13 Best Wine Tours in California
Vast swaths of California’s beautiful countryside are dedicated to wine production, with boutique wineries and big names producing some of the world’s most famous varietals. After all, Napa Valley the wines are up there with Burgundy and Bordeaux in terms of weight.
Visits to idyllic vineyards are a nice part of the California experience, but they’re not without stressors behind the scenes: there’s Google mapping, checking hours, and, of course, driving or arranging transportation. Plus, there are literally thousands of California wineries and wineries to choose from – 3,600 per account. Even after narrowing it down to a certain area, you’re looking at dozens (if not hundreds) of potential properties.
There is an easier way. Guided wine tours take the legwork and logistics out of travel. All you have to do is admire the rolling landscape and sip delicious wines at each stop. Perhaps take a note or two, if you’re so inspired, and doze off as your driver brings you safely home.
The best wine tours in California can be for everyone, from beginners and late drinkers, to pinot lovers hoping to experience other great red wines, and couples looking to relive a trip to Provence. These are intimate affairs that favor luxury vehicles and small vans over 50-seat buses. The following California wine tours have earned accolades for their tailored itineraries and consistently friendly, informative, and sober guides and drivers.
Painted Ladies Wine Country Tour
Painted Ladies Tour Company is popular for its San Francisco city tours in a (very themed) vintage VW bus. The family-run business also spins its retro wheels through the legendary Sonoma Valley on small-group tours of up-and-coming wine producers. Past guests rave about the friendly guides, the great road trip vibe and the carefully curated lineup that includes an Italian winery for lunch. And don’t worry, you’ll get a photo op on the Golden Gate Bridge.
If your group includes beer and whiskey lovers, this company from Paso Robles is an excellent choice. Groups aboard Toast’s 12-person shuttles can visit distilleries, micro-breweries and even a cider house, as well as local wineries. (Tablas Creek Vineyard is a favorite for its organic Rhone-inspired wines and herd of adorable alpacas.) Other tours can combine wine country with two classic California locations: Hearst Castle and Pismo Beach.
End of the world tours
This local favorite did tours around San Francisco and Sonoma wine country. They visit boutique and commercial wineries, showcasing local flavors and generous pours. Take the nine-hour Great Wine Tour with up to 13 other people in a van that takes you to three different wineries, lunch in historic Sonoma Village, through scenic Sausalito, and make a photo stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. Or create your own bespoke tour, like a walk through the giant sequoias followed by wine tasting in the Sierra foothills.
Bin 415 Private Tours
something that fixes Tray 415 other than the fact that his guides are certified sommeliers, so they really, really know their business. The SF-based tour group organizes private, totally personalized wine trips (via Mercedes SUVs, no less) exploring the famous Sonoma and Napa varietals. The guides and winemakers themselves illustrate everything from grape harvesting to bottling. Lunch is a highlight, with stops past including French country cooking (at The girl and the fig in Sonoma) and Farm-to-Table New American (in Farm at Long Meadow Ranch in Saint Helena). For those looking to splurge, Bin 415 will attempt to snag the coveted French laundry Reservations.
Squire Livery Tours
While some wine tours embrace the flash factor – Segways! limo vans! party bus! — the three-person team of Squire Livery Tours keeps things sweet and simple with a two-car fleet and an accommodation style that’s nothing short of a delight. Run by knowledgeable Kent Higginbotham, a true Napa/Sonoma connoisseur who has lived in the Valley most of his life, Squire lets you be as active as you want – let them know what you’d like to try (you can, for example, mention that you like riesling or want to know more about cabernet sauvignon) or just leave everything to the guides. Whenever possible, they will host private tastings at times when the estate is closed to the public, which winemakers often do for VIPs and industry insiders. Past guests regularly speak of the expertise and genuine warmth of the Squire guides, and say they never feel rushed or overwhelmed.
Baja California Wine Tours
If you visit San Diego, consider replacing the craft breweries of North Park and Ocean Beach with the vineyards of the highlands of northwestern Mexico. With San Diego as a starting point, Baja California Wine Tours leads day trips or even overnight stays in the famous Guadalupe Valley, where the altitude, soil and Mediterranean-like climate grow everything from chardonnay to malbec. Dramatic mountain scenery is a given, and tours can include stops at a 19th-century horse ranch, the studio whose water tanks were used to film Titanic and The deep blue seaand laid-back Mexican beach towns like Ensenada and Rosarito for chilled ceviche and a horseback ride across the sands.
Food and Farm Tours
A day dedicated to wine, cheese and goats? Irresistible. Food and Farm Tours celebrates Northern California’s glorious foodie scene with tours of artisan food producers and organic farms in Marin and Sonoma counties. The most popular tour goes to Hog Island Oyster Farm, Cowgirl Creameryand Brickmaiden breadsbut bespoke tours can include a craving-worthy sparkling honey wine tasting at Heidrun Meadery or white and red certified organic at McEvoy Ranch.
Sustainable wine tours
Sustainable wine tours specializes in day trips to explore the Santa Ynez Valley, one of the five wine regions of the Santa Barbara Wine Country. Leading Tesla SUVs or Mercedes Sprinters, tour guides invite small parties to a few of the region’s family-friendly wineries for private tastings. While tasting bottles and charcuterie boards, guests learn about the winemaking process – from fruit picking to fermentation – from the estate owners and winemakers.
Visits to noble wines
Even if you consider yourself somewhat of a wine expert, try to figure out which of the hundreds of Napa and Sonoma (and hundreds) of vineyards to visit is daunting. Noble wines Austin Smith takes research out of the equation with its bespoke itineraries based on customer tastes, preferences and interests. Do you have a weakness for pet-nat? You want to visit the vineyard who put Napa on the map after dethroning noble French wines in a blind tasting contest? (Wine rookies who don’t know where to start are also in good hands.) Almost everyone who has hopped into the vineyard with Noble praises Smith for his courtesy, professionalism, and insane knowledge of all things wine. Californian. He doubles as a photographer, keeping a professional camera handy to help capture the day.
Sonoma Valley Wine Cart
This handcrafted replica of a San Francisco streetcar takes guests on six-hour tours through the Sonoma Valley. Tours include a history of the region in addition to three different tasting sessions at local wineries and a packed lunch. Sonoma Valley Wine Cart tours are perfect for all types of oenophiles and showcase the best of the region’s extensive estates and wine cellars.
Western Wine Tours
Western Wine Tours are designed to offer both a fun introduction to Sonoma wines and easy transportation – in this case, through brightly renovated VW vans with chic seating areas ready for their social media moment. The company’s “Women in Wine Country” tour focuses on women-run wineries, with stops at Fantesca Estate and Winery, St. Clair Brown Winery and Brewery (owner Elaine St. Clair is the only female winemaker and commercial brewer in the United States), and the ultra-friendly Crocker & Star in St. Helena, where co-owner Pam Starr and winemaker Evyn Cameron produce superlative and enduring wines, including highly acclaimed Cabernet Francs and Sauvignon Blancs.
Green Dream Towers
If you’re looking for a more intimate wine experience, consider one of the Green Dream Towers‘ private visits. The company specializes in full-day and half-day Napa and Sonoma wine tours. Spend the day traveling through the stunning scenery in a luxury vehicle like a BMW convertible, limo bus, or executive coach with a private guide. They also run open tours which always feel special as Green Dream keeps the groups small and pays a lot of attention to the selection of wineries you will visit. The Napa and Sonoma combo tour is one of the most popular options—all tasting fees are included, and you’ll stop at the Oxbow Public Market for lunch.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Pair a glass of sparkling wine with the classic glamor of train travel on the Napa Valley Wine Train. This popular tour, which takes a rail line originally built in 1864, travels three hours from the city center Napa to Saint Helena and back. In addition to sipping grape varieties from Napa Vineyards like Castello Di Amorosa and Sequoia Grove and enjoying picturesque views of wine country, tours include winery tours and multi-course gourmet meals like albacore tuna tartare or seared Pacific halibut. You can choose from a variety of experiencesranging from three to six hours, such as the Romance on the Rails trip or a special murder mystery dinner.