Riding the Napa Valley Wine Train

Delicious vintages pair with beautiful panoramas on this old-school ride.

The Wine Train passes the Robert Mondavi Winery's To Kalon vineyard during late afternoon in Oakville, California
The Wine Train chugs past dozens of Napa Valley vineyards.
Courtesy Napa Valley Wine Train

In 1864, Gold Rush millionaire Samuel Brannan had train tracks laid up the Napa Valley, in hopes of luring locals and travelers north from San Francisco to his new Calistoga spa resort. At first, his bright idea went over like a bottle of flat champagne.

Perhaps Brannan was just ahead of his time. Today, the Napa Valley Wine Train chugs along a section of those same tracks. The difference? It's now one of the hottest tickets in California wine country. Part rolling restaurant and part museum, the locomotive—with mahogany paneling, ruby-red stained glass, and plush lounge cars—evokes a glamorous bygone era. Visitors can step aboard and enjoy a leisurely ride from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back, sampling local vintages along the way. (Pro tip: The lunchtime trips allow more daylight for scenic views.)

Despite its popularity, the Wine Train doesn't rest on its laurels. After taking over in 2015, new owners scheduled more winery stops and added longer, six-hour excursions such as the Legacy Tour. On this ride, passengers eat a four-course meal (think lemon mascarpone crepes with maple bacon and whipped Brie topped with local honey and fennel pollen), stopping at a different winery between each course for sips of cabernet, sauvignon blanc, and sparkling wine.

But even in Napa, there's more to life than just wine. Periodically, the route plays host to the Hop Train (featuring local craft brews) and the Tequila Train (in honor of Day of the Dead). The holiday-themed Santa Train spotlights another well-loved beverage: hot cocoa with marshmallows.