Any thoughts of stiff breezes and city fog evaporate as you step into the salon of the vintage Neptune cruiser docked at Pier 39 and pick up a glass of sparkling wine.
You're soon underway, sleek seals and spectacular Bay views slipping by as you quaff your bubbly, nibble cheese and fruit, and await the landing at Treasure Island. Pleasantly ensconced in the boat's heated cabin with 18 other happy oenophiles, you vow never to drive to a wine tasting again.
"For me, this was perfect," says Laura Miles of San Rafael, who has taken two wine cruises aboard the Neptune -- so far.
Sure, it's a short drive to Treasure Island and the Bay Area's other urban wineries, but it's even better to go wine-tasting by boat, bicycle, public transportation or on foot.
The wine cruise to Treasure Island includes tastings at the three wineries along the island's west side, near the small boat harbor: The Winery SF, Vie and Sol Rouge. Besides sipping, visitors can play bocce on the courts next to Vie, against a city skyline backdrop, or enjoy a snack at one of the picnic tables nearby.
After a few hours of whistle-wetting, the last thing cruise participants focus on is the Bay's notoriously fierce afternoon gusts. According to the Neptune's owner, Melissa McDowell, when guests return to the boat, "They're so relaxed and loose they don't notice that it's rougher. They stand outside and get splashed, and they love it!"
(And if you're lucky enough to have your own boat, you can dock it at the island's harbor, where east-side wineries will pick up prospective tasters by prior arrangement.)
Or hop aboard San Francisco Muni's Route 108 and spend your day exploring the square-mile island's 14 wineries on foot. This funky former naval base is surely the state's most unconventional wine country, with various operations utilizing a former military brig, naval hangar, onetime food storage facility and multiple old warehouses.
According to Robert Amox, owner of the island's winery incubator, Bodega Wine Estates, walking "can be a bit of a trek, but it's a good thing because it paces you between tastings." (Tip: Step onto Muni as it makes its regular stops, and you'll save a little shoe leather.)
This small, flat island is copacetic for cycling and rollerblading, too, but requires transporting your own equipment.
Those wanting to keep cars out of the equation but still dive into the urban winery scene need look no further than the popular bicycle winery tours on San Francisco's mainland and in the East Bay, led by people such as Arianne Goodman, founder of Gears & Grapes Getaways, a San Francisco-based bike touring company. Bicycle tours are common in Sonoma and Napa, so expanding that to the city made perfect sense. Now, Goodman says, "People are getting over the hurdle -- 'Oh, there's wine being made in San Francisco?'"
The requirements are simple: "All you have to do is be ready to have fun and try wine." And if pedaling and sipping seem incompatible in a car-intense metropolis, Goodman is quick to offer reassurance: Her guests use bike lanes and the group emphasizes safe-riding practices.
The situation is similarly encouraging on cycle wine tours in the East Bay. "So far, I've had about 2,100 riders and I've never had a problem with someone having too much to drink," says Jon Zalon, who runs East Bay Winery Bike Tours.
Nor are the routes challenging. "I warn people on our Berkeley ride that we have a really huge 20-foot hill to go up. That's it," he laughs.
Zalon offers tour loops to wineries in Alameda and Oakland/Berkeley, but he's waiting impatiently for the stunning new pedestrian/bike path on the Bay Bridge's eastern section to extend to Treasure Island so he can organize a third loop.
"That's supposed to be my top secret," he says. "Don't tell anybody."
San Francisco Winery Cruise: This classic 1958 cabin cruiser departs from Pier 39, and the package includes the boat trip, local wines and snacks on board, plus wine flights at three Treasure Island wineries. Most trips take place on Sundays. $159 per person, but various deals can be found online. www.sfwinerycruise.com.
Gears & Grapes City Wine Tour: Participants pedal to three San Francisco city wineries for tastings on this afternoon tour, then enjoy dinner with wine at a SOMA restaurant. The $99 cost includes bike and helmet usage plus dinner, but not tasting fees. By appointment on weekends (and some weekdays after Memorial Day). www.gearsandgrapes.com.
East Bay Winery Bike Tours: Starting at Jack London Square, this easy-riding trip covers an Alameda loop or an Oakland/Berkeley loop. The $89 fee includes bike and helmet usage, snacks and gourmet picnic lunch plus tastings. Saturdays or by appointment. www.eastbaywinerybiketours.com.
Bus to Treasure Island: Self-guided wine tours without the need for a designated driver are a wise way to experience the thriving winery scene on this tiny island. Route 108 on Muni departs and returns to the terminal in SOMA multiple times daily and makes several stops on Treasure Island. http://transit.511.org.