Wine, travel, good food, beautiful scenery, the lulling rhythm of a historic train—the combination is all so romantic, so elegantly irresistible. We’re talking about Napa Valley, the world-renowned destination in Northern California wine country. Napa Valley alone is home to over 400 wineries spread over 30 miles, and the Napa Valley Wine Train runs from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back. Note: In winter, the sun sets early. To see vineyards, opt for the lunch train.
Here are five tips to enhance your journey.
The Train Is Newly Renovated
In September 2019, the Napa Valley Wine Train celebrated 30 years of service. The rail line itself, however, was built way back in 1864. “The train hadn’t had a lot of upgrades in 30 years. It was time,” says Scott Goldie, co-CEO of the Napa Valley Wine Train.
There are upgrades, yes. But the train’s historic charm remains. This includes the vintage first-class Pullman coaches, mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions, and velveteen fabric armchairs. These design elements make it feel as though you’ve stepped inside a trip back in time.
You Can Create Custom Group Trips
Many of the train’s partner wineries were chosen based on their quality and proximity to the tracks, says Goldie. “When we do our wine tasting tours, it’s best if we can pull right up and guests can exit the train and walk right into the winery.” That works, for example, for Mondavi, V. Sattui Winery, Charles Krug, Domaine Chandon, Beringer, and others. There’s also a new fleet of buses that can pick up guests for a short ride to other wineries. Groups can even craft a train-and-bus experience to visit “off-the-menu” wineries.
Depending on which train package you choose, most excursions take three to six hours and include a meal and a winery tour stop. Goldie says the Full Day Winery Tours are “the best tasting experience in Napa.” He cites the four-course gourmet meal and exclusive tasting experiences that you can’t buy off the street.
Get on Track for the Holidays
They also have specialty Weddings, Murder Mystery, Thanksgiving, Santa Train, and Romance packages. On the Napa Valley Wine Train excursion, I took to medieval-crafted Castello di Amorosa, a guest pre-planned a marriage proposal!
It Relieves Drinking-and-Driving Worries
There’s always that balancing act to determine how much wine you can taste and if it’s still safe to drive. When you take the train, you don’t have to cut the fun short, nor do you have to worry about traffic woes. During holidays, harvest and other busy times, the roads can get pretty crazy. Opt-out.
Explore Downtown Napa
The Napa Valley Wine Train Depot is in downtown Napa. Chose a walking or bike tour and indulge in a few light bites and souvenir shopping at charming Oxbow Market. Go wine tasting on foot at Vintner’s Collective Napa Valley, take a cooking class at The Culinary Institute of America and see the vineyards from a hot air balloon ride. A visit to the Napa Valley Welcome Center helps get a lay of the land.
Napa is only 50 miles from San Francisco, but when you have the whole weekend, consider spending the night. It’s an opportunity to unplug in one of Northern California’s best ways.