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 Sonoma County
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.


West Wine Tours VW Buses
Sonoma Wedding Photographer

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.


Triple Creek Horse Outfit
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

Ballooning at Up and Aways in Sonoma County
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

Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley
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

Bike Healdsburg in Sonoma County
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

You Might Also Like

The Stavrand, Russian River Valley Guerneville

Renowned for its discerning standards in the culinary and hospitality realms, the inaugural Michelin Key rating system has made its…

Hamel Family Wines, wine tasting and non-alcoholic tasting

With a massive flood of zero-proof beverages recently hitting the market, it’s become fairly easy to find nonalcoholic alternatives on…

The Sea Ranch Lodge on the Sonoma Coast

Travel + Leisure has bestowed upon Sonoma County the title of being one of the premier destinations to explore in…

handmade pizza at Glen Ellen Star
Trip Itineraries

As a Sonoma local, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Sonoma County’s finest offerings and generally end up with the…

Movie Prop Car On Display at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Occidental

As you meander the wee 60-yard block of downtown, strolling its wooden sidewalks past 19th-century, false-front buildings, you’ll feel as…

Winter scenery at Luther Burbank in Sebastopol CA
Outdoor Activities

Lush greenery, foggy coastlines, seasonal harvests and unique wildlife sightings – Sonoma County in winter is a place where visitors…

Hot air balloon ride in sonoma county
Sightseeing & Tours

Without a doubt, Wine Country is one of the world’s most breathtaking regions to travel through whether you are looking…

Girls Getaway in Sonoma County
Food & Wine

Winter might be considered the off-season for many of the world’s hottest travel destinations, but a Wine Country visit between…

Wine tasting at sunset.
Trip Itineraries

Fall is a busy time in Sonoma County — from colorful hikes to the perfect pumpkin patch, discover what locals…

Pig at Charlie's Acres
Sustainable Travel

Need a pick-me-up? These nonprofits offer ways to spend time with cute animals — you could even try some goat…

See What’s Happening

Share your experience using #SonomaCounty or #LifeOpensUp