If you are living in or are visiting San Francisco, one of the benefits is your proximity to places like Napa Valley. Also known as wine country, a trip to Napa Valley is a breath of fresh air from the busy streets of San Francisco. If you are planning a day trip to Napa Valley, this itinerary will help you get the most out of your time going to and arriving at wine country.
UPDATE: 2022/07/31 09:38 EST BY GABRIEL KIRELLOS
Driving From San Francisco To Napa Valley
There are various options to reach Napa Valley from San Francisco. This article was updated to detail the process and several options of driving from San Francisco to Napa Valley, either across the Golden Gate Bridge or across the Bay Bridge.
The Trip From San Francisco To Napa Valley
Before you start planning for your itinerary, it would be good to do a little research about your destination. Napa Valley comprises several regions, and the notable wine places are Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, and Yountville. It all comes down to preference, but it is recommended that you start all the way north so that going back to San Francisco will be a shorter trip.
There are very few options to visit Napa from San Francisco. Public transport like trains or buses have no routes for Napa Valley, and your only affordable option is to book a guided tour. That being said, the most convenient way to travel to wine country is by renting or driving your vehicle.
For the trip itself, driving from San Francisco to Napa Valley takes about 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on the traffic, and add a bit more if you are going to take the scenic route along the way.
What Driving From San Francisco To Napa Valley Is All About
People have two options if they want to drive from San Francisco to Napa Valley. They can either head north across the Golden Gate Bridge out of the city, or they can go first across the Bay Bridge to the east and then continue north. Here's what to know about each of the two options.
Driving Across The Golden Gate Bridge
This option will take one on Highway 101 North across the Golden Gate Bridge. People can enjoy the iconic and breathtaking views as they cross the historic bridge. Moving north through San Rafael, travelers will reach Highway 37 by heading east. This is where they will find a sign on 101 on the highway that will tell them to take the route for both Napa and Sonoma. Ten minutes on Highway 37, they will head north on Highway 121.
Travelers will then start seeing vineyards and wineries on the rolling hills after passing the Sonoma Raceway. Ten minutes in, they will turn right, where there will be a sign reading " State Route 121/Napa/Sonoma." Until Highway 121 dead ends, travelers shall turn left to drive towards the Napa wineries on the highway. There will be a sign reading "121 Napa/Calistoga." This is where they will have reached Napa Valley's southern edge. They can head to the city of Napa next or follow this road for wine tasting. Napa is about ten minutes on 121 north.
- Duration: The trip from San Francisco to Napa Valley by driving across the Golden Gate Bridge needs around one hour and fifteen minutes to complete.
Driving Across The Bay Bridge
After exiting the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge, travelers will head north. They will then follow the Interstate 80 - Berkeley/ Sacramento signs. Next, they should continue their drive over a second bridge on Interstate 80 and through Vallejo. After that, they will witness the sign for Highway 37, which is for Exit 33. It reads "37 Napa/Novato - Auto Mall Columbus Parkway" and exits on the right. One minute later, people will see a sign to Napa for Highway 29, where they should take a right and stay for around 10 minutes on Highway 29/12.
Next, they will see another sign with two options for Napa. One that allows them to stay on Highway 29 and takes them to the region's western side, and another that will take them along the valley's eastern end on Highway 121 Napa. The latter will allow travelers to drive the Silverado Trail and witness various wineries such as Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Clos du Val, and Silverado Vineyards.
- Duration: The trip from San Francisco to Napa Valley by driving across the Bay Bridge needs around one hour to complete. However, people need to check traffic or if there's an accident before taking this road.
The Route – Places to See Along the Way
What makes a vacation memorable is not only the destination but also the trip along the way. If you want to maximize your road trip to Napa Valley, the best route would be via the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. This will just add about 15 minutes from your total travel time so you can adjust your itinerary accordingly, but the breathtaking vistas are worth it.
From the Golden Gate Bridge, you have two options. Driving along Conzelman Road provides a shorter scenic detour. For a longer one, from the Golden Gate Bridge, drive along Highway 1 to Stinson Beach, where you can enjoy the scenic route of the coastline.
The Morning Drive
Wineries in Napa Valley open at 10 AM. For you to maximize your day, leave early and work back your travel itinerary so that you can enjoy some quick stops along the way. If you want to grab a bite, you can go to Ariscault Bakery and get their popular Chocolate Almond Croissant.
However, if you can hold your hunger and want to have your breakfast in downtown Napa, you can visit The Model Bakery and get the English muffin – Oprah’s favorite.
After the side trips, you can head directly to St. Helena for your very first wine tasting at V. Sattui. This place requires reservations, so you should plan accordingly. V. Sattui is a family-owned winery, and their wines are only sold on-site, so it is not available anywhere else. This place is famous for its laid-back atmosphere as well as its great outdoor area. In addition, there is a food truck stationed by the garden where you can have lunch, but note that they only serve small bites.
If you are craving more wine in the afternoon, you can go straight to the Round Pond Estate Winery along Rutherford. It is branded as one of the best “California” tasting sites, with huge palm trees leading you to a magnificent building that overlooks the breathtaking vineyards. This winery also requires reservations, so make sure you book ahead of time.
However, if you think that you have already had your fill of wine for the day, you can go to Oakville for your next stop and drop by the Oakville Grocery. It began operation way back in 1881, so Oakville Grocery is known to be the oldest Californian grocery store in operation. You can purchase some groceries and ready-to-eat items and enjoy them on the store’s patio. You can also stop by Oakville Wine Merchant and get some wine per glass.
Capping Off In The Evening
If you can still hold your alcohol for one more tasting before returning to San Francisco, you can make a quick stop in Napa to visit Darioush. This winery is built by an Iranian and is Persian-inspired. The place is constructed to be like Persepolis, and French wine is the inspiration for their spirits. Same as other wineries, a visit to this place requires reservations, and they close at 5 PM.
Before saying goodbye to Napa, you can stop by numerous restaurants to have dinner. Try the Angele Restaurant and Bar, a bistro at the riverfront in a timeworn boathouse that serves French food.
If you are craving Italian food, you can visit Bistro Don Giovanni. They also have French food, and the ambiance gives you that warm, rustic Italian vibe.
Now, if you think that you have had too much to drink and need to spend the night in Napa, you can visit Andaz Napa or Archer Hotel Napa, which are both located downtown.
Going to Napa Valley from San Francisco can be enjoyable from the trip to the destination if you do a little research, book your schedules, study the routes and traffic situations and plan your time. If you are short on time, this itinerary is the best option for you.