The Real Deal: Two nights' accommodations, a three-day bike rental, meals, ground transportation, and the services of a guide, for $1,198 per person — taxes included.
When: Aug. 29, Sept. 19, Oct. 3, 17, 2008; add $100 for Sept. 26.
The fine print: All taxes and fees included. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $290. Group size is usually 16 people. A note on trip dates: The Sept. 12, Sept. 26, and Oct. 17 trips are geared toward couples; singles and others are welcome to join, but note that you'll be traveling with couples. The Aug. 29, Sept. 19, and Oct. 3 trips are designed more for groups of friends and relatives, and for single travelers. Airfare is not included. Use code BAVQ. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Backroads, 800/462-2848, backroads.com.
Why it's a deal: The value in this trip comes in the fact that everything is planned for you — the route, the wineries you'll visit, all your meals, and the accommodations. A rough estimate of the cost of booking independently the bike rental ($100), meals ($230), and hotels ($125 per person per night) already adds up (to $580 per person before taxes). Then consider the value of the Backroads' support van and guide, who can help you with flat tires, water refills, and snacks. Plus, you can get a lift if you're tired — an option you may appreciate during a long uphill trek at the end of the day.
Trip details: The Casual Inns trip meets at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville, Calif., about 90 minutes to two hours from San Francisco by car. There are a couple of ways to meet up with the rest of the group. You can arrange for a Backroads shuttle from the Galleria Park Hotel in downtown San Francisco for $50. Or you can drive to the Geyserville Inn, where you'll be staying, and then hop a ride in the shuttle that Backroads provides from the hotel to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
Be dressed to cycle. The tour guide will go over the route and hand out directions, and after a quick fitting of your included bike and helmet, you'll start on the day's 33-mile ride through Healdsburg. You'll stop by Belvedere Winery and J. Rochioli and see plenty of redwood trees along the way. There's a stop for lunch at the Arista Winery, where you'll enjoy an included picnic and pinot noir tasting. Then, you'll ride on to the hotel.
The Geyserville Inn, your base for two nights, is between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys in Sonoma County, where you'll be biking. There are views of mountains and vineyards on all sides of the inn, and there's a pool, a spa, and a garden. You'll have dinner at Hoffman House, next door to the inn.
On the second day, you'll bike 35 miles through Alexander and Dry Creek valleys. These are some of the most picturesque valleys in northern California's idyllic wine region—the Russian River flows through the area, with stretches of vineyards and mountains also in the landscape. The grapes here mostly produce red wines such as cabernet sauvignons, pinot noirs, and merlots. During this day's ride, you might stop at Murphy Goode Winery or Mosaic Vineyards, and you'll have another picnic lunch and then an Italian dinner at Santi Restaurant.
You'll ride 24 miles on your last day, passing through Napa County and Calistoga, which is often compared to France's Bordeaux region. You can judge the wine with a merlot tasting at Hanna Winery. At Bennett Lane Winery, there's another picnic lunch, and then Backroads will shuttle you back to the Geyserville Inn — the staff will even transport you back to San Francisco for free, if you so choose.
This trip's itinerary includes rides of up to 35 miles per day and an elevation gain of 500 feet, so it's not for beginning bikers. That said, there are shorter route options for each day, as well as the option of stopping early and getting a lift in the Backroads van.
Late summer and fall will be a beautiful time in northern California — you can expect temperatures averaging 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more tips on what to do, visit California's official tourism site.
Backroads has a similar trip itinerary with stays at what is calls premiere inns for $300 more per person.
Getting there: This trip does not include airfare. A recent search on Kayak found these fares for round-trip flights to San Francisco in early September: $205 from Denver (United), $219 from Seattle (United), $231 from Miami (Continental), $251 from Kansas City (Northwest), $280 from New York City (Northwest), $301 from Dallas (United), and $374 from Cleveland (U.S. Airways).