purple grains hanging on a vine in Napa Valley

Posted: 12/28/19 | December 28th, 2019

Napa Valley is easily one of the most famous wine-producing regions in the world, and last year nearly four million people headed there — it is big business for Northern California!

Of course, if you plan on spending some time in Napa Valley and nearby Sonoma, you’ll most likely want to explore some of the 600 wineries in the area. A great way to do this — both to get some local, insider knowledge and so that there’s no need to drink and drive — is to take a Napa wine tour.

There are nearly as many wine tour options as there are vineyards. I’ve listed some of my favorites here, and you can decide which fits your style and, more importantly, your budget. Just remember that you’ll usually also have to pay tasting fees on top of the tour costs — these vary between $20 and $40 — though many will waive that fee if you buy some wine. Also don’t forget, especially if you’re coming from outside the United States, that you’ll need to be 21 or over to join these tours, though some allow children to tag along.

1. Napa Valley Wine Trolley

If you’re after something a bit different, then the Napa Valley Wine Trolley is a good way to go. Instead of a regular tour bus, you’ll ride on a replica of a cable car. It’s an open-air car, of course, so make sure you pick the right weather to try this.

Tours leave from the Oxbow Market in Napa; a $99 tour includes four wineries and a casual picnic-style lunch, plus unlimited bottled water and soft drinks between tastings. You can upgrade to the full-day Castle tour ($139), which includes a two-hour stop and tasting at Castello di Amorosa.

2. Napa Valley Bike Tours

Of course, being a valley full of vineyards, Napa is a really scenic place, so exploring it by bicycle is a great option. Napa Valley Bike Tours offers either guided or self-guided rides, leaving from their store in Yountville. The popular half-day guided tour is $124 per person, with two winery visits and a great guide who’ll give you the full story of the area.

The handy part about the self-guided tours is that, besides being able to visit the wineries you choose at your own pace, you still get a box lunch, and any wine you buy will be picked up for you (riding with wine in your backpack gets old really fast). Self-guided tours cost $114 per person and also include comfy bikes, helmets, and all the planning info you need.

3. Calistoga Bikeshop

Another bicycle option is Calistoga Bikeshop, a popular rental shop that also runs guided day tours for $150, including a hybrid bike, a picnic lunch, and pick-up for any wine you buy. The guides plan a unique route depending on what the group members want, starting from their shop in Calistoga.

If you have an extra day in the area and don’t need more wine, Calistoga also offers great mountain biking trips to the Palisades or along the Oat Hill Mine Trail.

4. Platypus Wine Tours

Platypus brands itself as the “anti-wine-snob wine tour,” so if you want to have a fun day learning more about wine, then this is a good choice. (The name is memorable, but you won’t actually see a platypus anywhere in Napa Valley, in case you’re wondering.)

Platypus runs small-group trips, taking in four wineries for $110 (including a picnic lunch), focusing on small and medium-sized, usually family-owned wineries. You can choose from tours centered on Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, or North Sonoma.

5. Active Wine Adventures

As the name suggests, Active Wine Adventures offers tours that include more than just wine tasting, so it’s a great way to explore Napa Valley. For example, the Hike & Wine tours start with a two-hour hike in some of valley’s beautiful landscapes and move on to a lunch and winery tasting experience. These cost $139 plus lunch because you can choose from a high-end restaurant lunch or a vineyard picnic. They offer similar tours in the Sonoma area, too.

6. Green Dream Tours

Try some wine and help the world. Green Dream has a focus on sustainability: besides using green business practices, it also buys carbon offsets to balance its use of fuel. Their Napa Valley tours ($144, $154 on weekends) are among the few where the tasting fees at three boutique wineries are included.

Green Dream also offers a combo tour, taking in three wineries across Sonoma and Napa Valley, with lunch at the Oxbow Public Market ($139 weekdays, $149 weekends). For visitors to San Francisco, there’s a combo with a tour of Alcatraz plus two Sonoma boutique wineries, for $179.

7. Small Lot Wine Tours

If you’re coming by car to the Napa Valley region, then Small Lot can be a really budget-friendly way to enjoy a wine tour. They provide a tour guide who’ll drive your car for you for the day, and design a tour route just right for you, depending on the kind of wine you want to taste, what you want to do for lunch, and whether you’re planning on buying wine. At $50 per hour (with a four-hour minimum), if you’ve got a car full of friends, this can…

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