For most travelers, a trip to Napa will involve flying into San Francisco or possibly Oakland. And for many, traveling west means the times zones will work in your favor so you can leave at a good time and still arrive fairly early in the day. If you are in a rush to get to Napa Valley, most directions will take you east out of the city and then up to Vallejo and into Napa from the south. And while this is a quick trip, it is not necessarily an exciting one involving mostly highways and then through some empty areas until you reach your destination. You do have another option which includes bridges, the small town of Sausalito and a scenic drive.
So, if you do arrive early, we highly recommend heading north through the city (traffic is not typically too bad if you arrive around 10 or 11 Pacific Time). This will allow you to drive over the famed Golden Gate Bridge. Right after the bridge, there is an exit and turnaround to visit Battery Spencer. Built in 1893, this gun battery was used until after World War II to protect the Golden Gate bridge. However, it is also one of the most famous views of both the bridge and Alcatraz (more on this later). If you are interested in exploring, there are also a number of hiking trails, beaches and peaks in the Marin Headlands as well.
Just a few more miles down the road is the town of Sausalito – and what we consider a bit of a hidden gem. The city lies directly on the bay with shops and restaurants looking out over the water. If you want to have lunch with a spectacular view, try the Barrel House on the main street.
After lunch over the water and a bit of shopping, you can now head through or around Sonoma (it is always a good idea to see if there are any events or festivals happening in the city that day) and find what is a small, hidden dirt road called the Oakville Grade sometimes referred to as “the backdoor to Napa”. Please note, this is a very curvy, tree-covered road with some blind corners so if you are not a confident driver or prone to car sickness this may not be the drive for you. However, there is no better way to enter the valley then driving directly up the mountain and then descending down the other side into the valley itself. If you decide to take the suggested route through Vallejo, it is a flat drive right into the valley – but not nearly as impressive.
Once you arrive at the bottom of the windy scenic road, you will be in the heart of the valley and you will have all of the wineries and fine dining options the area has to offer.
LINKS – Golden Gate, Sausalito