: Sionnie Lafollette

How to Visit Willamette Valley Wine Country Without a Car

Buses, bikes and car services let you focus on the fun around McMinnville.
November 13, 2017 (Updated April 17, 2024)

Yamhill County southwest of Portland does two things best: world-class wine and walkable small towns. This is one of Oregon’s prime destinations for wine lovers with nearly 3,000 acres of vineyards, scores of producers and six distinct wine-growing regions

To experience the area at its best, leave the car at home. Instead, buses from Portland to McMinnville make it easy to get around. Companies that specialize in shuttling visitors around to the many tasting rooms let you and your friends find your next favorite wine in style. At the end of the day, you’re never far from a great meal or attraction.

A hot air balloon floating above a river with a view of vineyards and a bridge
Courtesy of Sionnie Lafollette

Make McMinnville Your Base Camp for Wine Tasting

Choose McMinnville as your small-town home base, with more than 20 walkable tasting rooms nearby. Getting there is easy. Take the MAX Blue Line light-rail train from central Portland to Hillsboro, then switch to Yamhill County Transit Area’s Route 33. You’ll have to take the bus midweek — there’s no weekend service at the moment — so you’ll want to double-check opening hours at tasting rooms and wineries, too. 

A number of tour operators in the Portland area offer a wide array of full- and half-day wine-tasting excursions. Join a public tour or book a private experience for your group with operators like Grape Escape Winery Tours, Black Tie Tours, EcoTours of Oregon, A Great Oregon Wine Tour and Oregon Tour Co., just to name a few. NW Wine Shuttle can transport you and your group around to whichever wineries you’d like to check out within 50 miles of Carlton for an hourly fee, while Wine-O-Palooza, a driving service, also offers hourly rates. Tesla Custom Winery Tours can also pick you up in the Portland area and shuttle you around to about five wineries with your own personal driver. The service includes a complimentary lunch in a vineyard for smaller groups.

Want to see the area from the air? Take a scenic flight-seeing tour with Konect Aviation in McMinnville, which flies over the vineyards of three major American Viticulture Areas: the Red Hills, McMinnville and the Eola-Amity Hills. Or take it super slow and lofty on a weekend hot-air balloon ride with Vista Balloon Adventures in Newberg. You’ll have to book a taxi to get there in time for your early-morning flight.

A couple cuddling on a sofa. Glasses of wine and chocolates are in the foreground.
3rd Street Flats (courtesy of Sionnie Lafollette)

Stay and Play in Style

For car-free travelers seeking convenience without sacrificing style, there are options. Book overnights at 3rd Street Flats, European-style apartments overlooking the town’s hopping Third Street historic district. Another central spot, McMenamins’ Hotel Oregon is the site of a famous rooftop bar, a fun pub atmosphere and live music. For a luxe experience, get a room at the Tributary Hotel and make a reservation at affiliated fine-dining spot ōkta, where James Beard Award-winning chef Matthew Lightner brings the flavors of the valley into stunning relief. 

For aircraft buffs, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is the area’s must-visit attraction with more than 150 planes. Reach it by taking Yamhill County Transit’s Route 2 (McMinnville – East Loop) from the downtown transit center, which will drop you at Chemeketa Community College’s Yamhill Valley Campus. From there you’ll have to walk another mile (ride-sharing services are available but can be quite limited); it is well worth the effort. Exhibitions located in two enormous hangars tell the story of America’s space and aviation history. The Spruce Goose — Howard Hughes’ famous giant wooden airplane — is here as well as an SR-71 Blackbird, the otherworldly-looking supersonic plane. 

If gaming and a show is your bag, one of Oregon’s most happening casinos, Spirit Mountain Casino, sits just 25 miles down the road in Grand Ronde. Bus 22 from McMinnville will take you there. It’s about 10 stops and 40 minutes away, but check the bus schedule for times.

Bicyclists on a paved road leading to a winery and vineyard.
Courtesy of Gary Randall/WVVA

Tips for Your Car-Free Getaway

Willamette Valley wine country is a year-round destination. In fact, visiting off-peak season means you’ll experience it like residents do, with fewer crowds at the area’s celebrated tasting rooms and restaurants. Even so, many wineries and other attractions have limited hours during winter, so call before heading out. 

TriMet and Yamhill County Transit allow you to bring your bike on buses. Visit McMinnville has outlined several great itineraries for road riders. If you need expert bike advice, head to the long-standing Tommy’s Bicycle Shop, which services the Yamhill County area.

About The

Emily Grosvenor
Emily Grosvenor is the editor of Oregon Home magazine and author of Find Yourself at Home: A Conscious Approach to Shaping Your Space and Your Life.

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