Napa Valley by Bus

Napa Valley Travel Blog

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Heading from San Francisco to Napa Valley. It was my first time crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

I have always wanted to visit Napa Valley and took a one day bus trip from San Francisco using Super Sightseeing Tours.  The cost of a one day trip with three winery stops was $65.00, which included the price of tastings at three wineries.  Super Sightseeing has an office at Fisherman's Wharf but this group will also pick you up from your hotel.

Our bus had about 55 passengers of all ages visiting from all over the world.  The distance to Napa from San Francisco is about 60 miles but I would caution about visiting on a busy weekend.  Traffic could be awful as cars, tour buses and limos all crowd into Napa.  I would try to visit mid-week if possible.

On the Golden Gate Bridge

The tour started by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was my first time crossing the bridge and the views across the bay were spectacular.  The bridge is painted a bright orange because of the fog.  If you are walking around San Francisco, sometimes it is diffcult to see the Golden Gate Bridge because of all the haze.  With the clouds, you may only see the base of the bridge.

The drive to Napa was beautiful and it was incredible seeing vineyards and wineries everywhere.  I was amazed at the number of wineries in Napa Valley, as apparently there are well over 300.   Within the United States, California produces roughly 90% of all U.S. wines and Napa Valley is the heart of wine country.  Some of the wineries in Napa have interesting histories as some survived U.

Vineyards at the Madonna Estate Winery. This winery was friendly and we could walk through the fields.
S. Prohibition (1919-1933) by producing wines for church communion, which was legal at the time. 

Madonna Estate Winery

Our first stop was at the Madonna Estate Winery, which I really liked.  This winery was founded by a wine family from Italy in 1922 and is an organic winery (basically no pesticides on the grapes, etc).  Because the winery is organic, we were allowed to walk through the vineyard and eat grapes right off the vine.  I noticed that the skins on the grapes I sampled were really chewy.  It was an interesting experience to be able to walk all through the vineyard and eat grapes at leisure.

The winery manager gave us an overview of winemaking and we were able to try four samples.  My favorite was the Chardonnay, which had a buttery taste.

Grapes at Madonna Estate. At this winery, you could eat grapes right off the vine.
  This winery was extremely friendly and generous with their wine samples.  While a bottle of wine was expensive ($25.00), I was impressed with the winery in general.   Madonna Estate only sells in California but they can ship wines.  If you are visiting Napa, I highly recommend stopping at Madonna Estate.

V. Sattui Winery

This winery was originally founded in 1885 and the grounds were pretty.  Weddings are apparently popular and there were picnic tables scattered around the grounds.  This winery also serves food (there was even a barbeque on the lawn) and we were warned that very few wineries in Napa have licenses to sell foods.  Those that have licenses want to keep them at all costs as this is a big money-making venture.

Madonna Estate
 

I think because of the scenic grounds and the food options, V. Sattui was absolutely packed with visitors.  I felt a little like being in a herd of cattle because there were so many tourists.  Food was outrageously priced (U.S. $5.99 for a piece of fudge, U.S. $8.25 for three barbequed oysters and U.S. $10.00 for a mozzarella sandwich--any toppings like olive oil etc were extra which could put the price nearer to $20.00!) and lines to get food were long.  Our tour only stopped at this winery for an hour for lunch and you had to basically elbow your way to the bar for two small tasting samples.  The staff was grumpy because of the crowds and one cashier was upset with me for being in the wrong line.   While the wine itself was good (prices were about the same as Madonna Estate), unfortunately, I would not recommend this winery.

Chilled wine at Madonna Estate
  It's a pity that a winery with such beautiful grounds seemed to have an attitude about its guests. 

If you find yourself at V. Sattui, I would instead walk a few blocks down the street to the next winery (Sutter Home) as they offered complimentary snacks and generous wine samples.

Sutter Home

Sutter Home is a family-operated winery, which is very friendly.  The history of this winery dates back to 1874 and the current owners have owned Sutter Home since 1947.  It's one of the largest independent family wineries in the United States. 

Sutter Home is well known partially because of the 1970s White Zinfandel craze.  This winery wanted you to feel at home and offered each of us five generous samples.  Snacks were scattered around the premises and I enjoyed munching on pretzels, chips, and bread while sampling wine.

Another view of the vineyard

The gardens of Sutter Home are also beautiful.  Roses were in bloom and palm trees surrounded the gazebo in the garden.  It was a great place to spend an afternoon.

Return to San Francisco

We headed back to San Francisco around 3:00 in the afternoon and unfortunately, I happened to pick a weekend when the Bay Bridge was closed for repairs.  Because there were few ways to get into San Francisco, our bus trip back took four hours to go 60 miles.  We spent two hours sitting in Sausalito just across from San Francisco trapped in a bus.  Passengers were joking that they were beginning to see how prisoners at Alcatraz felt.   Some passengers were laughing about possibly swimming across the bay.  I felt a little sorry for our bus driver as he was nervous that the drive back took so long.

Picnic area at Madonna Estate
  He began to talk and talk as I think he was worried about some of the passengers getting angry for something outside his control.

Overall, though, I would recommend a bus trip to Napa Valley--with a few caveats.  Don't go during the weekend in high season (I happened to go during a holiday weekend), research what wineries you are visiting in advance to be sure it's not a tourist trap (like V. Sattui) and pack some of your own food and water.  

Finally, there are also bicycle tours offered between the town of Sonoma and Napa Valley, which might be a more fun way of seeing Napa Valley.

 

 

adventurous_penny says:
Great write up of your trip....I went with a different group (San Francisco Comprehensive Shuttle Tours Wine Country Napa Tour) and enjoyed it immensely. It was a longer day and we had 4 or 5 stops, which I really enjoyed. We also went to V. Sattui but, luckily, found it much less crowded than you did and had a great time there. The lady pouring for us was VERY VERY generous and just had us taste every single wine on the list. She was a blast! I agree that food was overpriced, but, for all the wine we got, we ended up doing just fine there!

Also, luckily for me, I went during late Oct. 2010 (just at the end of harvest) and my tour was during the week, not on a weekend. Sorry to hear of the crowds and traffic difficulties you encountered! You provided good advice regarding this to other travelers.
Posted on: Feb 20, 2011
Vanessa_Mun_Yee says:
We had fun in Napa Valley too!
Posted on: Sep 27, 2009
williamsworld says:
Very nice. My Fraternity brother used to work for Louis Martini and I have a friend at Silverado.
Posted on: Sep 25, 2009
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Heading from San Francisco to Napa…
Heading from San Francisco to Nap…
On the Golden Gate Bridge
On the Golden Gate Bridge
Vineyards at the Madonna Estate Wi…
Vineyards at the Madonna Estate W…
Grapes at Madonna Estate.  At this…
Grapes at Madonna Estate. At thi…
Madonna Estate
Madonna Estate
Chilled wine at Madonna Estate
Chilled wine at Madonna Estate
Another view of the vineyard
Another view of the vineyard
Picnic area at Madonna Estate
Picnic area at Madonna Estate
V. Sattui Winery.  I would not rec…
V. Sattui Winery. I would not re…
Grounds of V. Sattui
Grounds of V. Sattui
Roses in bloom at V. Sattui
Roses in bloom at V. Sattui
Entering the bakery and tasting ro…
Entering the bakery and tasting r…
Gardens at V. Sattui
Gardens at V. Sattui
Gardens at Sutter Home.  This wine…
Gardens at Sutter Home. This win…
Sutter Home--beautiful palm trees
Sutter Home--beautiful palm trees
Bed and breakfast at Sutter Home
Bed and breakfast at Sutter Home
More roses in bloom
More roses in bloom
Tasting room at Sutter Home
Tasting room at Sutter Home
Sutter Home Winery--notice the tou…
Sutter Home Winery--notice the to…
Vineyards along the road in Napa
Vineyards along the road in Napa
Traffic headed back to San Francis…
Traffic headed back to San Franci…
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Napa Valley
photo by: alonski