View of San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge from a helicopter (credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the most thrilling ways to see the San Francisco Bay Area is onboard a helicopter. With the ability to fly high above some of the world’s most famous landmarks or even under the Golden Gate Bridge, a helicopter tour can provide spectacular views to some very lucky guests. But some local helicopter businesses also travel far beyond the Bay Area to other popular places, such as Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Big Sur. Offering tours for as short as 20 minutes to as long as several days, here are five of the best helicopter tours in the Bay Area.
Bay Aerial Helicopter Tours
815 Skyway Road
San Carlos, CA 94070
Celebrating its 15th year, Bay Aerial Helicopter Tours continues to rank among the Bay Area’s best. Based at the San Carlos Airport, about 13 miles south of SFO, the top-rated business offers a one-hour tour of many of the Bay Area’s top attractions, including Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Due to weight limitations of the aircraft, tours are restricted to three guests with a maximum weight of 240 lbs. per seat. Bay Aerial Helicopter Tours has a near perfect rating from leading review sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp.
Golden Gate Helicopters
1250 Aviation Ave., Suite 200-N
San Jose, CA 95110
Headquartered near the Jet Center of Mineta San Jose International Airport, Golden Gate Helicopters offers more than just a tour of San Francisco. Five other trips are offered to some of the most famous destinations in Northern California, including the California Wine Country, Yosemite and the Monterey Peninsula in addition to a “create your own tour.” The tour of San Francisco landmarks lasts an hour or more and provides guests spectacular views of places like AT&T Park, Crissy Field, Golden Gate Park and other desired sites like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Golden Gate Helicopters offers either a day trip to the Wine Country or a weekend excursion, providing aerial transportation at the beginning and end of the trip. The local business has another Bay Area location at the Hayward Executive Airport, as well as at the historic Watts-Woodland Airport in Woodland, 30 miles west of Sacramento.
5000 Flightline Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Helico Sonoma is a relatively new business, but quickly gained attention as a top-flight helicopter company. Owned and operated by a fifth generation resident of Sonoma County, Helico Sonoma offers tours ranging from 20 minutes to one hour, in addition to customized tours to fit anyone’s personal preferences towards a helicopter tour of the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country. One featured 20-minute tour travels across the beautiful city of Healdsburg and the Alexander Valley, the location for one of the most important AVAs in the Wine Country featuring award-winning wineries like Clos du Bois, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Robert Young Estate Winery and Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Other tours include a 30-minute trip to the breathtaking Sonoma Coast and a 60-minute tour of the Sonoma Valley, often called the Valley of the Moon, and the neighboring Napa Valley.
San Francisco Helicopters
SFO Executive Terminal
1052 N. Access Road
San Francisco, CA 94128
In business for more than 30 years, San Francisco Helicopters offers five unique tours ranging from 20 minutes to five hours. Among the tours offered are a Vista Grande Tour, a 30-minute light around San Francisco’s most famous landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island and a Wine Country Tour, lasting approximately three hours and including a guided tour, wine tasting and food pairing. San Francisco Helicopters operates out of the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Executive Terminal but also has a second departure location at the Sausalito Heliport, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Transportation is available at three locations in San Francisco — Union Square, Nob Hill and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Wine Country Helicopters
Napa County Airport
2030 Airport Road
Napa, CA 94558
This local business based out of the Napa County Airport is described as the official helicopter service of the California Wine Country. But Wine Country Helicopters doesn’t just offer tours of one of the world’s most famous wine regions. Other tours include a trip from Napa to Lake Tahoe with luxury accommodations in both locations and a flight over Big Sur to Hearst Castle near San Simeon. Wine Country Helicopter’s ultimate tour of the wine country is an all-day flight over the four counties within the extraordinary wine region — Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.