Planning to a trip to California Wine Country and looking for an unusual adventure? Forget Napa Valley wine tours driving from vineyard to vineyard or riding on a bus – been there done that. We found new ways to see and taste Napa Valley.
A Quick History of California Wine
California wine is a thriving industry dating back to the 18th century. Its success can be credited to Mission San Diego de Alcalá. To produce wine for communion during mass and palms for Palm Sunday, Father Junípero Serra’s green thumb came in handy, and he created his own vineyards.
Until the Gold Rush which began in 1848, Southern California dominated commercial wine production in the state. With a massive population surge up north, the wineries of Sutter Country, El Dorado County, Napa County and Sonoma County were born.
Business was booming until the Prohibition Era hit. Wine production dropped 94 percent from 1919 to 1925 and thousands of wineries went out of business. Fewer than 100 survived the 18th Amendment.
It wasn’t until 1976 that California’s wine industry was resurrected. A small group of winemakers from California entered a blind tasting competition amongst the French and placed in the top spot in two categories: Chardonnays and reds. Later known as the Judgement of Paris, this ruling pulled winemakers up by their bootstraps and resurrected a dying industry, setting it on a course to what it is today.
It’s no wonder thousands flock to the vineyards to taste award-winning wines. Without further ado, let’s get to these unorthodox tours in Sonoma and Napa that’ll leave you with a smile on your face and a warm belly.
Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley
Hop on an open-air cable car trolley and take a ride throughout Sonoma Valley. Discover all Sonoma has to offer: view its grand estates, subterranean caves and of course, venture through three world-class wineries. Lunch is catered for visitors alongside this causal group tour that takes a deep dive into Sonoma’s history.
Meet your guide at the Sonoma Plaza, located in front of Sonoma City Hall for the 6-hour tour. Don’t worry if your plans change last minute, there’s free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund.
There’s also a similar trolley wine tasting tour in Napa provided by the same company.
Napa Valley Segway Tour
Channel your inner Paul Blart mall cop and ride on a segway for this half-day tour of Sonoma County. The tour includes stops at three wineries and a picnic lunch.
What goes better together than wine and cheese? After the second winery, you’ll stop at the Vella Cheese Factory.
The stone walled building that is now the Vella Cheese factory was once a brewery built in 1904. Founder Gaetano (Tom) Vella arrived in Sonoma in the early 1920s and partnered with a group of local dairymen to kickstart his business, transforming the building into a production center in 1931.
Vella moved the factory out of the historic building, but eventually returned 14 years later. Three generations later, the Vella family still carries on Tom’s memory and operates the production of its signature handmade Dry Jack cheese.
Last stop you’ll ride to is the Buena Vista Winery. The California Historic Landmark was founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy. The self-proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista, emigrated from Hungary in 1842 and was considered one of California’s most acclaimed and flamboyant viniculturists.
Electric Trike Tour Sonoma Wine County
This tour is jam-packed with six total stops. The trikes are provided by Pushpal Motors who will take you on a guided ride out on the town alongside two wine tastings.
The first stop, the General M.G. Vallejo Home, was finished in 1852 and adorned with luxury furniture like crystal chandeliers, lace curtains, and a concert-grand piano – all imported from Europe. Alongside a pool, the beautifully tended grounds also feature multiple decorative fountains, a large barn, and houses that were used by the working staff. There’s also a Cook House and a special warehouse built out of imported prefabricated lumber from Europe.
In 1933, the estate was acquired by the State of California at which point it was preserved and turned into a historic site for visitors to frequent.
Mission San Francisco Solano is the second stop of the tour. Founded on July 4, 1823, this building marks the last mission after three hundred years of incursion by the Franciscan Fathers throughout the Spanish-Mexican settlement in California. The project was spearheaded by Father José Altimira who chose the location across from the Solano military barracks, the site where the California flag was first raised, declaring independence from Mexico.
This historic site was destroyed in the earthquake of 1906, but restored to the building visitors frequent today.
The third stop on this tour is the Vella Cheese Company, as mentioned before.
Following snacks of Dry Jack, you’ll head on over to Three Fat Guys Wines.
Green Bay Packers fans rejoice! These three former linemen all donned the green and gold when they were drafted in 2006, adopting the label, “Fat Guys.” Friends and founders Tony Moll, Daryn Colledge, and Jason Spitz discovered each other’s love for wine off the field, and thus Three Fat Guys was born. They continue keeping their friendship alive 17 years later doing what they love, and that’s making some good wine.
After all this eating and wine tasting, you might be wanting to walk it off for the next and final stop, or perhaps sit down and take a nap from your food coma. The next stop of this tour has your back as you get to take a breather at the Sonoma Garden Park. The 6.1 acre park was originally owned by a Sonoma schoolteacher, Pauline Bond, who gifted the land to the City of Sonoma in 1977. Just 16 years later, the Sonoma Ecology Center took over and began to transform the park into what it is now.
Today, the Sonoma Garden Park hosts a seasonal Saturday Harvest Market, auntie plant nursery, community-garden plots, community workshops, and many educational programs and field trips for local schools.
The final stop you’ll scoot on over to is the Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery. This formerly family-owned business began in 1904, just nine years after founder Samuele Sebastiani emigrated to Sonoma from Tuscany in 1895.
Sebastiani made ends meet during Prohibition as his winery was able to stay up and running by producing sacramental and medicinal wines. After his death in 1944, Samuele’s son August purchased the winery from the estate and expanded the facilities and product line. August became well-known as an innovative and skilled winemaker, alongside his passion for environmental conservation. Upon Augusts’ death in 1980, his children: Sam, Don and Mary Ann managed the company.
Sebastiani changed hands to Bill Foley in 2008. He brought major changes to the company, lowering production, restricting yields, purchasing new barrels and winemaking equipment, introducing new farming protocols and purchasing more vineyards.
This longstanding winery is definitely the best way to end an amazing tour through Sonoma County.
Private Sidecar Winery Tour Through Napa Valley
Get the chance to be a part of the world’s first and only fleet of tandem sidecars with this tour! A standard motorcycle sidecar was altered to fit two people, so climb on in two at a time and enjoy Napa Valley.
The first of three stops will be at the Vinoce Vineyard. Founded by Brian and Lori Nuss in 1996, the vineyard is located on the northern end of Mt. Veeder alongside an estate with four blocks split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The couple also produce Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosado, and a St. Helena Cabernet Sauvigonon from vineyards owned by close friends and family.
Experience the beautiful rolling hills of Mt. Veeder while sipping on delicious wine at this first stop.
The second stop takes you to a National Landmark at Vinter’s Collective. Constructed in 1874, this former Italian saloon and brothel is now a tasting room with a collection of small family-owned Napa wineries. Step in and be treated like family in this one-of-a-kind place.
To conclude the tour, you’ll move on to the family-owned Napa Valley Distillery. As the first distillery to open its doors since Prohibition, owners Arthur and Lusine Hartinian offer a variety of rare and unique artisanal spirits and bottled cocktails, all made with premium ingredients and old-class techniques reminiscent of the roaring 20s
Take a step into their tasting salon as the friendly staff shares their knowledge and walks you through the tasting of award-winning spirits to conclude this experience.
Napa Valley Wine Train
All aboard! Originally built in 1864, this rail line was intended to take visitors to the resort town of Calistoga. Today, the Wine Train will bring you on a three-hour, 36-mile round-trip trip from Downtown Napa to St. Helena and back. With a total of 33 stops along the way, your trip will be jam-packed.
Besides the restoration of the Pullman rail cars, the Wine Train has its very own kitchen, where chefs prepare a multi-course lunch delivered right to the luxurious dining car, built for the Northern Pacific Railway in 1915.
Travel in old-fashioned luxury throughout Napa on this once-in-a-lifetime train ride.
Half-Day Napa Valley E-Bike Tour
If a train ride isn’t for you, don’t worry, there’s an electric bike tour that’ll take you on a scenic route throughout Napa’s vineyards. After your bike fitting and orientation, your guide will take you to Monticello Vineyards.
In 1969, founder Jay Corley came to Napa with dreams of winemaking and turned a Prohibition-era prune orchard into Monticello in 1970. He named his company after Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home and modeled the winery estate house after it too.
With five vineyards spanning the length of Napa Valley, Monticello is still owned by the Corley family who grow the grapes, make the wines, run the business. The task of handmaking each batch of wine is now being passed onto the third generation of Corley’s.
Taste the tradition at Monticello, and learn all about different winemaking styles and farming practices.
Wine Country Hot Air Balloon Ride
Tour Napa and Sonoma from above – 2,000 feet above! You’ll gain a new appreciation of this beautiful region’s landscape and vineyards during a hot air balloon ride (weather permitting of course). What better place to check off this travel bucket list item!
Where to Stay in Napa Valley
Napa Valley and Sonoma County, of course, are regions, so accommodations from major branded hotels, B&Bs and boutique properties are spread out over a wide geography. The map below focuses on the highest concentration of hotels in the area which is downtown Napa.
Last Updated on February 15, 2023