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June 20, 2024

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Unique ways to tour wine country on your next California holiday

Embarking on a California holiday often entails a pilgrimage to the Bay Area’s crown jewel: Napa Valley. With its French-inspired chateaus, turreted castles, meticulously groomed vineyards, and wild redwoods, it’s a sensory journey through the epitome of wine country elegance. For seasoned travellers who have already walked these well-trodden paths, the prospect of yet another tour through the vineyards might seem less enticing. However, there are far more unique, lesser-known ways to explore wine country that promise to reignite the sense of adventure and wonder, no matter what kind of traveller you are. Whether you prefer rest and relaxation, seek thrills and excitement, or are embarking on a family escapade with little ones in tow, there’s something special waiting to be discovered amidst the rolling hills and sun-kissed vineyards of California’s wine country. So, whether you’re a seasoned wine enthusiast or a first-time visitor to California’s wine country, prepare to be enchanted by a myriad of unique experiences that promise to redefine the way you tour through Napa and Sonoma.

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Image from Napa Valley Balloons

There is no form of transport more delightfully whimsical than riding in a woven basket hitched to a colourfully patterned balloon with a bird’s eye view of the rolling vineyards. Napa Valley Aloft is the only company launching in the charming town of Yountville neighbouring award-winning hotels, and restaurants. Their FAA-certified hot air balloon pilots possess extensive knowledge of ballooning over Napa Valley and are among the most experienced in the world. Alternatively, Napa Valley Balloons, in collaboration with Cuvée Collective, has partnered with local wine brands to offer guests exclusive wine tasting experiences. Guests can even opt for a private flight, ideal for marriage proposals, anniversaries, or special occasions. The exclusive flights for two passengers conclude with a celebratory sparkling wine toast to commemorate the occasion.

Vintage Cable Car Tour

Image from Napa Valley Wine Train

Step back in time aboard a classic San Francisco cable car with Napa Valley Wine Trolley or Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley. These authentic replicas of turn-of-the-century streetcars whisk guests around the region, offering a blend of fun, history, and wine knowledge. Explore Napa’s finest wineries, tasting wines, olive oil, and artisan products, while learning about what makes this region unique for wine production. Meanwhile, the Napa Valley Wine Train offers a luxurious journey through the picturesque scenery and historic vineyards of Napa Valley. Created in the early ’80s, this elegant train ride takes guests on a 36-mile round trip from Downtown Napa to St. Helena and back. With every ride, the Wine Train preserves a piece of Napa Valley history while providing a memorable experience for visitors.

Skydiving Experience

Image from NorCal Skydiving

For thrill-seekers, experiencing the Alexander Valley unfold beneath you during a tandem skydive is an exhilarating adventure. NorCal Skydiving in Cloverdale caters to adrenaline enthusiasts with drops ranging from 8,000 to 15,000 feet. Whether you prefer a mellow parachuting option or the accelerated freefall program leading to a solo jump, the choice is yours. Situated in the heart of world-famous wine country, NorCal Skydiving offers unparalleled views of California’s stunning landscapes. From the vantage point of our plane and during your skydive, you’ll often catch sight of the Pacific Ocean stretching to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Our scenic vistas encompass iconic landmarks such as Pt. Reyes National Seashore, California’s largest natural lake, the San Francisco Bay, Napa Valley, and the Russian River. As the sole skydiving center in the Bay Area where friends and family can witness your entire journey, we provide a unique spectator experience. Beyond the thrill of skydiving, explore the region’s offerings, including renowned wineries and legendary breweries like Russian River Brewing and Lagunitas Brew Co. Sonoma County boasts natural wonders such as the picturesque Sonoma Coast, rejuvenating geothermal hot springs, majestic Armstrong Redwoods, and the meandering Russian River.

Horseback Vineyard Ride

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Embark on a journey through the Valley of the Moon, just as Jack London once did, atop a majestic steed. Triple Creek Horse Outfit offers guided rides through the state park that was once home to the renowned author. As you traverse the landscape, you’ll trot past sprawling grapevines and through enchanting Redwood groves, immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the region. After your ride, indulge in a tasting experience at the nearby Benziger Family Winery. Sonoma Valley Trail Rides provides another unique way to explore wine country. Guided by experienced wranglers, guests journey through historic vineyards on gentle, seasoned horses. Suitable for riders of all levels, including beginners, our tours offer a memorable experience for guests aged 12 and older. As a special token of appreciation, each guest receives a bottle of wine from the Estate of their choosing after the ride, ensuring a lasting memory of your time in Sonoma Valley.

Motorcycle Sidecar Excursion

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Immerse yourself in Paso Robles wine country with Third Wheel Tours’ thrilling motorcycle sidecar excursions. Feel the breeze against your face as you journey through picturesque vineyards and rolling hills, guided by your expert driver. Along the way, make stops at top wineries for tastings and delve into the region’s rich history and unique climate. Embark on a private tour through Paso Robles in a modern vintage sidecar, sampling wine at two exceptional wineries along the route. Gain insights into regional agriculture, wine variations, and climate on this immersive experience. Begin with a unique tasting at one of our partner wineries, delving into their culture and history. You can conclude your adventure with an exclusive tasting at Cass Winery, capping off an unforgettable journey through wine country.

Gondola to Hilltop Winery

Image from Sterling Vineyards

As the only winery in the world with an aerial gondola, Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga has been wowing guests since the 1970s with its spectacular views of the Napa Valley and the breathtaking combination of premium vintages and stunning vistas. The Sterling offers a unique transportation experience, suspended and propelled on a continuously circulating cable and during the five-minute ride to the hilltop winery, guests are treated to sights of the valley floor. Recent enhancements to the gondola system include a reconfigured direction, offering a longer ride up the northern hillside of the property for maximum panoramic views. The cabins feature state-of-the-art, tinted glass and wood teak interior seats, providing passengers with a luxurious and comfortable ride. Accessibility is prioritised with a no-step-in design, making it fully ADA-compliant and easily accessible for those with mobility issues and strollers. Furthermore, the system is powered by solar energy, minimising its environmental impact and promoting sustainable tourism. Whether it’s a beautiful, warm summer day or a cozy, rainy winter afternoon, the Sterling Aerial Gondola operates year-round, ensuring that guests can enjoy this unparalleled experience in every season.

Electric Bike Vine Trail

Image from Glidesdale Adventure

If a wine country cycling trip sounds like one of those ideas far too exhausting for a vacation, there’s another option: the 100 percent electric, no-pedalling-required Glide bike tours offered by Glidesdale Adventures. With Glidesdale Adventures, you can effortlessly zip along the roughly 15-mile route that follows the scenic Napa Valley Vine Trail without breaking a sweat. These innovative electric bikes provide a fun and eco-friendly way to explore the beauty of wine country. As you cruise along the picturesque trail, you’ll be treated to stunning views of vineyards, rolling hills, and charming countryside landscapes. The tour includes stops at three carefully selected wineries along the way, where you can indulge in wine tastings and savour the delicacies of the region. At the second stop, a delicious deli-served lunch awaits, providing the perfect opportunity to refuel and relax amidst the serene surroundings. You can sit back, relax, and let the electric bikes do the work as you glide through vineyards and sip on world-class wines.

Kids’ Nature Scavenger Hunt

Image from Belden Barns Farmstead & Winery

Even though wine tasting is typically associated with adults, Belden Barns Farmstead & Winery above Santa Rosa offers a family-friendly experience that caters to all ages. While parents enjoy sampling wines, children can embark on a scavenger-hunt-style adventure with specially curated backpacks. These adventure backpacks are filled with field guides to wine country flora, fauna, birds, and insects, along with magnifying glasses and checklists to document their discoveries. It’s a hands-on way for kids to engage with their surroundings while parents indulge in wine tasting. As a winery that values family time, Belden Barns takes pride in creating an environment where both adults and children can have a memorable experience. Named one of the most kid-friendly (and dog-friendly) wineries in Sonoma County, Belden Barns has earned recognition for its commitment to inclusivity. In addition to seasonal events like the fall Grape Stomp and spring Cork Hunt, the winery offers recreational activities for children, including a basketball hoop and corn hole game. It’s all part of Belden Barns’ mission to ensure that every visitor, regardless of age, feels welcome and entertained during their visit to wine country.

Art and Wine Tours

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If you enjoy wafting through galleries, sipping on wine and discussing art with fellow art enthusiasts, the art and wine tours by Active Wine Adventures offer the perfect experience for you. Through these tours, you can watch as the art of winemaking intertwines with captivating sculptures and contemporary masterpieces. You can opt to visit cutting-edge Napa Valley wineries with historic roots, where you’ll savour award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon amidst stunning vineyard views and captivating art installations. Or, in Carneros, you can discover an oasis of artistic inspiration on a 200-acre property adorned with eclectic collections of contemporary art and sculptures. As you wander through vineyards, gardens, and natural landscapes you will encounter thought-provoking artwork by celebrated artists. You are also free to customise your itinerary on tailored private tours, where curated exclusive experiences are based on your preferences and winery availability. In Sonoma Valley, distinctive wine varietals await alongside unique art galleries and outdoor collections of modern art sculptures. Here, you have access to limited-production Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at exclusive estates, where guided walks lead you through enchanting displays of artistic ingenuity against scenic backdrops.

Zara Flavia Dmello


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