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Santa Cruz Mountains Day Trip: Redwoods, Vineyards and Old Fashioned Dining

You don’t have to go to the tourist hell that is Muir Woods to spend a day in the redwoods. Coastal giants still rule the Santa Cruz Mountains (along with just a fraction of the chaos of the northern groves) with a quaint, old-world vibe that most of the Bay Area lost years ago.

It’s only about a 40 minute drive from San Francisco to the 35 freeway junction in San Mateo. From there it’s unspoiled forest, gorgeous views, low-key vineyards and comfort food all the way to Boulder Creek.


See the best the region has to offer on this day trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Castle Rock State Park Hike

The view from the Saratoga Gap Trail in Castle Rock State Park.

(Courtesy of @castlerock_sp)

Start the day with one of the most beautiful hikes in Santa Cruz Mountain. The 5.6 miles Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop in Castle Rock State Park takes you over steep cliffs to reveal forest ridges that roll down to the Pacific. The path begins at the park’s generous parking lot and winds through groves of redwoods toward the awe-inspiring (at least in winter) Castle Rock Falls. From there, take the trail clockwise. If you are pressed for time, only take Saratoga Gap to the Interconnector Trail instead of completing the full loop.

// 15451 CA-35 (Los Gatos), parks.ca.gov

Lunch at the sawmill

The Sawmill and Alehouse restaurant in Boulder Creek.

(Courtesy of @thesawmillbc)

Go back a few miles to the junction of highways 35 and 9, then head south toward Boulder Creek and have lunch. About 10 miles down you will reach the Sawmill Restaurant & Alehouse, whose name recalls the forest origins of the forest hamlet. On sunny days, their beer garden is a sunny spot to enjoy gigantic artisan burgers, stuffed wraps and onion ring towers. If there is fog, the heat lamps will work.

// 15520 CA-9 (Boulder Creek), thesawmillbc.com

Shop local or visit Hakone Gardens

Hakone Gardens in Saratoga.

(Courtesy of @hakonegardens)

After lunch, choose your own adventure.

Antique and vintage hunters, head a few miles south to the small town center of Boulder Creek, where a handful of small local shops are open. Garland(13026 road 9) and Boulder Creek Antiques & Art(13164 route 9) sell everything from vinyl records and fairy lamps to retro furniture and garden accessories. You’ll find sustainably sourced plants, tea and other items at Manipura Apothecary and Market(125 Forest Street)and mouth-blown glass vases, dishes and jewelry at Viscosity Art Glass(13158 Route 9).

Garden nerds, drive up Hwy 9 and continue almost to downtown Saratoga. You will find Hakone Gardens(21000 Big Basin Road), one of the oldest Japanese domains in the Western Hemisphere. Wander among Hakone’s pools, waterfalls, cherry trees and maples, each precisely positioned to evoke elements of the natural and spiritual world.

Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Tasting

Thomas Fogarty wine estate.

(Going through marriage.com)

If you’ve planned your day well, you should have just enough time to stop for a tasting at a Santa Cruz Mountain winery. If you are coming from Boulder Creek, go up Highway 9 to Highway 35 and merge into Thomas Fogarty Wine Estate(19501 Skyline Blvd, Woodside) where the grapes for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown on the estate’s 350 acres. Advance reservations are required.

You can stop at Fogarty if you’re also coming from Hakone, but if you have more free time or can’t wait to get that sweet, sweet nectar, stop by Savannah Chanelle Vineyards(23600 Congress Springs Road, Saratoga) on the way back to Highway 35. The adorable rustic vineyard, which produces pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and cab franc, is first come, first served and often features live music on the weekends -end.

Windy Hill + Dinner at Alice’s Restaurant

Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside.

(Courtesy of @alicewoodside)

For 60 years, Alice’s Restaurant(17288 Skyline Blvd, Woodside) has been a staple of the Santa Cruz Mountain for everyone from cyclists and hikers to local families and visiting tourists. Take a seat on their terrace and order a Texas-style barbecue or a prosciutto, arugula and burrata pizza to munch on under the setting sun. Before doing so, make a quick stop at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve(555 Portola Road, Portola Valley) for sweeping views of the entire Bay Area. The top is only a 10 minute walk down the road, but you can see well from the parking lot if your legs are already out for the day.