Napa and Sonoma valleys by horse, balloon, glider, plane, van, bike,
The autumn grape harvest attracts many visitors to the Napa and
Sonoma valleys, and with them come some changes in the usual pleasures
of winery touring. Local roads can get clogged with traffic: on State
Highway 29, in the heart of Napa’s grape-producing area, it’s
expected more than 15,000 cars will pass through daily. Tasting rooms
can get crowded, and waits grow longer than usual. You may want to
think about exploring the valleys in a new way this year, with less time
in your own car and a different outlook on the wine country.
Van touring can take a lot of the hassle out of ground travel. You
can choose a prearranged ininerary with stops at several wineries, or
make up your own. Some van operators will also take you to and from
your airport as part of the deal.
What else to do besides visit the wineries? You could soar above
the landscape in a glider, cruise in a small plane, skim above the
vineyards in a hot-air balloon. Or enjoy the vines’ fall foliage
changes on horseback, pedal a bike along the quieter valley roads, or,
slower still, stroll the older parts of town on your own self-guided
walking tour. There’s the Napa River to float, yielding a gently
shifting view of its valley.
Here we list alternative ways of exploring the Napa and Sonoma
valleys. All telephone numbers given are area code 707.
These valley-based companies drive you to wineries. Most vans seat
up to 15 passengers. Prices run $15 to $100 per person, and tours last
from 1 hour to several days. For current price information or
reservations, call companies on our list. (Also see “Transportation
to and from SFO’ on page 34 of the June Sunset.)
California Wine Adventures, Box 3273, Yountville 94599; 944-8468.
Private one-day tours (three wineries) include lunch.
California Wine Tours, Box 406, St. Helena 94574; 963-5205. Tours
usually last a whole day, cover three wineries.
Clark’s Tours and Travel, 3375 California Blvd., Napa 94558;
252-1117. There’s a 6-hour minimum.
Concierge, Box 2527, Yountville 94599; 944-1250. They will plan an
entire stay in the wine country, including lodging, dining, and touring.
Evans Airport Service, 1825 Lincoln Ave., Napa 94558; 255-1559.
Vehicles for charter include limousines, cars, vans, minibuses; drive
yourself (3-hour minimum) or hire a driver, too. Evans will arrange
tours through wine-country tour companies and shuttle you to the area
from San Francisco International Airport.
Grapevine Limousine Tours, 2046 First St., Napa 94559; 255-9083.
Limousines and vans are available for tours, usually of five wineries.
Linda Viviani Touring Company, 563 Michael Dr., Sonoma 95476;
938-2100. Van tours last half or full day.
Lon’s Limo Scene, Box 4537, Santa Rosa 95402; 539-5466.
Limousine tours, with a 3-hour minimum.
McCarters’ Charters, Box 1707, Sonoma 95476; 938-1300. These
tours specialize in local history.
Napa Valley Trips and Tours, 975 First St., Napa 94559; 253-8687.
The focus is history and architecture; tours last a minimum of 3 hours.
Sonoma Airporter, Box 301, Sonoma 95476; 938-4774. Charter vans
and minibuses are available, with a 5-hour minimum. The company can
also arrange activities through local tour companies. For information
on its shuttle service from San Francisco International Airport,
Wine Country Tours, Box 225, St. Helena 94574; 963-4211. Tours
visit three wineries; picnic lunch included.
Wine Scene Tours, Box 4036, Napa 94558; 253-7613. One-day minimum.
Flightseeing by small plane or glider
Rides last 20 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Reservations are
recommended; prices are per person.
Aerosport, 23982 Arnold Dr., Sonoma 95476; 938-2444. A 1942
biplane takes you on 20-minute scenic rides; prices start at $35, and
there’s a limit of one passenger per flight. Hours are 9 to 5
Wednesdays through Mondays.
Bridgeford Flying Service, Box 718, Napa 94558; 224-0887. Planes
take one to three passengers; prices start at $50. Hours are 8 to 6
Calistoga Soaring Center, 1546 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga 94515;
942-5592. The only glider service in the wine country, it offers
20-minute rides (one or two passengers) between 9 and sunset daily.
Prices start at $40. (Tow planes make an ear-splitting whine,
unfortunate for local residents.)
Sonoma Skypark, Box 221, Sonoma 95476; 996-0006. Planes take one
to five passengers; prices start at $36. Hours are 9 to 5 daily.
Sportsman’s Aviation, 1365-D Lincoln Ave., Calistoga 94515;
(800) 858-0317. You begin with a ground tour of the valley, then get an
hour-long aerial tour (the plane can take nine passengers), followed by
a bottle of wine. Cost is $117.
Turtle Airways, 1750 First St., Napa 94558; 253-7775.
Eight-passenger seaplane tours the Napa Valley for an hour, then lands
on Lake Berryessa; $75.
All the balloon companies operate every day, weather permitting,
with groups assembling at about 6 A.M. for a continental breakfast and
instructions from the pilot. Then it’s off to an open pasture,
where ground crews inflate the gigantic balloons. Once in the
balloon’s basket (most hold four to seven passengers), you rise
gently from earth. Most flights last about an hour, with champagne
awaiting when you land.
Reservations must be made in advance; prices range from $110 to
$125 per person. Since ballooning is weather-dependent, it’s a
good idea to confirm plans with your operator very early in the morning.
If your trip must be cancelled, you get a refund or rain check.
Adventures Aloft, Box 2500, Yountville 94599; 255-8688.
Balloon Aviation of Napa Valley, Box 3298, Napa 94558; 252-7067.
Napa’s Great Balloon Escape, Box 4197, Napa 94558; 253-0860.
Napa Valley Balloons, Box 2860, Yountville 94599; 253-2224.
Sonoma Thunder Hot Air Balloons, Box 641, El Verano 95433;
Three stables offer guided rides to hillsides above the vineyards
and through oak-studded woodland. Reservations are advisable.
Napa Valley Stables, Box 793, Napa 94559; 252-0481. Located in
Skyline Park, this stable offers 2 1/2-mile tours (an hour’s ride)
for 10 to 12 riders at $7.50 per rider. Hours are 9 to sunset Thursdays
through Mondays. Exit State 29 on Imola Avenue; go east 3 miles to the
park. Park admission is $3 per car, 50 cents each for walk-ins.
Sonoma Cattle Company, Box 877, Glen Ellen 95442; 996-8566. A
privately run facility operating in Jack London State Historic Park,
Sonoma Cattle takes up to 12 riders per group; guides will answer
questions on history of park. Irde an hour or a full day ($10 for the
first hour, then $5 per hour). Take State 12 to Glen Ellen, then go
west on Arnold Drive 2 1/2 miles to the park.
Wild Horse Valley Ranch, Box 126, Napa 94558; 224-0727. Here,
you’re offered guided tours on a 3,000-acre ranch east of Napa.
Cost is $8 per person per hour if your group has three or more people;
it’s $25 an hour for one or two people.
Barbecue breakfast, lunch, and dinner rides are also available.
Follow State 29 through Napa. Take Coombsville Road east to Wild Horse
Road, which dead-ends at the ranch.
Bring your own bicycle, or rent one at any of the following four
shops. Staff at each will help you plan a route.
The Napa Bicycle Club maps 21 bike routes (trips are 1 to 54 miles
long) in the book Bicycle Rides in and around Napa Valley ($6.95),
available at most Napa Valley bike shops.
The chamber of commerce provides a free information sheet, Tour of
Napa Valley Wineries By Bicycle. Pick up a copy from 9 to 5 weekdays,
or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the chamber, 1900
Jefferson St., Napa 94558.
Many roads are narrow and the main highways often have heavy
traffic; wear a helmet and obey traffic laws.
Hauschildt’s, 1255 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga; 942-4666.
One-speeds rent for $2.50 an hour. Open daily 10 to sunset.
Napa Valley Cyclery, 4080 Byway E., Napa; 255-3377. Bikes (10- and
12-speed) rent for $4 for the first hour, $2 each additional hour up to
$12 for a day; helmets are $1. Hours are 9 to 6 Mondays to Saturdays,
10 to 5 Sundays.
St. Helena Cyclery, 1156 Main Street, St. Helena; 963-7736.
Ten-speed bikes cost $4 an hour, $12 a day; open 9:30 to 6 Mondays
Sonoma Wheels, 523 Broadway, Sonoma; 935-1366. Rentals start at
$2.50 an hour for one- or three-speeds. It’s open 10 to 6 daily.
In Calistoga, Napa, St. Helena, and Sonoma, you can take
self-guided walking tours to see various local architectural
styles–Spanish adobe to Italiante villa.
Calistoga. Calistoga Historical Tour Guide is available, free, at
the Sharpsteen Museum (1311 Washington St.; open noon to 4 daily).
Walking Guide and Local Area Map to Calistoga (50 cents) is offered at
most shops in downtown Calistoga.
Napa. At the Napa Chamber of Commerce (see address under Biking),
you can get Napa Architectural Walking Tour, a set of five brochures (25
cents each, five for $1), or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope
St. Helena. The chamber provides In Your Pocket Guide–St. Helena;
cost is 75 cents. Stop in from 10 to 4 weekdays, or mail a stamped,
self-addressed envelope with $1.50 to the Chamber of Commerce, 1508 Main
St., St. Helena 94574.
Sonoma. The Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, at 453 First St. E. on
the east side of Sonoma Plaza (open 9 to noon and 1 to 5 Monday to
Friday and 11 to 4 weekends), stocks In Your Pocket Guide–Sonoma (75
cents), Sonoma Walking Tour ($1), and Visit Sonoma’s Historical
Two companies offer Napa River cruises:
Jackson’s Charters, 3854 Klamath Way, Napa 94558; 257-0257.
Charter sailboat tours down the river leave from the Napa Valley Marina
on weekends, with picnic dinner cruises nightly. The boat holds six to
eight passengers; boat charter costs $90.
Mare Island Ferry Tours, 149 Ash St., Vallejo 94590; 643-7542. A
70-passenger boat makes a round-trip cruise between the towns of Vallejo
and Napa every Thursday. The cruise lasts about 4 hours; cost is $15
for adults, $12.50 for senior citizens and children 17 and under. Box
lunches are available for $5.
Photo: Van tours get stuck in traffic, too, but it’s less
frustrating as passenger than driver. Below, tour members sample wine
grapes at private visit to Flora Springs winery
Photo: Guided horseback riders in Jack London State Historic Park
go from vineyards to hilltops as they learn about the past
Photo: Riding the thermals to 3,000 feet or more in a one-passenger
glider, you get bird’s-eye view of the upper Napa Valley
Photo: No steering: when wicker gondola is untied, wind sets
Photo: Rented bikes with picnic packs take back-roads cyclists past
neat rows of wine-grape vineyards along State 121