for an unforgettable experience.
This 3-hour tour starts with gorgeous views of SF and the Bay Area. It continues with a 30-minute ride up to Napa Valley.
Here you will stop for a couple of hours at one winery for a private tour and some wine tasting. You will then take the helicopter back to SF.
Length: 3 hours
Estimated Price: $328.65*
# of Tastings: You will sample wine on the train with your meal, all included in the price
Your tour starts with a limo ride up to Sonoma for a sparkling wine tasting at Gloria Ferrer.
You will then head to the Napa Valley Wine Train Culinary Arts Center for a private behind-the-scenes tour.
Afterwards, you will be one of the first to hop aboard the wine train for a gourmet meal as you ride through the Napa Valley vineyards.
*The price per person may change without prior notification. Please confirm pricing details before booking.
Many people believe that they get the best deal when they buy directly from the winery. This is not always true.
Most wineries distribute all over the US and some even ship their wines around the world. The prices at your local wine shop are often comparable to what you will find at the winery itself.
However, most wineries feature wines in their tasting room that you cannot buy anywhere else. These sell at a higher price point, as they are typically a higher quality.
If you love a certain wine, ask the winery a few questions before buying, including where you could find that particular wine in your local area. If they happen to sell it locally, it will save you the hassle of carrying or shipping your wine home.
If you really enjoy the wines from a specific winery and the wines are hard to find, then I recommend signing up for their wine club. This automates the process so you can receive more of their delicious wines each month or quarter.
As a member, you are also often the first to receive new releases or limited production wines. Most memberships include free tastings in their tasting rooms and discounts when you buy more wines online or in person. You will also receive invitations to their exclusive parties.
Another great thing about these clubs is you can usually opt out after the first delivery. If you regret signing up after your visit, then simply call and tell them to cancel your membership.
If you don't drink much wine or you don't have a great place to store it, then skip the wine club membership. You can always buy their wines online or contact them directly for a shipment.
Is this your first trip to wine country? No problem, here are a few helpful hints to help you prepare.
Don't feel intimidated at all in wine country. People in Napa and Sonoma are very friendly and welcome both newcomers and seasoned tasters. They want to help with the process and love to give information to all tasters, so they become more familiar with their wines.
Are the guided wine tours from San Francisco not right for you? Would you rather set out on your own? It is easy to get to Napa or Sonoma for the day from San Francisco. Here are just a few tips if you plan on going on your own.