Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Fun and Unique Ways to Explore California Wine Country

If you’d like to travel at a more leisurely pace, floating above it all, there are plenty of options, including Up & Away Ballooning and Wine Country Balloons.

Without a doubt, Wine Country is one of the world’s most breathtaking regions to travel through whether you are looking for a romantic escape, a relaxing retreat or an adrenaline rush. The area abounds with diverse landscapes and places to explore, as well as a plethora of ways to get there. Planes, trains and automobiles are just the start. There are also hot air balloons, horseback riding, replica vintage cable cars and a variety of other modes of transportation that capture the imagination. We’ve compiled a list of ways to get around Wine Country that make both the journey and the destination a true delight.


SMART train
For a more modern take on the rail experience, the SMART train is an excellent way to travel in Sonoma County. The line’s stops are close to many Sonoma County attractions and restaurants.

With its origins in the 19th century, train travel conjures up the romance of the past, but investments in new technology also make it a vision for an environmentally friendly future. Romantics, commuters and day-trippers alike can enjoy a ride on the rails on the SMART train.

The SMART train is an excellent way to travel in Sonoma County. The line’s stops in Santa Rosa are close to attractions that include the Charles M. Schulz Museum, shopping at Whistlestop Antiques and Hot Couture Vintage Fashion, or a stay at Hotel La Rose by Railroad Square; the Cotati station is a short walk from a meal or snack at Oliver’s MarketAcme Burger and Red Bird Bakery; the Petaluma station brings travelers right up to the Petaluma Arts Center, while the city’s downtown restaurants and music venues are only a 10-minute walk away.


There is nothing like getting a bird’s eye view of Wine Country’s varied topography and natural beauty. Based in Sonoma, Obsidian Wine Co. provides wine-related excursions including a de Havilland DHC-2 Beavers seaplane flight that takes off in Sausalito with an overfly of the Golden Gate Bridge before heading over the Mayacama Mountains and making a water landing onto Clear Lake. (Food & Wine magazine recently named Obsidian’s Seaplane Wine Flight one of  “the most extreme wine tastings around the world.”)

If you want to experience aviation history while you feel the rush of air and adrenaline, you can book a ride on a 1941 open cockpit biplane through Vintage Aircraft Sonoma. The Boeing PT-17 Stearman, which now takes passengers for joyrides above Wine Country and beyond, was used as a training plane for cadets prior to and during World War II.


Row of volkswagen buses.
West Wine Tours VW Buses

If you are not interested in another run-of-the-mill chartered bus tour, you just might want to check out West Wine Tours’ fleet of classic VW buses, which embarks on tours in Sonoma. You can book just a seat or an entire six-seat or eight-seat bus for groups. Tours include stops at local wineries (wine tasting fees not included) or you can create your own custom itinerary if you book an entire bus. A picnic lunch is included in every itinerary.


Two people on horses
Triple Creek Horse Outfit, Glen Ellen

For centuries before the advent of planes, trains and automobiles, the quickest way to travel over land was on horseback at a gallop. But these days it’s OK to saunter along, riding high in the saddle, and enjoying scenery and paths not accessible by mechanized transport.

Bartholomew Estate Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma offers a 45-minute ride on horseback through its historic estate guided by Sonoma Valley Trail Rides. The experience includes a bottle of Bartholomew Estate wine to take home.

Triple Creek Horse Outfit in Glen Ellen provides a variety of riding trail options at Jack London State Historic Park, allowing guests to explore different areas of the park from rides that last an hour to combo rides that take place over the course of two days. Riders can commune with the writing legacy and life of “Sailor on Horseback” Jack London, taking in the views of the author’s prized Beauty Ranch while passing through the many natural features that captured his imagination.

Hot Air Balloons

Hot air balloons in the sky.
Enjoy a scenic flight over Sonoma County with Up & Away Hot Air Ballooning

If you’d like to travel at a more leisurely pace, floating above it all, there are plenty of options. In addition to Up & Away Ballooning’s morning rides, one of its itineraries includes a guided bike tour of local breweries after the ballooning. Calling its rides “A Nature Walk in the Sky,” Wine Country Balloons says it has flown everyone from chef Gordon Ramsey to musician Dave Matthews, and customers are invited to take part in the set up and inflation process. 

Vintage Cable Cars

Trolley car in the street
The Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley

If you only think of the city when you think of cable cars, think again. The Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, designed to look like an 1890s San Francisco cable car, takes riders on a six-hour tour from Sonoma Plaza that includes guided private wine-tasting experiences.

14-Person Party Bike

People on bike trolley
Bike Healdsburg

Those who like to get some exercise while socializing, sightseeing and imbibing might want to take a ride on one of Bike Healdsburg’s two basic tours. The Just The Seat Tour features a bar crawl of three stops in Healdsburg, while the All-Inclusive Tour features three unique wine tastings and small bites.


For the pure adventure-seekers, there are few experiences that can match the thrill of jumping out of a plane, free falling in the sky before pulling open your parachute and gliding down to Earth. NorCal Skydiving caters to those interested in taking a tandem skydive or receiving instruction to be able to make a solo jump.

Written by Sonoma Magazine Staff

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