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While a drive through rolling vineyards might sound romantic, the responsibility of getting behind the wheel after every tasting could put a huge damper on your wine country experience. Cycling, strolling, floating? Now those sound like more fun—and safer—ways to savor California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys. Here are some of the best ways to do California wine country without a car.

RELATED: Here’s the secret to spending 3 perfect days in San Francisco & Napa

The restaurant car in the wine train in Napa

The restaurant car in the wine train in Napa | Flickr CC: Michele Ursino

All aboard: Napa by train

What’s more relaxing than unwinding with a glass of wine? Unwinding with a glass of wine… on a train. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a restaurant on wheels—a restored vintage train that glides you along a 25-mile track of scenic vineyards, as servers keep you filled with food and wine from three on-board kitchens. Choose from a three-hour, meandering ride or a shorter on-board time that includes hopping off to tour a winery en route.

Be a high roller: Sonoma by zip line

 If you like the idea of a bird’s-eye view but also have a need for speed, then check out Sonoma Canopy Tours. This adrenaline rush is less about vineyards and more about the area’s towering redwoods. Traverse a course that features zip lines, bridges and other obstacles. Bonus for families: Unlike many of the 21-and-up wine country activities, this one’s suitable for all ages.

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Have a trolley good time: Sonoma by cable car

The Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley will pick you up from your hotel for open-air ride in a motorized replica of a 19th-century cable car. Sounds like the real San Francisco treat.

Sonoma hot air balloon ride

Sonoma hot air balloon ride | Flickr CC: Rin Johnson

Full of hot air: Sonoma by hot air balloon

It sounds so picturesque: sailing over wine country in a hot air balloon. A handful of companies offer ballooning tours over Sonoma County but regardless of which you choose, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of lush vineyards, the Pacific Ocean and mountains like something out of a watercolor painting. Most tours depart in the early morning, when winds are calm and the air is cool. But Mother Nature ultimately calls the shots, so schedule a ride in the early days of your itinerary in case your flight gets pushed back.

On two wheels: Napa by bike

Bike tours in Napa Valley are all about options: BYOB or rent one; take a guided tour or self-guided tour; ride around the vineyards or in the vineyards. Yes, really. Embark on Napa Valley Bike Tours’ off-roading option, which includes, for 2 to 4 miles of rugged pedaling between each winery stop. For something less bumpy, try the new Napa Valley Vine Trail—a car-free, 7-mile stretch connecting Napa and Yountville.

Take a hike: Wine country on foot

It’s called wiking: wine + hiking. Wine Country Trekking offers multi-day, self-guided “walking vacations” that combine walks through vineyards, prearranged tastings and meals, downtime for activities like spa treatments and shopping (a.k.a. more walking) and, thankfully, transportation to your night’s lodging, which is also included. It’s like a self-guided tour with the safety net of a prearranged itinerary. Or, if you’ve just got one day to spend, opt for a walking tour of wine country, which is like a pub crawl but with more antioxidants. Tour companies such as Healdsburg Wine Country Walking Tours partner with wineries and restaurants to take you on an hours-long progressive dinner with a sip here and a bite there. Wear comfy shoes.


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Tagged: California

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Dalia Colon

Dalia Colon

Dalia is a multimedia journalist in Tampa and the Smart Travel Insider for VISIT FLORIDA. Follow her on Twitter @daliacolon.

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