Summer is approaching, which means it’s high time to head to Napa Valley! There is no better season to bask in the California sun and indulge in the legendary beauty and world-class wine. Both the city and valley offer stellar options for visitors and locals alike during this high season.
While Napans love to welcome visitors, it also means they need to plan around heavy traffic. Luckily, there are several options to consider in order to avoid traffic, maximize time, and increase enjoyment of the valley. In order to avoid becoming frustrated with the heavier high season traffic, you just need to set expectations and plan accordingly.
Read below for our recommendations to 1) get to the area 2) get to Napa 3) get around the city and finally 4) get to the world-famous vineyards. All while avoiding sitting in traffic!
First, what Bay Area airport should I use?
There are several airports to consider when flying to Napa Valley. First, Sonoma County Airport is the closest. This small regional airport is charming and very easy to navigate, but also has limited service. Fortunately, a new terminal was just built and both American Airlines and United have added service. As the airport gets more service it will continue to be a great option. Just keep in mind it is a two-lane road to Napa and takes much longer than it looks.
San Francisco Airport (SFO) is the most popular option with plenty of frequency. The only thing you need to keep in mind is the location of the airport. It is on the opposite side of the city and traffic can be a nightmare. So, if you fly into SFO, plan accordingly. If you land anytime past 2:00PM be prepared to sit in traffic for a while! Overall, SFO is a great option that we highly recommend, but keep in mind arrival time.
Our personal favorite is Sacramento (SMF). The drive is a little over an hour and the airport is very manageable. It is big enough to have service by all legacy carries and restaurant/retail beyond security, yet small enough to make parking and TSA a breeze. Down side is this option is a little pricier when it comes to airfare. But overall, this is a great option if you are willing to pay a little more for convenience.
San Jose (SJC) should also be considered when planning a trip to Napa Valley. This is especially true if your trip includes multi stops. Given its location in the South Bay, it is a bit of a drive to Napa but if your trip also includes a stay in central coast (ie Monterrey area) or a stay in the city this is a great option.
I’ve landed, how do I get to Napa?
Now that you have touched down, you need to get to Napa Valley. And there are several options depending on which airport you fly into. If you fly into SFO or OAK, there are great options when it comes to regularly scheduled bus service. Buses are a great option because if there is traffic you can sit back and read a book, watch a video, have a look around without having to navigate the traffic.
The best option from both airports is Evans Transportation. This bus service runs every two hours and lands you right in the city of Napa. From the Napa bus station, you can use an ride share app (Lyft/Uber) to get anywhere in the valley. Into Napa, it will be around $5-$10 ride and no more than $50 anywhere in in the valley. Or if you bring your bicycle, you can jump on the Napa Valley Vine Trail. The trail is across from the station and you can go directly into Napa or Yountville.
If a bus isn’t your thing, or if you have a group of 3 or more, your better option is a ride share app. Obviously the fare will change depending on traffic, but expect anywhere from $75-$125 from any of the surrounding airports….with the exception is SJC which would be more and probably not best option.
I’m here, how do I get around?
Once you get to Napa, you don’t need a car. There are several things you can do that won’t require sitting in traffic. As we wrote in “Walk Napa, Walk it Now” Napa has been transforming areas of the city to make it more pedestrian friendly. There is First Street Napa, Oxbow Market, RAD Napa, and other projects around town that make getting out and walking the city as enjoyable as going up valley.
You can head out on your own or have a local guide show you the way. On a Paper Napan Walkabout, you can enjoy an afternoon discovering unique street art, urban boutique wineries, and Napa Craft beer. Or if you dare, you can learn about the haunted side of Napa on a Napa City Ghosts & Legend Walking Tour.
You can also take advantage of the several bike rentals around town like Napa Valley Velo. Not only is Napa easy to get around on two wheels, but you can also go up valley on the Napa Valley Vine Trail. This bike path goes from South Napa to Yountville and will eventually go from Vallejo Ferry Station all the up to Calistoga. So biking is a good option to enjoy by yourself or on a tour like Pints ‘N Pedals where you go beyond the wine bottle and into the Napa craft been scene.
Or maybe you like getting out on the water. The Napa River provides a couple ways to get out and enjoy the California summer. First, you can learn about the rich history of the river on a Napa Valley Paddle group tour. Or maybe you want a taste of Venetian culture with a Napa Valley Gondola boat tour. Either way, the Napa River has a rich history and a great option to experience on your stay.
How do I get to a Napa Valley vineyard?
Sure, getting around the city without a car is feasible, but what about when you want to go see a vineyard. Not a problem. There are a few options to go up valley that don’t include sitting in traffic.
First, you can experience the Napa Valley Wine Train. On the train, you can go up valley in style, enjoy a meal, see a winery, and never have to think about traffic. They provide several options that make it easy to fit into your schedule. You can enjoy a Napa-style, multiple course gourmet meal on their lunch and dinner routes. Or you can hop off the train and experience a few legendary wineries like Grgich Hills Estate. But they also do more than wine. You can experience a few of their special events like the Tequila Train, Hop Train, and even a Murder Mystery.
While going up valley on the wine train is amazing, maybe you want something off the beaten path. And you can do that on a chic tuck tuck tour of the valley with Laces and Limos. Their 100% electric modern-day rickshaws allow them to take you on backroads to boutique wineries that larger tour companies do not go. And because you are on the backroads, you can beat that heavier summer traffic.
Overall, summer time in Napa Valley is amazing. And even though that means high season and heavy traffic, you don’t have to let that slow you down. There are several ways to enjoy Napa Valley without ever stepping foot in a vehicle.