Forget the wineries in Napa or Sonoma: for those that live in the South Bay, the Santa Cruz mountain wine region is much closer and gives its better-known cousins to the north a run for their money.   With its mountainous terrain and marine influences, the Santa Cruz Mountains offer ideal soil and growing conditions for world-class distinctive wines.

Highlights

  • Visit 4 world-class wineries in the Santa Cruz mountains
  • Explore Los Gatos, a charming town in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains
  • Take a sunset walk on the beaches of Natural Bridges state park

Forget the wineries in Napa or Sonoma: for those that live in the South Bay, the Santa Cruz mountain wine region is much closer, and gives its better-known cousins to the north a run for their money.  

With its mountainous terrain and marine influences, the Santa Cruz Mountains offer ideal soil and growing conditions for world-class distinctive wines. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are especially well-suited to this environment: that's why you will see many vineyards in the mountains producing these two varietals. 

Start the day with a visit to Ridge Vineyards just outside of Cupertino.  You'll know you are close when the road becomes extremely narrow and you've done a multitude of hairpin turns: the vineyard is located at an elevation of 2,300 feet, with sweeping views over the South Bay below. 

Ridge is famous for being selected as one of the 5 Californian red winemakers to compete in the "Judgement of Paris" tasting over 40 years ago. The tasting experience here includes a guided walk through the vineyards and a sampling of 5 single-vineyard wines. For an extra fee, you can even taste the signature Monte Bello, the same blend that was submitted to the "Judgement of Paris" competition.

Looking for more day trip ideas? Check out kimkim's top 10 day trips in the Bay Area

Ridge Vineyard (Photo courtesy of Ridge Vineyard)
Ridge Vineyard (Photo courtesy of Ridge Vineyard)


The second stop is further south: Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos.  Testarossa is housed in what was historically a Jesuit-operated winery that's been producing wine since 1888.  The wine tasting takes place in the historic cellars, and for those that want to learn more, it is possible to schedule a behind-the-scenes tour that takes you through the production facilities and wine caves, and includes a tasting of 5 different Testarossa wines.  

Testarossa Winery (Photo courtesy of Testarossa Winery)
Testarossa Winery (Photo courtesy of Testarossa Winery)


After Testarossa, if you are hungry, downtown Los Gatos is a great place to stop for lunch.  There are a plethora of choices here.  A few of our favorites include We Olive, an olive oil store that serves healthy salads and flatbreads, and La Storia, a small Italian wine bar great for cheese plates and paninis. Whatever you do, don't miss Fleur de Cocoa, a French bakery that serves amazing sandwiches and salads, but the real star here is the incredible desserts.

After lunch, continue up into the Santa Cruz Mountains and head to Byington Vineyard & Winery.  This vineyard is hosted in a handsome Italian-style mansion, surrounded by rolling Pinot Noir vineyards and sweeping views of the entire Monterey Bay.  After touring the underground wine cave, if you just want to hang out for a while there are picnic areas, BBQ grills, and even bocce ball courts available to reserve in advance.  

Byington Tasting Room (Photo courtesy of Byington Winery)
Byington Tasting Room (Photo courtesy of Byington Winery)

 

View from Byington Vineyard (Photo courtesy of Byington Vineyard and Winery)
View from Byington Vineyard (Photo courtesy of Byington Vineyard and Winery)


The final stop of the day has a slightly different vibe.  Head to downtown Santa Cruz, to the tasting rooms of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards.  Here you will be able to taste their well-known California varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also much lesser-known Spanish and Portuguese varietals such as Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, and Graciano.  This is a great place to end your winery hopping adventure, as the tasting room is located in a happening part of Santa Cruz.  If you are so inclined, you can continue wine tasting, as there are many other tasting rooms within a stone's throw.  Or, if you want to switch gears and take in the natural beauty of the area, Natural Bridges State Park is close by, where you can go for a short stroll along windswept beaches.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Tasting Room (Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard)
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Tasting Room (Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard)
Natural Bridges State Park at Sunset (Photo courtesy of Natural Bridges State Park)
Natural Bridges State Park at Sunset (Photo courtesy of Natural Bridges State Park)


Take your time to explore the area. If you stay for dinner, we recommend Laili (ask for a table in the restaurant's beautiful courtyard), followed by a moonlight walk along the beach.

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Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Apr 23, 2020