It's entirely possible to spend a day, weekend or longer in Napa Valley, entirely car-free. Not only is it a sight cheaper than renting a car or limo, but you can take things entirely at your own pace, are free to set your own itinerary and can share the good times with other cyclist friends. Perhaps best of all, seeing Napa on two wheels reduces your environmental footprint - good for the vines, good for you.

While there are multiple tour operators present in the Napa region that provide bikes and itineraries, with adequate self-planning, you can bring your own bike and plan a trip that covers great wineries and is suitable to your cycling ability.

Getting there

One of the big challenges in organizing a Napa trip by bike is getting to Napa itself. There is very little information on getting to and from major hubs like San Francisco without the benefit of a car - which is likely enough to deter many cyclists from making the trip. However, with Vallejo and Napa's public transport, bike lane and road network, moderately fit and active people can enjoy the best the valley has to offer, entirely on their own steam.

For your comfort and safety, it's recommended that you take into account your existing cycling experience when reading this guide. For example, 20 minutes out of Vallejo is not the right time to realize that you're uncomfortable with riding along major highways, can't change a tyre or don't have the stamina to last the trip. You'll not only find your Napa experience ruined, but could pose a hazard to yourself and those around you.

From San Francisco to Vallejo and beyond

For the committed, it's possible to cycle the whole length from San Francisco to Napa, however most will likely choose to take advantage of public transport, either some or all of the way. Distance aside, there are some pretty big elevation gains when riding in both directions.

From San Francisco, the most comfortable way to begin your trip is to ride the Baylink Ferry from the Ferry Building or Pier 41 to Vallejo Ferry Terminal. There are sailings multiple times daily - check their schedules for times. Tickets are $13 for adults, one way.

From Vallejo, you have the option of catching the Vine Transit bus, either routes 11 or 29. Fares are $1.50 / $3.25 one way for these routes respectively. Each bus can carry only 2 bicycles and the trip time is roughly 1 hour.

Alternately, you can ride from Vallejo to Napa via the CA-29 highway - here is a recommended route. While there are bike paths and lanes for some of the way, most of the trip is spent on on the shoulder of CA-29, which is fairly variable in width and quality. You will have to stay alert for hazards like debris and fast-moving traffic, especially around cross-streets and highway entrances and exits. This trip will take between 1-1.5 hours for moderately fit cyclists and should only be attempted if comfortable with sharing busy roadways with trucks and cars.

Getting back

While getting home is much the same as getting to Napa, it's very important that you time your trip carefully. If using the Vallejo Baylink ferry, do not miss the last ferry at the end of the day - public transport becomes very scare after it leaves, especially on Sundays. If you miss the ferry, you can catch the SolTrans Route 80 to El Cerrito del Norte BART, or the SolTrans Route 80s bus to Walnut Creek BART, from the Vallejo Transport Center (buses not always stop at Vallejo Ferry Terminal in the late afternoon).

Failing this, you will either be faced with a relatively strenuous 1.5-2 hour ride to El Cerrito del Norte BART, or a $60 taxi ride, before tips.

Cycling around Napa

Once in Napa, you'll find that there are numerous bike lanes between attractions. Google Maps is teriffic for suggesting suitable bike routes and features accurate winery locations. Be especially careful when crossing train tracks along the way.

Regusci winery by bike 

Planning your day

When covering Napa by bike at an easy pace, you're likely to fit in only 3-5 winery visits per day, so plan ahead. If following a road like the Silverado Trail, a good bet is to head to the furthest winery first, then work back to allow you to not only gauge the distance between wineries, but ensure the ride home is as short as possible.

7x7 has a great list of rides around Napa. However, if you want to balance riding with wining, just cruising up and down the Silverado Trail makes for a great day out. While all wineries are bike friendly, Black Stallion Winery has a bike rack and is a very easy ride from Napa downtown. Regusci is also a good bet and perhaps as far up the Silverado Trail as the average rider should aim for if planning to catch the ferry back to San Francisco that afternoon.

Where to eat

While there are countless great dining options ranging from the upscale to humble highway diners, nothing beats a good picnic. Oxbow Public Market on 1st St makes for a great pre-ride provisioning stop, with a large selection of packable goodies, like sandwiches, baguettes, cheeses and meats. 

On Silverado Trail, Soda Canyon Store makes for an excellent pit-stop. They have a great deli, selection of drinks and an outdoor picnic area to enjoy it all in.

Further afield, there's Yountville, a small town with a decent selection of cafes and restaurants. If doing a Napa - Silverado Trail - St Helena Highway (CA-29) loop, Yountville is an attractive lunch choice.

Where to stay

There are plenty of places to stay in the Napa region, however you may find the upscale hotels in town to be a little less bike-friendly than the chain motels on Soscol Ave and the outskirts of the downtown area. The Best Western Inn at The Vines features a locked storage area for storing bikes, clean and modern rooms and best of all, a hot tub in the pool area - perfect for resting tired muscles.

A final note

Travelling to, from and around Napa by bike is neither difficult, nor particularly dangerous for experienced cyclists. You don't even have to wear lycra. That said, preparedness is key, so not only plan your journeys carefully, but make sure you pack the essentials, including bike lights, tools, spare tubes, a helmet, lock and high-visibility clothing for poor or foggy weather. 

If you would like to get involved in making Napa Valley a more pleasant destination for cyclists, take a look at the Napa Valley Vine Trail - it's a promising project that could seriously reduce the reliance on cars for both locals and visitors alike. Happy cycling!