13 Best California Wine Tours for Learning, Sipping, and Sightseeing

Sip your way through the Golden State on these California wine tours.

Scenes from Baja Wine Tours
Photo: © Baja Winery Tours

Large swaths of beautiful California countryside are dedicated to the production of wine, with boutique and big-name wineries alike producing some of the most famous varietals in the world. After all, Napa Valley wines are up there with Burgundy and Bordeaux in terms of clout.

Idyllic vineyard visits are a lovely part of the California experience, but they're not without their behind-the-scenes stressors: There's the Google mapping, the hours-checking, and of course, the driving or arranging of transportation. Plus, there are literally thousands of California wineries and vineyards to choose from — 3,600 by one count. Even after narrowing it down to a certain region, you're looking at dozens (if not hundreds) of prospective properties.

There is an easier way. Guided wine tours take the legwork and logistics out of the trip. All you have to do is admire the rolling scenery and sip delicious wines at each stop. Maybe take a note or two, if you're so inspired, and doze off as your driver gets you home safely.

The best California wine tours can be geared toward anyone, from total newbies and nightly sippers, to pinot lovers hoping to discover more great reds and couples looking to relive a trip to Provence. They're intimate affairs that favor luxury vehicles and small vans to 50-person buses. The following California wine tours have earned high praise for their tailor-made itineraries and unfailingly kind, informative — and sober — guides and chauffeurs.

Painted Ladies Wine Country Tour

Painted Ladies Tour Company van in orange
Courtesy of Painted Ladies Tour Company

Painted Ladies Tour Company is beloved for their San Francisco city tours tootling around in a (very on-theme) vintage VW bus. The family-run operation also spins their retro wheels through legendary Sonoma Valley on small-group tours to up-and-coming wine producers. Past guests rave about the friendly guides, great road-trip vibe, and the thoughtfully selected lineup that includes an Italian winery for lunch. And don't worry — you'll get a Golden Gate Bridge photo op.

Toast Tours

If your group has some beer and whiskey fans in the mix, this Paso Robles company is an excellent choice. Groups aboard Toast's 12-person shuttle buses can visit distilleries, micro-breweries, and even a cidery, as well as local wineries. (Tablas Creek Vineyard is a favorite for its organic Rhone-inspired wines and herd of cute alpacas.) Other tours can combine wine country with two classic California sites: Hearst Castle and Pismo Beach.

Edge of the World Tours

This local favorite does tours around San Francisco and Sonoma Wine Country. They visit both boutique and commercial wineries, highlighting local flavors and generous pours. Take the nine-hour Great Wine Tour with up to 13 other people in a van that takes you to three different wineries, lunch in historic Sonoma village, through scenic Sausalito, and to a photo stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. Or, create your own bespoke tour like a walk through the Giant Sequoias followed by a wine tasting in the Sierra foothills.  

Bin 415 Private Tours

Wine tasting with Bin 415 tours
Michael Lagau

Something that sets Bin 415 apart is the fact that its guides are certified sommeliers, so they really, really know their stuff. The SF-based tour group organizes private, totally custom wine trips (via Mercedes SUVs, no less) exploring Sonoma and Napa's celebrated varietals. Guides and the vintners themselves illustrate everything from harvesting grapes to bottling. Lunch is a highlight, with past stops including French country cooking (at The Girl & the Fig in Sonoma) and farm-to-table New American (at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena). For those looking to splurge, Bin 415 will try to snag coveted French Laundry reservations.

Squire Livery Tours

While some winery tours embrace the flash factor — Segways! limo vans! party buses! — the three-person team at Squire Livery Tours keeps things sweet and simple with a two-car fleet and a hosting style that's nothing short of a delight. Run by the knowledgeable Kent Higginbotham, a true Napa/Sonoma connoisseur who's lived in the valley most of his life, Squire lets you be as hands-on or -off as you'd like — let them know what you'd like to try (you could, for example, mention that you're a sucker for riesling or want to learn more about cabernet sauvignon) or simply leave everything to the guides. When possible, they'll arrange for private tastings at times when the estate is closed to the public, something vintners often do for VIPs and industry insiders. Past guests regularly gush about Squire guides' expertise and genuine warmth, and report never feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

Baja California Wine Tours

Scenes from Baja Wine Tours
© Baja Winery Tours

If you're visiting San Diego, consider swapping the craft breweries of North Park and Ocean Beach for the highland vineyards of northwest Mexico. With San Diego as its starting point, Baja California Wine Tours leads day trips or even overnights to the famous Valle de Guadalupe, where the altitude, soil, and Mediterranean-like climate grow everything from chardonnay to malbec. Spectacular mountain scenery is a given, and tours can include stops at a 19th-century horse ranch, the studio whose water tanks were used to film Titanic and Deep Blue Sea, and laid-back Mexican beach towns like Ensenada and Rosarito for fresh ceviche and horseback-riding on the sand.

Food & Farm Tours

A day dedicated to wine, cheese, and baby goats? Irresistible. Food & Farm Tours celebrates Northern California's glorious food scene with tours to artisanal food producers and organic farms in Marin and Sonoma counties. The most popular circuit goes to Hog Island Oyster Farm, Cowgirl Creamery, and Brickmaiden Breads, but tailored tours can include sampling crave-worthy sparkling honey wine at Heidrun Meadery or certified organic whites and reds at McEvoy Ranch.

Sustainable Wine Tours

Two women drinking wine outside
Courtesy of Sustainable Wine Tours

Sustainable Wine Tours specializes in day trips exploring Santa Ynez Valley, one of the five viticultural areas in Santa Barbara wine country. At the helm of Tesla SUVs or Mercedes Sprinters, tour guides bring small parties to a handful of the region's friendly, family-owned wine operations for private tastings. While sampling bottles and charcuterie boards, guests learn about the winemaking process — from picking fruits to fermenting — from estate owners and winemakers.

Noble Wine Tours

Even if you consider yourself somewhat of a wine expert, trying to nail down which of Napa and Sonoma's hundreds (and hundreds) of wineries to visit is daunting. Noble Wine's Austin Smith takes research out of the equation with his bespoke itineraries based on guest likes, preferences, and interests. Have a thing for pét-nat? Want to visit the winery that put Napa on the map after famously dethroning noble French wines in a blind-tasting competition? (Wine rookies without a clue where to begin are in great hands, too.) Nearly everyone who's vineyard-hopped with Noble praises Smith for his courteousness, professionalism, and insane knowledge on all things California wine. He also doubles as a photographer, keeping a pro camera on hand to help capture the day.

Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley

The vineyard and winery in Sonoma valley, California.

YinYang/Getty Images

This hand-built replica of a San Francisco street car takes guests on six-hour tours through Sonoma Valley. Tours include a history of the area in addition to three different tasting sessions at local wineries and a boxed lunch. Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley tours are perfect for all kinds of oenophiles and highlight the best of the region’s sprawling estates and wine caves. 

West Wine Tours

West Wine Tours are designed to provide both a fun intro to Sonoma wines and easy transport — in this case, courtesy of bright VW vans refurbished with chic seating nooks ready for their moment on social media. The company's "Women in Wine Country" tour focuses on woman-led wineries, with stops at Fantesca Estate & Winery, St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery (owner Elaine St. Clair is the only female commercial winemaker and brewer in the United States), and the ultra-friendly Crocker & Starr in St. Helena, where co-owner Pam Starr and winemaker Evyn Cameron produce superlative, sustainable wines, including well-loved cabernet francs and sauvignon blancs.

Green Dream Tours

If you’re looking for a more intimate wine-country experience, consider one of Green Dream Tours’ private tours. The company specializes in full and half-day tours of Napa and Sonoma wineries. Spend the day riding through the gorgeous landscape in a luxury vehicle like a BMW convertible, limo bus, or executive coach with a private guide. They also do open tours that still feel special as Green Dream keeps the groups small and puts a lot of attention into curating the selection of boutique wineries you’ll visit. The Combo Tour of Napa and Sonoma is one of the most popular options — all tasting fees are included and you’ll make a stop at Oxbow Public Market for lunch. 

Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train
Courtesy of the Napa Valley Wine Train

Pair a glass of sparkling wine with the classic glamour of train travel on the Napa Valley Wine Train. This popular tour, which runs on a rail line originally built in 1864, travels three hours from Downtown Napa to St. Helena and back. In addition to sipping varietals from Napa vineyards like Castello Di Amorosa and Sequoia Grove and enjoying picturesque wine country views, tours include winery visits and multi-course gourmet meals of dishes like yellowfin tuna tartare or pan-seared Pacific halibut. You can choose from a variety of experiences, ranging from three to six hours, like the Romance on the Rails trip or a special murder mystery dinner.  

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